The 2018 college football season is inching closer.
The latest proof of such was Kentucky holding it’s annual media day on Friday, where Mark Stoops previewed the upcoming season, his sixth in Lexington.
Stoops was excited to talk about his new team and expectations for the upcoming season, which is shaping up to be another fun year that ends in a bowl game.
However, Stoops also gave some somber updates on Josh Paschal and John Schlarman, who are battling medical issues.
On the field, Stoops is very pleased with how much his team has progressed this offseason. He even thinks this defense should be his best unit since arriving in Lexington in 2013.
And of course, Stoops gave a brief update on the ongoing quarterback battle and what he hopes to see in fall camp. Newcomer Terry Wilson is battling Gunnar Hoak for the right to start Week 1 against Central Michigan, but it doesn’t appear this battle is anywhere close to being decided.
Here is a recap of everything Stoops had to say, courtesy of UK Athletics and FanScripts:
COACH MARK STOOPS: Before I get started I have a couple updates I wanted to give you. As I reported last week about Josh Paschal and the skin lesions he had removed from the bottom of his right foot, well, I’m sorry to say, that those came back as malignant melanoma. So since those results came back, Josh had another procedure this past Wednesday and we’re waiting for those results to come back.
Out of respect to his family, please, you know, don’t dive into this anymore. Josh wanted to be up front with this. Josh and his family are handling it well. They wanted to be open about this so there was no speculation. They also want this to be a reminder for people to pay close attention to any changes in their skin, and if so, have those evaluated.
You know, within our family, our football family have been very supportive of Josh and his family, and they are very -- they are very strong people and they are doing the best they can in this situation, and we’ll help Josh along the way.
The second announcement I have is in regards to coach John Schlarman. He is also dealing with a health issue. He is undergoing additional testing to determine the nature of this issue. He is still coaching with us.
Again, we wanted to be up front and I will keep you updated with this information as available. We appreciate your sensitive to the privacy of Josh, John and their families, as they go through this process.
Again, John and Josh are very strong, very good people, two of the best people we have in our program. Our team will be supportive of them as they continue to battle through these health issues. It’s been a tough couple days in our program leading up to the beginning of camp here, but we -- again, our hearts and prayers are with Josh and John as they battle this issue.
I appreciate our training staff. They have done a remarkable job in the discovery of this in finding something on the bottom of Josh’s foot and sending him to dermatology and so on and they have taken it from there and discovered this.
I want to say, the first, as I reported this, about a week ago, at that time when they had that lesion removed, the doctors assumed that would be the end of the procedure, and that’s when we sent that off and it came back as melanoma.
So we’re waiting on other results to come back with both of these guys this week, and we will update you as I get this information, okay. So just wanted to be up front about that as they will miss some time here and there. We, again, are sensitive to them and their families.
It’s with a heavy heart that I open that way but I just felt the need. It’s very important, and felt the need to address that with you all.
As far as our football team is concerned, I’m very pleased with the work that they have done this summer. The guys have trained exceptionally hard. They are in great shape and I appreciate our strength staff and our coaches and the work that they have done this summer.
Our team is anxious to get started. We have some guys that have quite a bit of experience on both sides of the ball, and some talented players, and we’re optimistic and excited and ready to get started here this week.
Q. You’re a football coach but you’re also a human being -- how do you look at the task ahead of you as far as the season?
COACH MARK STOOPS: I think, you know, of course we’re very close to both of those families. Spent time with the families this week, and we’ll continue to do that. We will be supportive and be a family, just much like you would, you know, and we will be there for them any way we can be but we’ll continue to do the work that we have to do, and they both want it that way.
Q. Before you knew any of this news back in the summer, I understand you road a bus back from Washington, D.C. to go watch Josh -- looking back, are you happier now that you did that?
COACH MARK STOOPS: I definitely do. I think that’s just, again, the human side of you and the personal relationships that you have with these players and yeah, that’s part of it. It was, my neck was all banged up coming back from D.C. for 13 hours on a bus but it was important, because that’s an important part of their life.
In hindsight, yeah, I’m glad I did it, certainly, and being there and supporting them in any way I can.
Q. You lost one of the great kickers of all time in Kentucky. How is the kicking game looking this year, as Coach Laver used to say?
COACH MARK STOOPS: Yeah, we are excited. Miles has been very reliable. A couple years ago when Austin was hurt, he did some kicking for us. He filled in punting for us last year and did a very good job.
