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Mark Stoops' Week 1 Press Conference

To kickoff - all pun intended - College Football Week 1, Mark Stoops resumed his weekly Monday press conference to overview what the week has in store as his team preps for Ball State on Saturday. The UK head coach met with reporters as usual to answer questions.



Opening Statement…

“Obviously, [I’m] very excited to get started. We’ve been doing a lot of talking through the last month and we’ve been doing a lot of practicing. The players have worked really hard; the coaches have worked hard. Just like most camps, sometimes it feels extremely long and other times it feels like it goes by rather fast, but definitely excited to get in our normal game week preparation, getting together with our team this afternoon and introducing Ball [State]. Obviously, we worked on Ball State last week. We will go through the official introduction, just like a typical game week for us here today with our team. We will get started and we know that we will have to play our best. You hear me talk often about ‘It’s about us. About what we look like and what improvements we want to make, the improvements we want to make from this year to last year, the improvements through camp.’ Each day this week, we want to improve so we can play our very best on Saturday. Any of these MAC schools can jump up and beat anybody at any time and this is one of those teams. [Ball State Head] Coach [Mike Neu] does a great job. [He] has an NFL background and it’s evident in the way they play. There is some carryover from going against our offense. You see a lot of 12-personnel sets, but [with] different looks out of that. You see pinch sets. You see a lot of the boots. You see zone schemes, gap schemes, a lot of good things. It will be really good prep for us. Defensively, a typical MAC team. One of those teams that are four down [linemen] primarily and play extremely hard. They have two edge guys that made a lot of tackles, two inside [line]backers that make an awful lot of tackles. I feel like they have a very talented free safety. [They are] Very sound in what they do and can get creative on third downs with odd looks, but primarily four down and play extremely hard. With that, I’ll open it up.”

On what you learned the most about your team from fall camp…

“We’ll see. I felt like there was some consistency. There is always going to be some good and some bad, but I feel like it’s a good team with a good attitude and a mentality. That needs to stay at a high level and be like that each week and each day.”

On Ben Christman’s status…

“He’s injured and out for the season.”

On Nik Hall’s status…

“Injured and out.”

After losing leadership from last year’s team, if you’ve seen leadership on both sides of the ball during fall camp…

“I have. I think we’ll continue to see that and take a look at that and see how that goes during game week, but I do feel like there are guys ready to take charge.”

On the offensive line and players moving back to move comfortable positions…

“I feel like we’re improved. You’ve heard us talk about that, I’ve talked about it many times, we needed to improve. We had to address certain areas; we have, you’re correct. You see some guys getting back to their more comfortable position. In particular, Kenneth [Horsey] playing guard with the experience he has there and Eli [Cox] playing back at guard. Jager [Burton] playing center and he has been solid, but he has to get some game reps under his belt. Our tackles need to improve over last year, and I think they will. We talked a lot about Marques [Cox], he’s been very, very solid, and then Courtland [Ford] and Jeremy [Flax] are battling at the right [tackle] and just need to see where that position goes. Both of them have a lot of talent. I think Jeremy has improved over a year ago and certainly Courtland has that ability. We just need to see the consistency and see him dominate like I believe he can. We just need to take it into some games here and see how that goes.”

On Dylan Ray exceeding expectations in fall camp…

“Yeah, Dylan has been good, he’s a guy that has three years left. He’s got length. We felt like he was a really good pickup as far as the future at tackle, and the ability there, but he has shown versatility. He can step in and play some guard for us and he brings a toughness and a nastiness and he has the size and the length that he can grow into that, too, and get stronger through the years here.”

On Alex Raynor winning the kicking job…

“He’s been very, very solid. Last time we kicked under some pressure the other day he was 9 of 10. He missed the last one of 55 [yards]. It had the length. He has been very smooth, and it’s been very consistent, let’s keep it that way.”

On the long snappers and short snappers on the depth chart…

“Walker [Himebauch] has been more consistent at the short snapping and he is a guy we feel very, very confident in. Ironically, his dad [Jonathan] is the O-Line coach for my brother Bob with the XFL. He has been very consistent with the short snap and has just been smooth, it’s been a smooth operation. Ronnie [Gaines] comes in with some real good experience in some games under his belt with the long snaps.”

On the running backs behind Ray Davis…

“JuTahn [McClain], we always look at as a starter, a guy [that has been] very reliable and been a very solid player for us and we would like to see that role increase a little bit for him this year. Demie [Sumo-Karngbaye] is a guy that is very versatile, he’s a good football player. He’s been very good at catching the ball, like I said, he’s versatile, whether we move him around a little bit. We can play some two-back sets and brings a little bit of physicality. I like what I’m seeing there with him.”

