UK Football Media Day 2014 Major Takeaways


Mark Stoops 2014 media day. Photo by Lyndsey Gough

Football media day has came and gone meaning one thing: it’s officially football time in the Bluegrass. Stoops seems more than ready to enter his second season. We heard a lot of positives coming out of the first week of camp. The morning started out with a press conference opened by Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart, followed by Head Coach Mark Stoops, Defensive Coordinator D.J. Eliot and Offensive Coordinator Neal Brown. We then moved from Commonwealth Stadium to Nutter Indoor Practice Facilities to speak with the assistant coaches, staff and players.

Major Takeaways:

We have depth

We specifically have depth in two crucial areas we didn’t last season: the secondary and at wide receiver.

Stoops: “ We’re a deeper football team.  I think our freshmen really help us in that area.  I think there’s about 12 or 13 freshmen that will play.  So we’ll see.  We’ll see where it goes from there…I like the progress of the team, and I like where we’re at.”

Stoops on receivers: “ I think we have to play the receivers.  Those guys have really looked good, really all the freshmen receivers can help us and looking forward to having that depth.”

Stoops on freshmen receivers’ impact: “Dorian Baker is just an awfully big, strong, good looking receiver that’s really impressed us so far in camp. Garrett Johnson is a guy that definitely ‑‑ from things we heard all summer from just the quarterbacks out there, they’ve loved him all summer.  He’s a very polished, very skilled receiver.  He’s going to help us.Blake Bone is a big receiver with great ball skills working his way in there. And Thaddeus (Snodgross) was here in the spring, but Thaddeus is a guy that really I saw drastic improvement in him.  Going back from last spring, what he did all summer, and coming in the first four days, I’m really impressed with what Thaddeus has done.”

Stoops on safeties: “The safety position ‑‑ two spots a year ago that I didn’t feel like we played very well, the will linebacker position and the free safety.  A.J. Stamps comes in right away, and he’s been here since the spring, but he’s a guy that you haven’t seen play yet in a game besides the spring game.  He’s a guy that helps fill a big void right there because I just love the way he’s playing.  So that helps us right there. The guys that we have are getting better.  A guy like Marcus McWilson is much improved from a year ago.  That will help us as well.  So I feel a lot better about that position.”

DJ Eliot on secondary: “Most improvement since the spring, I think we’re better in the secondary.  We’re better in the secondary.  That comes with experience.  I think that comes with just more reps as well.”

Eliot also mentioned that while losing West hurt the depth, having J.D. Harmon back is a huge benefit to the secondary.

Neal Brown’s statements were pretty in-tune with Stoops as far as receivers. Both agreed the early-enrollees have benefitted tremendously, but all the freshmen will see reps. Brown also harped on how crucial Bone and Baker’s size would be to the Air Raid and there was a lot of talk about Garrett Johnson seeing the field as well. Brown also mentioned that Badet and Montgomery were not 100% back from their injuries and Montgomery was not playing at all yet. Montgomery, who tore his ACL is “ahead of the recovery curve” according to Brown but is taking it day by day until he is mentally and physically ready. Brown stressed that an ACL is a year recovery and since Montgomery was injured mid-season, a medical red shirt would not surprise me. Montgomery has great size and was a starter making big plays as a true freshman- I’m not sure the staff would want to chance losing any of his eligibility. Neal Brown also stated that while Alex is recovering, several players have stepped up to fill the void including Garrett Johnson, Steven Borden, Ronnie Shields and Cameron Fogle (a walk on from Conner High with Barker)

Brown also mentioned that Javess Blue was back from his injury and said last season he was not playing as fast as he could have because he arrived so late and had a lot to learn- but we should see a quicker, stronger and smarter Blue out on the field this season. He also said how crucial it will be for Demarco Robinson to step up and have a good season as well.

Another takeaway: we have a great group of running backs.

While we typically don’t associate the run game with an Air Raid, the BBN should get used to it because these guys aren’t going anywhere…except the end zone.

