With March Madness now here, the opening of spring football has gone under the radar as the Kentucky Wildcats open a critical fourth season under Mark Stoops.
Kentucky looks as poised as ever under Stoops to make a bowl this coming season after showing a lot of improvements in various areas throughout his tenure, but never quite being able to put it all together.
Stoops and the Cats held their first spring practice on Tuesday, and afterwards, he spoke with media about the latest injuries, position switches, quarterback battle and offseason in general.
Here's a recap of what Stoops had to say:
On Day 1 of spring football
"Very good first day of practice. I was really impressed. We were very efficient. We're getting back to some tempo, some urgency. I thought the guys really bounced around quite urgently, executed. Players were really better offensively for the first day with a new system than I thought they would be.
"Obviously there were some things we've got to get cleaned up - we were sloppy at times - but overall just very impressed with the practice. We got a lot of work in. We were out there longer than usual. We need the work.
"We've got a day off in between every practice this spring, with the exception of the spring game and the organizational practice. So we have a lot of time. It was really good work and I was pleased with the first day."
On injuries and players sitting out
Tymere (Dubose) will be out. Alex Montgomery will be out. Boom (Williams) will be no contact all spring. He had offseason elbow surgery. Nico Firios will be out, no contact. He's out there practicing. He's in a red at least for a couple weeks. Darryl Long. He had offseason surgery as well."
On lack of depth at linebacker
"We really need to continue to grow at that position, as you know. We've talked about it since I've been here. Especially outside. Well, now this year we don't have the experience inside as well. But Josh Allen is playing sam and doing a really good job.
"Denzil (Ware) is back, and he needs to play better and we need him to step up and have a great spring. De'Niro (Laster) has been a great addition who's ready to play. And then you go inside with Courtney ready to play, and Eli (Brown) really looks good as well, and Jordan Jones is talented as heck.
"So we've got some really good bodies, we've just got to get the experience and mix and match a little bit. Nico (Firios) when he comes back off surgery will be in there competing as well. So we have some bodies and we feel like we have really good talent."
On what new strength coach Mark Hill brings to UK
"Another guy, a guy that's obviously got great experience being a full-time head strength and conditioning coach. So that's what he brings, he brings that great attitude and great experience along with us."
On Hill's relationship with Corey Edmond
"Big time. They're very close. They know each other very well. The players have great respect for all of our guys and he's a leader and a very good addition."
On how much of the spring is about offense learning new scheme
"I think it's about everything. As you know, we have a long way to go still and gotta continue to work, but I think that's a big part of it offensively, gaining the confidence, getting a very clear identity of what we want to do. The players, you can tell the players have worked hard in the offseason.
"They've been throwing and catching and working on their own. We were cleaner, maybe a cleaner first day than I would've anticipated. But it's important to keep on pushing. That's for sure."
On if this spring is more important than others wish so many new staffers and a new QB
"I think there's no denying it's a very important spring for many reasons. We're moving into Year 4 and we should be better. I like where we're at. I like the staff that we have in place. I like the players' attitude. We've had a better offseason than we have any other year.
"I feel like we went longer this offseason as far as our fourth-quarter conditioning, and we went longer in those drills - longer period of time, longer duration each day. And the guys have been consistent, and that's what we're looking for and that's what we talked about here this morning, at 6:30 this morning.
"Let's go out and, I knew everybody was going to be fired up and ready to go Day 1. Let's make sure we have a great practice Day 15 and Day 1, with the same focus and the same energy, so it was a great start."
On how much Chris Westry can improve in Year 2
"I think he could take a giant step, just going through the offseason that he hadn't done last year. So with him getting stronger, getting in our winter conditioning drills, being here for the spring, just all those reps, he should take a giant step.
"What you always watch for is the guys who come in and have some success as a true freshman sometimes have a tendency to think they've got it all figured out. I've got to stay with a boot up his you know what 24/7 and get him playing on edge because the game is not easy.
"You have to play on edge defensively all the time like we talk about. And he's got to have a great spring. I think you can see the confidence from our secondary."
On what has made winter better; is it athletes or leaders?
"All of the above. We've pushed harder and challenged them to have better leadership. I think physically they can handle more. I think that's in large part because we're getting more and more athletes. You put all of that together and like we talked about, we've got to continue to push and expand and build up our gas tank, if you will.