On what you hope to see from your offense in Week 1, besides putting up points…

“I think early in game one, you’re just looking clean [operation]. I know that’s broad-based, that can entail a lot, but taking care of the football, first and foremost. We can’t go into a game like this and turn the ball over and be sloppy with the football. We have to protect the football and take care of that. You’re looking for the operation, pre-snap penalties, anything like that. We’re on it all the time with a play clock and trying to be smooth while getting things out. We are a pro style, but not trying to take up the whole play clock every play as well. We want to get a rhythm, get going, and play with some tempo, so I think the operation is really important for us.”

On how you feel about the defensive back room ahead of the season…

“I feel good. Maxwell [Hairston] and Dru [Phillips] have gotten a lot of playing time over the years and in our safety position, those guys have some experience. You really feel like you have three starters, with Jalen [Geiger] returning, and Zion [Childress], and Jordan [Lovett]. Those guys have some good reps under their belt.”

On your comfort level with the backups in the interior linebacker positions…

“It’s a concern. It’s a tough position. You are going to get beat up playing middle linebacker in this many games, in this league. It’s tough. I do think with D-Jack [D’Eryk Jackson] and Trevin [Wallace], they have some strength, some size and experience under their belt and hopefully they will stay healthy, but we are constantly working at depth behind them.”

On confidence in tackling ahead of the season opener…

“You’ll hear me talk about it, and you have through the years, and probably after the game one way or another we’ll talk about it. The tackling, a lot of it has to do with position on the football. If we’re in the right spot and not getting fooled, and guys playing out of control, not where they need to be, not containing the football, not leveraging the football, and letting guys run wild, then you’ll see good, clean tackling. You may see a miss, or two, because it is early and it happens, and you play against other players that are talented, and make people miss. Overall, good structure and good defense helps a lot on that.”

On your 11th season opener – routine or still exciting…

“It’s always different, it really is. It’s always an exciting time and it definitely picks up. I have a hard time sleeping anyway, but last night was definitely a little different, knowing just this routine, getting back into Monday press conferences, radio show tonight. The prep, the messaging with the team, it feels good getting in the game week. It never feels routine and every year it’s a different challenge, different excitement level, and different anxiety level, whatever you want to put on it, but it’s time to go.”

On Kaiya Sheron and Destin Wade on the depth chart…

“We’ll just continue to work with both guys. We have a lot of confidence in both of them, both of them are doing some really good things.”

On Northern Illinois, a Mid-American Conference team, giving you trouble last year and will that help your team be ready for this game…

“I think our team [knows]. We talk about it, they know that. They watch football. They always have to respect the game and I think they know that. Now getting them to always do it, that’s a part of the challenge each and every week. It’s game one, we’re at home, and ought to be pretty excited to get up and get ready to play.”

On moving Jalen Geiger moving from free safety to strong safety…

“He can play either or. I feel like he could play either position [and be] fairly comfortable.”

On if you have to talk to the team about the state’s sports gambling laws going into effect next week…

“Absolutely. We already have. We always talk about that. I think it’s just getting so common with the people. with the phones and the apps and maybe people doing some things innocently, throughout the country and stories you’ve seen. But we have to really educate them and always have. Going back to when I was a player and [Iowa head coach] Hayden Fry would bring people in and talk to us and educate us on that. We always have done that, but I think just with technology and the phone, kids are just so used to doing so many things and it being legal to place bets and prop bets and all those things. Let’s hope we don’t have any issues with it. We have certainly talked to them about it in depth with people and professionals and them understanding the consequences that come with it. I don’t know but I just imagine throughout the country, some of the things that come up, a lot of them are probably just innocent, silly different things they can do, they’re used to doing a lot of things on their phones.”

On improvement to the amount of plays Kentucky ran per game last season…

“You never know how it’s going to go. You really don’t. We have, and I’ve mentioned it before, worked on things to shorten it and to not have to be so long with verbiage and play calling and things of that nature. We are who we are. We’re not going to change overnight. That doesn’t mean you’re not going to try to improve in certain areas and that’s an area where we could use some improvement, at times, to be able to pick up some tempo. Yes, that’s one of the areas that we have worked on.”

On how the new rules have affected your fall camp and preparation…

“Yeah, not a ton. It didn’t feel very different to me, but we’ll see, we just have to work through it here.”

On if Devin Leary has been the leader you hoped he would be…

“Yeah, definitely. He’s a guy with good experience. He’s a guy that has a good understanding of coming into a new team, new role, new locker room and earning those players’ trust and belief in him. Not trying to force his way, or just talk about it, by his work ethic from day one. As I have talked about throughout this talking season, things are different, they’re different for the players, too. It’s an expedited process with team building and the team for this year. And so, I think part of that makes it easier on players as well, getting acclimated to a new team because they’re used to it, at least for us. I really feel like this is year two of drastic change. For some people, there is more turnover, but it is what it is. I feel like players are acclimating to it and getting more acclimated to it. You have new guys in the locker room, they have to get to know each other, we do make an intentional effort to build those relationships and continue to do the things we’ve always done with leadership training and things of that nature. But I feel good about Devin.”