Stoops on RB’s: “ “It’s not as big a deal to you or to us at that position because you need to play so many running backs.  Who takes the first snap really isn’t a big deal to a football team.  I’m sure it is to those players, and we’ll see what happens, but they’re going to all play…You need them to play.  It’s a long season.  So that’s why it’s not as big an issue.”

Brown: “They need to be (part of the Air Raid) because, when you look at it, they’re really talented kids, and we’ve got to get them involved in the pass game.  That’s been a huge emphasis with quarterbacks. Your running backs should be your best friend in your pass game, okay, because if anything in the pocket breaks down or if they do a good job covering your primary combination, you’ve got to be able to find your running backs. You look at teams that are really successful passing the ball ‑‑ you can look at what we did at Texas Tech or what any of the top passing teams did in the country, the running backs have a lot of receptions, and they always break the first tackle, whether they make somebody miss or run through an arm tackle.”

Brown also fielded a question on if we should still consider his offense a true Air Raid since there will be so much run game. “That’s kind of the label that’s put on it, I don’t know.  I think all of the coaches within this offensive family, I think it kind of ‑‑ it got labeled that back in ’97 or so, and all the coaches that are in this family still use that. I think, if you look at it, the offensive guys are in the system.  I think everybody now is putting a premium on running the ball. I talked to Tom Leach earlier today on his radio show, and I really believe that, and it’s said a lot.  In this league to win, to win big, to win like we want to is you’ve got to be able to successfully run the ball when they know you’re running it, and you’ve got to be able to stop the run. We ran the ball effectively at times last year, but not so much when they knew we were going to run it.  We’ve got to get better at that.  I do like our depth at running back.  Jojo (Kemp) and Braylon (Heard) picked up right where they did at the end of spring.  Those guys, I’m really pleased with them. Josh Clemons, if we can keep him healthy, I’m really excited about it. He’s going to be a load for second level defenders to tackle.  He’s a big strong kid.  You’ll see that today when you see him. The two young kids have a ways to go.  Stanley (Williams) is really electric with the ball.  He’s got to get a whole lot more detail oriented.  Mikel (Horton) has made a big jump, really matured, and changed his body.  I’m excited.  Along with Josh, he gives us another big kid.”

Next takeaway: All around improvement at quarterback position.

While the staff has yet to name the man who will be under center this season or a deadline to name their starter- the coaches all stressed that the group has improved all-around and whoever wins it will be worthy of the job.

Stoops on QB’s: “Yeah, definitely.  I’ve said it over and over.  Whoever takes the first snap will be improved. The guys have really done a nice job.  They’re better rounded, and I expect them to go out and play well. I think we have good competition there.  They’re all doing some good things.  They’re not perfect, but they’re much improved. I think they all ‑‑ somebody needs to take the reins and be the clear‑cut winner of this job, and they need to do that.  We’re giving them plenty of opportunity.  Somebody needs to take it and run with it. As we move forward and as the pressure of practice amps up in the next week ‑‑ somebody asked me a timeline.  I’m not going to put a timeline on it, but, sure, in the next three, four, five, seven days, we absolutely would love to have somebody take the reins of that position and say, that’s my spot. Right now it’s just too even.  I’ve said it before, it would be too reckless just to make a decision because I want to make a decision and not answer those questions.  I’m not going to do that.  It’s not fair to the players.  It’s not fair to our team.  It’s not fair to the future of our program. It’s a very important decision, and, sure, we’d like to have that done, but it’s not.  We’ll see how it plays out.  I’m confident we will play better at that position regardless of who’s in there.”