"We've got to have a longer spring; we've got to be more efficient. We've had longer practices. We've got bigger, stronger guys. More of them. So we're able to do those things. Hopefully when we get the pads on, we'll be good and physical as well."
On the urgency and if he expects that
"No, I think what we've seen in the offseason is we've had that urgency The guys have been focused. We've been more consistent. It hasn't been as up and down, so that's good to see and this is day one, so we see how we come out Thursday."
On if the QBs get sense of competition on Day 1 of spring ball
"I think that goes with the territory there. I think if you're a competitor and you're playing there, I think they know every rep counts, and you can see that out there. I do see a good confidence about those guys.
"Gunnar (Hoak) was a little anxious, as you can imagine. His first college practice, but you could see the talent in his arm, that's for sure. But Drew (Barker) and Stephen (Johnson) were very comfortable."
On the timeline of the QB position
"The timeline was two months ago. (Laughs) I'm not really worried about that. I'm gonna let it play out and we'll see how it goes. Drew's taking the first team reps right now and Stephen's taking the twos and we're rotating the threes."
On if there are certain players he expects to bring increased leadership
"I think it grows. It grows, but also we do challenge these guys and give them the tools. As you know, Jason Cummings works with our team quite often and does a fantastic job. He's a talented guy and gives the players some tools and resources to help them lead, as the coaches obviously do as well.
"But we're challenging certain guys, and you're starting to see that. A guy like Jon Toth that maybe it's not in his nature to really be as boisterous as we need him to be, but you're seeing him step up and do that.
"I think you're seeing - everybody talks about it but it's true - with Courtney Love. He's a guy that really hasn't played any significant snaps here, in games he hasn't played at all, but you see the leadership there and there's nothing fake about him.
"He's a great leader, a great kid and he's a great addition to our team. You're seeing some guys step up."
On if George Asafo-Adjei is staying at tackle:
"He's playing some at guard. He's playing guard right now."
On importance of spring practice to develop talent
"Every rep. Every rep. The game moves very fast. Like I said, it's good to see our offense playing with some tempo and playing (with) some urgency. It makes us really think quickly. Those guys are really talented players. When you really talk about Jordan and Eli, you're not going to recruit two better looking WILL linebackers.
"With that they just need the reps and to continue to grow. Eli in particular needs a little bit more strength and weight, but he's a very talented guy as well. I'm excited about De'Niro (Laster). He's a versatile guy. He could play outside or inside.
"With Josh and Denzil we've got to continue to work on our pass rush, as you know. That's something that those two guys can be difference makers getting after the quarterback, and they've got to have a good spring.
On any discipline for Will Collins for his arrest
"We're going to handle that internally. There will be some punishment. I've addressed that with him and talked with him. There will be some internal punishment, and there will be something else as well down the road."
On how much of a challenge the new approach on offense is
"There's a lot that carries over. There's a lot that carries over. Obviously the terminology changes. Sometimes with the protections the way we're calling it changes. Plays change, but there's still inside-zone, outside-zone, split-zone, boots. It's still football plays, so our guys are picking it up pretty good. I'm really not overly concerned about that."
On Logan Stenberg and Mason Wolfe
"Yeah, they really look good. They're going additions. Really big guys that can move around. I'll be anxious to see the film as well, to see how those guys played. They look good, and they've had a good offseason."
On C.J. Conrad tweeting ‘Gronk mode'
"I've been around both. I don't think that's fair. (Laughs). I don't think that's fair to anybody. He did look good in that number rolling down today. He had a few guys he was carrying on his back, but Gronk is one of a kind - both on the field and off. He's a blast."
On Conrad being one of a kind too
"Yeah, he his. C.J. really looks good. He's another that's really a good leader for a young guy. Really works at his craft and approaches the game the right way. He's a great player, great addition. I love the way he plays and competes. He's fun to coach."
On how different Conrad's role will be in new offense
"I think there's some plays that will carry over, but I think he is your prototypical tight end. He's a guy that's getting more physical. He can block. We need to be able to run the ball. He'll be doing what he did last year with flexing out once in a while, and he'll be attached as well and off the ball playing like a fullback role as well.
"So, he'll be very versatile. It's key to have a really good player like that. I think Greg (Hart) is a good addition as well. He looks good as well."
On what a good offseason does for confidence of team
"I think it has almost everything to do with it, that mentality. We've talked about it since we've been here. There's no - I'm not big into faking guys into believing they can do something. You have to earn the right to win and put in the time and pay the price. We've certainly invested a lot more."