Miles will have a good opportunity, and of course, Chance Poore, with him coming in, a freshman with a very strong leg. So we’ll see how that plays out through camp.
But definitely Austin was a great player for us and very reliable.
Q. What do you expect to see from Dorian Baker this year?
COACH MARK STOOPS: I’d like to see Dorian get back in form. He hasn’t played for a long time. He hasn’t been full-go in a long time. Of course he’s gone through spring and gone through the summer workouts, but hasn’t played in a game in some time. We expect to use this camp to get him game ready.
Q. Your defensive tackles, it looks like this as strong of tackles as I’ve seen in a long time.
COACH MARK STOOPS: Yeah, I feel good. These guys have played. We have some experience. We have the addition of a few new guys: Guys like Phil Hoskins, Adrian Middleton has played for a long time. You’ve heard me talk about Quinton and what he brings in the middle of our defense at nose, and Adrian has played a lot of football.
Of course, we had moved Josh inside and when he’s back, he’ll play inside, and T.J. Carter has played a lot of football for us in there. Calvin Taylor, there’s a bunch of guys.
You’re right, we’re fairly deep in there. Kordell Looney has had a good summer, as well, and Tymere Dubose did some good things in the Bowl game and hopefully he’ll continue to do that, as well.
Q. Kash Daniels is playing well.
COACH MARK STOOPS: Kash is doing a very good job. I talked a lot about it in the spring. I was very pleased with the way he’s taken charge of the defense. He’s passionate about it. There’s no doubt about it. He’s going to give you everything he has but he has good command of the defense. He’s playing very well, playing very confident and I’m excited about Kash.
Q. The guys behind Kash, you have a lot of talented young linebackers. What do they bring and how do you get them involved in the defense? Do you throw them in the fire?
COACH MARK STOOPS: I think there’s going to be some of both, as Jordan comes back and how his shoulder is and how he’s feeling, and Jamin Davis, we’re excited him, as well, and DeAndre. And Chris Oats, he has everything.
When you just physically see him and you see him moving around, you see the athleticism in him and of course you heard me talk about DeAndre through the spring because we were very, very pleased with him, the type of football player he is. We’re excited about those guys and see how it goes. We have a lot of practices, so we’ll see how it comes along.
Q. The Mike and Will, are they fairly interchangeable?
COACH MARK STOOPS: They are. There’s definitely some new answers. As they get older, it’s easier to bounce them back and forth, early -- it’s hard, so we’ll try to lock them in place early on.
Q. How much is that aided with Courtney Love being on staff tutoring those young guys?
COACH MARK STOOPS: It doesn’t hurt. Courtney, he played it and he understands. That’s real important at times because there may be things that were difficult for him to figure out and maybe he could relay it in a different way and just spend some time with those guys and see it through a different set of eyes. It always helps.
Q. Alex King and Jordan Wright -- what are you expecting from them this year?
COACH MARK STOOPS: Yeah, we are excited about those guys. Alex is still playing the inside and he has the ability to play outside, as well. We’ll see how he progresses at inside linebacker. We know he’s natural at outside, as well. We’ll see where he goes.
And with Jordan Wright, we’re very excited about him. He’s putting on a lot of weight. He’s explosive and he’s very athletic, you know, coming out of high school, he was a phenomenal basketball player. He moves around in space and he’s a good player. So we’ve just got to continue to develop him and got quite a few practices here to get him game ready, as well.
Q. With Kendall moving on -- Mike Edwards playing the slot corner a lot. Do you expect the veterans in your cornerback group to put him more at safety or even more at slow corner?
COACH MARK STOOPS: We like him at nickel, the nickel position is active. It’s difficult man matchups at times, and then it also gives you the opportunity to create some plays with blitzing them and things like that.
If you’ve been in here for a while, you’ve heard me talk about that position, and nickel, there’s a lot of little nuances to it and it takes a guy with good instincts and good feel and a good player. It’s important to have that guy at nickel so we like Mike at nickel but he’s interchangeable. He could play a sift position or nickel with no problem and he likes jumping in there once in a while at corner, as well.
Q. We met Freddie Maggard on this side of the podium. How has your relationship changed with him now that he’s a friend rather than a foe?
COACH MARK STOOPS: I quit yelling at him (Laughter).
No, it’s good to have Freddie. You know, he’s done a very good job. He’s as I mentioned earlier, I thought about that for some time. I just felt like as I just talked about the nickel back position, that position also is very unique with that because you have to wear a lot of hats, and Freddie can do that.