Brown on QB’S: “Well, I think, if you look at them individually ‑‑ really, what I was ‑‑ what I really wanted to see from the end of April from the spring game until when we started on Monday, was how much better they improved fundamentally because I gave them a lot of different things to work on. I’ll go through each individually and give you one little tidbit.  I think Reese Phillips has improved his arm strength.  That’s something that jumps out to me: I think Patrick Towles, he still has work to do in this, but he’s improving his ability to get the ball out faster. Drew Barker has made less mental mistakes than he made during the spring, even in the last week of the spring practice. And then Maxwell (Smith) has shown the ability to throw the ball effectively down the middle.  Now, he’s still got to be able to throw it outside to the numbers, to the outside, but he’s shown the ability coming off surgery to throw the ball effectively down the middle.”

Brown was also asked if he thought there was a chance that nobody steps up and takes a hold of commanding the field, “No, I think it will.  I do.  I think it will happen.  We’re going to start getting into more 11‑on‑11 work, and I do anticipate it happening. I know you’re tired of hearing me ‑‑ you’ve been on the banquet circuit with me ‑‑ but we’re going to be better at that position.  We’re going to be significantly better at that position than we were last year.  A lot of it has to do with year two in the system.  A lot of it has to do we’re going to be better around them at running back, O‑line has matured and every is back.  We’re going to be better at receiver. We have a long ways to go at that position, but we’re going to be more talented, and they’re going to be more fundamentally sound.”

He was then asked to elaborate on what he meant by “turning up the heat on the quarterbacks”, “What we’ve done is basically, verbally, I’ve challenged them every day in certain areas, and I’m coaching them harder earlier in camp to perform at game level. I’m asking them to make quicker decisions.  We put in a little bit more third down training and some of that stuff earlier in camp, but it’s more of me placing pressure on them. In the spring, I took this approach.  We’re going to have fun.  We’re going to enjoy this.  Focus on getting better, you individually getting better.  That’s what we focused on. Now I’m telling them, hey, we’re looking for a guy to win the job.  Go win the job.  Everything that you do during the course of a practice is getting judged.  Yeah, you’d better have fun with it, but understand we are keeping score.”

According to DJ Eliot, Neal Brown is our starter…but we’ll have to wait and see if he has any eligibility left.

Here’s what the quarterbacks had to say about themselves and each other:


  My final major media day takeaway: Matt Elam is huge.           

The roster lists the DT at 6-7, 375. He’s currently working on trimming the fat and adding muscle so I’m not sure how accurate that is…but he’s a monster regardless.

Stoops on Elam: “Been very impressed with Matt.  I’ve heard some of the comments, some of our players talking about it.  He’s so big, but he’s so athletic for his size.  He’s a very unique player. Guys like that don’t come around all the time.  He’s got a bright future because he picks up on things well.  He’s extremely athletic for his size.  I’m very excited about Matt and his future.  He needs to continue to work to get into shape so he can play at a high level in this conference. No matter what position you’re playing, that’s hard to do as a freshman, but I really like where he’s at, and I anticipate him playing in the first game and being ready to go.”

DJ Eliot was asked what “athletic” means for someone this size, “Well, imagine a big train going fast down the track.  When you see someone that big, you just don’t expect to see an explosion and something so quick off the ball, and he has that.”

 Eliot was then asked if Elam was born with it (or was it Maybelline), “I don’t know.  He definitely has a natural talent, but he had some good high school coaches, and he went through a good program.”

Eliot said he had never coached a guy quite like Elam either, “Never that big.  He’s probably the biggest player I’ve ever been associated with.  Coach Stoops and I were at Florida State together.  We were at Miami together, and we had some good defensive tackles, but never one that big.”

Even OC Neal Brown had words about Elam when asked about the running backs going against him, “He’s getting better.  He’s a load up front.  We try to run him side to side and then maybe hit him up the middle.  We haven’t gone up against him a ton yet, but he’s really big.  Got a lot of football savvy too. People look at his size, and that’s the first thing they talk about.  He’s got a lot of football savviness about him.”

If I noticed one major thing between last years media day and today’s, the coaches seem a lot more hopeful and excited- especially with their depth and physicality and overall improvements in just one year. I can see us having a very explosive offensive this season which should be fun to watch and the defense looks to be vastly improved from last season.