On how much Vince Marrow has been lobbying for an increase in tight end use…

“We got some guys, that’s for sure. You got a lot of ‘ors’ on there [the depth chart] because there are a lot of good players right there, they really are, those are some good players that can line up at different spots, and as you know, we will put them out there and return them. We’ll put them out there and play with them. But [we have] some talented tight ends for sure. They always get beat up, as I mention all the time, it’s a physical position.”

On potentially playing several freshman while also bringing in transfers…

“We will see. I think certain areas we had to go out and get some proven depth and make sure

we addressed certain areas. But I think there are some guys that could still potentially play as a freshman.”

On how you feel about special teams right now…

“As I mentioned a week ago, the last time I was in here with you all, improved. We need to, that’s pretty

obvious and we worked hard at it. The snapping I mentioned, with two different new snappers, a new kicker, and [punter] Wilson [Berry] back at full strength. Punting has been more consistent, and we have worked really hard at it. I’ve felt like it’s improved, I like the leadership we’ve had, and the players and commitment we’ve shown. Now we got to go put it on film.”

On if fans will be able to see a difference in the offense with Liam Coen’s return…

“I think you’ll be able to see some difference. We all change and evolve, weekly and yearly, in this profession. You have to. Whether it is the way you are presenting plays, the way you’re setting it up, whatever, I mean, you have to grow. So, there will be certain things that you will see that you’ve seen before. There will be some new things as well. A lot of times, there’s changes that you all would have no clue -- how we target things, where we’re going, what we’re doing, there is a lot to it.”

On your first impression of Marques Cox when he got to campus…

“I’ve always just been very impressed – a guy that kind of handles himself like a man. He goes about his business. He has a very good presence about him, very good confidence. I wouldn’t say cocky, but he has a confidence about him in that he can get it done. I like the way he handles himself a lot.”

On if Marques Cox was someone who stood out on film when you were preparing for Northern Illinois last season…

“I was impressed when we played him, let’s put it [that way].”

On Brandon White…

“B-White [Brandon White] has done a really good job, and Anthony Brown-Stephens. Both of them are guys that will play. Could see them on some special teams, we’ll see. We’ve got some pretty good front-line guys, but they’ve been impressive as well with the return game. But, they’ve done some good things, both of them, at slot, and I like their demeanor. You know, Anthony Brown-Stephens is one of those guys that’s, he works at it and he picks things up very well, very multiple, and is experienced beyond his years. B-White is a guy that will wow you once in a while on a couple plays in practice and things like that. He’ll just jump out at you a little bit. I’d like to continue to bring those two along.”

On weighing potential injury in using key players such as Barion Brown and Tayvion Robinson in the return spots…

“They’re going to do that, I'd like to have multiple guys but they’re going to do that, that’s part of what they do. With the punt returns, with the guys we play against, in particular in the meat of our season, you aren’t getting many opportunities to get punt returns. Kick returns are a different story, even then we play with some dudes that kick the ball -- kick it high and makes it really hard on the punt returns, and same really with kickoffs, but when you get those opportunities you got to try and make something happen. Barion did a year ago and so, it's just how many opportunities you really going to get."

On if you have talked to Deone Walker about being double-teamed and the challenges he could face this season…

“Mmm mmm… no… I don’t talk to him about that, just let him play (laughter).”

On defensive coordinator Brad White being good at his job…

“Well, lot of reasons he’s good at his job. He’s very intelligent, number one, but there has to be a relationship, there has to be a connection with the coordinator and the offense or the defense and Brad has a good connection with the players. You have to be talented in your scheme, you have to know what you’re doing because you see so many different things. We’ve talked about a lot, but you know college football, there's a lot of different things you’re going to see and a little more liberal with some rules as compared to the NFL. You know, just unbalanced set, and the creativity, you can't do that in the NFL. And so there’s a lot to it and I think the knowledge is there, I think a little bit unique about Brad is he always was good, and I hired him early for his experience with outside linebackers and the front [defensive line], but he has extremely good knowledge of the secondary for a front guy, so to speak. it's really important to be able to have a handle on all 11, and understand all of it, and he certainly has that and has enough to change up. He also has a good balance of what we can execute. It’s not so much always about what we know – we can create all kinds of things, there’s a lot of knowledge in that room, but what can the players execute and how can we play at a high level? I think there’s always a balance in that, and that’s a challenge week-to-week, year-to-year, and so those are things he’s had good pulse on but again he does a good job, he has really good intelligence, he knows what he’s doing with the entire defense and he really has a strong relationship with the players, gets a lot out of them and that’s the key to it really.”


This transcript was provided by the school.





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