He’s done a very good job so far. He works extremely hard, and I’m glad to have him. Just goes to show you, I’m not sensitive, because he has said some things about me through the years and I comeback and hire him out of nowhere. I’m not as sensitive as you guys are (Laughter) -- no, he’s changed his tune a little bit (Laughter).
Q. Your quarterbacks, do you expect to play both those guys early in the season?
COACH MARK STOOPS: Right now, I do. But you don’t know how that’s going to play out. You’ve heard me say it, I’m honest about it, but I think at that position you get a good feel for what you have but until you get to a game, you’re not exactly 100 percent sure and that’s not different in many places, not different in the NFL in my opinion.
Until those guys get under center and get playing and get those game reps, you’re a bit unsure. I think it’s fair to both of those guys to give them an opportunity because it’s very close at this time.
Q. With the new red-shirt rule, do you have a plan for that or see how it develops?
COACH MARK STOOPS: Yeah, I’m going to see how it goes. Because each year, sometimes you come with a guy that jumps out of the blocks and you feel like he’s definitely going to play and he may level out.
Sometimes there’s injuries late in the year, as I mentioned before, much like the punting situation a year ago but there’s times like that all the time where we may get thin as the year goes on and a guy has developed over -- over the course of the season.
So we will just play it out and see how it goes. There’s still going to be some freshman, I’m sure, that are going to impress us and they are going to play, all 12 games, 13 games, or 14 games. So they are going to -- we’ll just wait and see and see how we need to do that.
Q. Speaking of punting, how has that situation changed?
COACH MARK STOOPS: The punting situation, you know, with max coming in, max was impressive in the spring and did a very good job. He’s the type of guy that’s talented. He’s still learning some American football, but he’s got a strong leg and he’s talented as far as the things he can do and rolling and moving, so we like Max and Grant is continuing to pursuant, as well. So we’ll see.
But at this point coming out of spring, Max had won the job.
Q. Does the red-shirt rule change the way you use the scout team? Do you prepare guys in the game plan each week in case you need to use them?
COACH MARK STOOPS: Yeah, I think it’s fair to say without going through it that yeah, it will be different.
And I will say, we have done that in years past, even with pulling guys up off the scout team and practicing with us just because we had not had the bodies. We may, if we have a Sam and a Jack, we know we are going to move the Jack to Sam and so on and just bring up the fourth guy just to get him some reps and get him practicing.
We’ve done that each year. I’m not sure how much that will alter that way.
Q. Have you had any problems -- staying sharp -- inaudible.
COACH MARK STOOPS: I haven’t been a part of that, but I’ve seen it before, and you know, we’re open to anything, anything that’s going to help us win. So we’ll see.
Q. What do you think with John, missing significant time, have you shifted staff around?
COACH MARK STOOPS: Yeah, we have plenty of guys. That’s the nice thing about our staff is we have a lot of guys that are capable of doing that and guys with background there, and of course, Coach Gran can coach all the positions. We’ll handle it just fine within our program.
Q. Do you anticipate him missing a lot of time?
COACH MARK STOOPS: I’d rather not speculate on any of that at this time for John and their family.
Q. When Mitch was in here, he was talking about the difference in size that he sees in your team. How does that translate in a game? Do you substitute less? Do you feel like you can use a different kind of approach?
COACH MARK STOOPS: Well, I think it’s important, you know that, as we’ve been here in recruiting and the length and the size; it’s important. That’s the league we play in. You have to be good across the board. We all know that, but it’s definitely a big man’s game.
If you’re getting pushed around, then really, you’ve got no chance. It’s definitely still at the line of scrimmage. I mean, the is it a statistics prove it. I’ve told you guys this before, but if you out-rush your opponent by one yard, it’s a high percentage of winning in conference games.
So rushing the football and stopping the run are very important factors to winning games.
Also, as you look around this league and you go line up and play some of these guys, you see the size at the skill positions and that’s what I’m excited about.
We’re starting to get that, of course, in our secondary, we’re freaky big. Our corners are very, very long, very big, physical guys. I think it’s important to have big guys at the skill positions, as well.
Q. You’re very intentional about getting the players, the coaches, your staff together at social events. We’ve seen the famous leaks from your pool parties. There was a dunking booth this summer. How do you think that plays into wins on the football field or is that just a part of who you are?
COACH MARK STOOPS: No, I think it’s important both ways. Yes, it’s definitely who I am, and the relationship piece of it is very important to me. I think it also correlates to wins and losses, there’s no question.
You know, I think that’s the key point you made there is intentional about it, because it’s such a big operation at times. There’s so many people. I’ve mentioned that to you before. When I was in my own room and coaching the secondary, coaching the defense, it was very easy to get your arms around those people.
As you have a huge organization, it’s hard, so you need to be intentional about that and bringing guys together, and I think our team has done a wonderful job. Our staff has done a wonderful job.
Mitch and our administration is very supportive of those things, the things we’re allowed to do with bringing guys in and grilling steaks on the grill and bringing them to our home and things like that. It’s very important.
Q. Last year, the early part of the season, the offensive line had some moving parts, bad snaps. Having that O-line look pretty solid right now going into the season, your thoughts on that?
COACH MARK STOOPS: Definitely helps us. As you know, we felt going into last year, much like the year before, we had played with nine guys coming into last year, and so we felt like we could roll right into that, and as you know, it didn’t translate that way. And losing Jon Toth was a big factor heading into last year.
So yes, I like the fact of having Drake back, and he’s only a sophomore and played very good football for us. Really kind of anchored us there. There’s very talented, experienced players around him and those guys are very good players and we’re excited about the offensive line as a whole. And now, we can continue to maybe bring that depth along that we were looking for at the beginning of last year.
Q. Drake is still one of the younger guys amongst that group up front, but he seems to have taken a leadership role.
COACH MARK STOOPS: He does. He’s a guy that -- it’s very important to him. We knew that recruiting him since ninth, tenth grade; the game is important to him. He works extremely hard, and he’s intentional about it and he still is.
He wants to help the football team any way he can, and leadership, as well.
Q. On the offensive line, do you think Landon Young is ready to take that jump into the upper echelon or the elite in the SEC on the offensive line?
COACH MARK STOOPS: We’ll see. I’ve very rarely, if ever, said a bad thing about Landon. He gives us everything he has. He’s talented. As he gets older, gets more mature, gets more physical, gets more confidence. He is a very good football player and again, one of those guys that really does everything, tries as hard as he can in everything he does.
Q. This year, looks like a pretty good football year in the State of Kentucky in high school, from what I see. It looks like it’s pretty good. It looks like several kids could come out that had not come out before. It looks like a pretty good crop.
COACH MARK STOOPS: Yeah, I’m not allowed to talk about anybody specifically.
But the state, you know, is always important to us, and it fluctuates, as I’ve said many times. I think the quality is always very good. The quantity is not as many as other states but there’s always good, you know, top of the line players here.
Q. What’s your favorite Media Day-type question, or least favorite media-day question?
COACH MARK STOOPS: That one. (Laughter) probably that question right there. (Laughter).
It’s all good. You know, obviously starting, you know, the Media Day with a heavy heart, with the announcements that I had to make, is not fun because you have a personal attachment to these folks and you feel for what they are going through. But the other side of that is, the team has worked exceptionally hard and the staff has worked exceptionally hard and we are excited about is this year.
Q. How hard is it not to overuse Benny?
COACH MARK STOOPS: I don’t think that’s too hard. He can handle it. As the other guys progress as they are progressing, then they deserve the opportunity to play, as well, so that will play out.
It’s hard. He’s a guy, this past year, he’s a hard guy to take off the field because he’s going to get you the tough yards. But again, as Asim and AJ develop, I’m very pleased with what they are doing.
You know, we always tell kids: Make us play you. If they are doing really good things, then we want to play them.
Q. Is he ever happy taking off?
COACH MARK STOOPS: No, no, you know Benny. He wants -- he doesn’t want to come out of the game. He wants to put the team on his shoulders and you love that mentality and that’s good with us.
Q. He has a realistic chance to become the all-time leading rusher at Kentucky. Is that something you want to see happen or do you have to manage that because you don’t want to over use him?
COACH MARK STOOPS: I would like to see that happen but we’re not going to change anything for that. That’s unfair to Benny and unfair to our team. We don’t want to, you know, go out intentionally trying to do that. We have an opportunity, an obligation to develop all the players on our team and we are going to do that.
You know, our team, individually, will get the recognition they deserve if we do good as a team. It’s always team first. It will always be that way. But individually, you want to see kid get what they deserve but not at the expense of the program.
Q. If you look at the number of snaps and tempo -- with the uncertainty at quarterback and special teams, how much do you see the way that you have to win games changing this year?
COACH MARK STOOPS: We don’t know yet. It changes every year. As you said, we’re breaking in a new quarterback, so we don’t know how that’s going to play out. We may go out there this year and with the addition of some wide receivers and the emergence of some wide receivers, you know, feel the need to throw the ball around a lot more.
You don’t know how it’s going to play out. We want to be a balanced offense. We want to improve in the areas we need improvement in, and part of that is the passing game, at times. We all want improvement in that area.
Q. Being more explosive with the young wide receivers, do you have any players in mind who can do that?
COACH MARK STOOPS: I think Josh Ali, Isaiah Epps, our guys that really did some good things, we think at the end of spring and through this summer. Obviously Lynn having a second year; Dorian Baker coming back is big. Tavin going into his senior year. So those are some guys that really need to step up.
Q. How much do you think it helps coming up against big, experienced defensive backs that you have in the secondary?
COACH MARK STOOPS: I think it helps, it definitely helps. Because depending who you’re playing and the style they are playing, as I mentioned, here, you watch the games, there’s no space out there. You have to earn your space at wide receiver and what I mean by that is that they have to create their opportunities, their grass and getting open. It’s hard to do at times.
One thing about it, one of the reasons why at times it wasn’t -- like it’s not real easy to just ding and dunk and throw the ball around, nobody plays that way any more defensively. They take everything away at all times. So you have to create your space, and it takes a strength and a maturity to be able to do that.
Q. Talking to Vince earlier, he said this is the best defense you’ve had since you’ve been here. Would you agree?
COACH MARK STOOPS: Well, it should be, because there’s been times we’ve had some pro defensive linemen but maybe not the second and third level. If you just look at the defense as an entirety, it’s definitely the strongest since we’ve been here.
We have to go prove and play better than we have and be more consistent. We’ve done good at times. We need to be more consistent.
Q. How close is Jones --
COACH MARK STOOPS: Yeah, he’s ready to go. The first two days, because of, we’re not allowed to have shoulder pads on and they can’t strap his shoulder down, will be a little bit hit and miss. After that, he should be good to go.
Q. How much do you feel the need to get some younger guys on the field to prepare for that next year?
COACH MARK STOOPS: I do feel the need for development and bringing guys along and playing them and recruiting them, because it is important because I do think about year two and year three after this in all positions and that certainly is a concern because we need to get some guys and bring them along here.
Q. What do you think Keaton Upshaw and Brenden Bates will bring?
COACH MARK STOOPS: Well, they are big guys. They are big guys and they can run. They are the type of guys we are looking for because they are good line of scrimmage tight ends. You know, they can put their hand in the dirt.
They can get off and use them as the wide-off or fullback as well, but it’s important to have those point of attack guys and that’s what all of them are. That’s the good part is we have four tight ends who can put their hand down and be physical and also stretch the field and give them a big target.
Q. Traditionally, people think of the quarterback being the leader of the offense, but with inexperienced guys at that position and a lot of experienced guys around them, how much is leadership a factor?
COACH MARK STOOPS: It’s always a factor. You know, your quarterback needs to be a leader and these guys are, but you’re right in that, you know, you’ve heard me talk often about defending the quarterback because people around them have to play better. That’s why, you know, we have confidence going into this fall because we have faith in the quarterbacks, whoever is going to win that job, whoever is going to be under center and playing, we have faith in them and we feel strong around them, and those guys have to play well.
Again you’ve heard me talk about it, you’ve watched football, you’ve seen balls go up in the air and dudes come down with it and making spectacular plays and great catches, and we have to have some of that. You have to make some great individual plays at times.
Q. Is there a fine line about the pace of the offense? Eddie has said before, we want to fast, we want to do this, we want to do that, but for the quarterbacks, to slow the game down for them and not get too fast.
COACH MARK STOOPS: It just depends. There’s been times when we have gone at a pretty good clip and there’s been times when we have been methodical and that’s been the best way.
There’s been times when I’ve been in Eddie’s ear about going fast, and he’s just been methodical, thinking things through and setting things up and it’s been very effective. It’s game-to-game, year-to-year, we’ll see how it plays out.
We’ll have a little of both. We’ll be able to go fast and we’ll be able to be methodical, as well.
Q. How often are you in Eddie’s ear about going fast?
COACH MARK STOOPS: Not often (Laughter) not often. But there’s been times, yeah. There’s been times, yeah.