Less than 12 hours after getting home from the Final Four, I found myself at spring football interviews for the first time since practice started up. Here are quotes from head coach Mark Stoops and offensive coordinator Neal Brown. Questions are in italics and paraphrased for clarity.
Pretty good work today, good energy. The offense responded a little bit Monday, defense got after it a little bit, had good energy, good enthusiasm, probably had the upper hand in team drills. Today the offense responded a little more, a little more balanced, but I like what I see. The guys are working hard and getting better. As I always say, we’ve got miles to go, but I like their attitude and their energy and their work ethic and we’re improving. Good to see some guys back. You guys were off the basketball trail.
On Ryan Timmons:
Timmons is, he’s doing very good. He’s more consistent of being a complete wide receiver. We know he’s good with the ball in his hands and he’s got to learn to get open, it’s not just screens and fly motions and handing him the ball and all that. He’s improving, he really is. He’s making some big plays. He’s been more consistent; he’s stronger. I like the way he’s playing.
On if Timmons has gotten stronger:
Just get in great shape and he’s working on that, yeah.
ON RUNNING BACKS. DO INJURIES IN SPRING ILLUSTRATE HOW IMPORTANT IT IS TO HAVE DEPTH AT THAT SPOT?
On running backs and if spring injuries show how important depth is:
It is. They’re better. We’re getting more depth at that position. Mikel (Horton) is getting a bunch of work. Josh (Clemons) being back a little bit has been helpful. He’s a tough, physical presence in there. It’s been good. We need a bunch of guys and I’d like to say it’s because we’re much more physical and we’re bigger and stronger and we’re beating them up, but I don’t know if that’s the case. I can’t say that yet. But anyway, we need some guys, need some depth.
ON CLEMONS’ RESILIENCE, THROWING AWAY ANY CAUTION AND IS JUST PLAYING:
On if Josh Clemons’ resilience is akin to him throwing caution to the wind and just playing:
Yeah, that’s a good analogy. And he’s been playing very well. It doesn’t look like he really missed a beat to be honest with you. It seems like he’s moving good, has good agility along with his power. It’s been good to have him.
On Darrian Miller and Jordan Swindle:
They’ve been very good. They’ve been more consistent. Again, they’re bigger and stronger. They’ve been taking more of a leadership role, so I like the way those two are playing. They’ve been really solid, and need to continue to improve, but I like what they’re doing, both on the field and off.
On wide receivers’ physicality:
We’re a work in progress there, but we’re all over them. Coach Mainord’s coaching them up tough. I think defensively, we’re putting pressure on them that way. We’ve incorporated some drills and half line, things like that where maybe the defense knows screens are coming and so we’re just flying to the ball, making them put their face on the defender and learn how to block and how to be tough. We’re getting better.
On saying he admired basketball team’s run and what specifically he can take from that:
What I said was it was good for any team or any program to see how they just kind of put all the distractions aside and just went to work and put their head down and listened to their coaches and really came together. I think any team could learn from that. We’re much further off. We know that. We’ve got a lot further to go, but in the same analogy we just need to put our head down. You guys hear me talk about that all the time. We can’t worry about anything except getting better out there today. Our players are starting to take that approach. And even during practice or after practice we get all excited and sometimes in the spring it gets competitive going back and forth – it’s not necessarily always about just winning a drill. Are we winning a winning a drill because we played very good or because the other side didn’t execute? So, I’d like to see good execution on both sides of the ball. And again, I think we’re improving in that area. We’re still not there, but we’re getting better and I think that’s one of the things we kind of can take from it: just put our head down, go to work and get better.
On if there has been any movement or separation in quarterback battle:
No. You know, it’s tough, because maybe one guy will jump out at you. Jalen (Whitlow) really had a good drive today, really did a good job with the first-team offense and really did a nice job of moving them and was very effective. So, it goes back and forth.
On any injury updates:
Jojo (Kemp) was back out there. It was good he was back out there at full-strength looked good. Nothing new. A few little nagging things here and there, but overall pretty decent.
On who is working at returner:
We’re working a bunch of guys back there. We’re getting Timmons involved and having him return some, some new guys would be. Timmons and T.V. (Williams) is back there. Of course, Demarco (Robinson). So, we’re bringing those guys along, along with some others. I’d like to get Timmons back there. If he could get comfortable catching the punts, I’d like to look him.
On how TraVaughn Paschal has looked and if he is at linebacker full time:
Yeah, he had that offseason — he had an offseason surgery, so he’s not getting a ton of work right now. But yeah, I think TraVaughn is the type of guy we can still move around a little bit, kind of in Bud’s role.
On how Ryan Timmons has looked returning kicks:
He’s better. He’s better. Yeah, he’s more comfortable. He’s not as indecisive about the catching. He’s going and making good decisions and going and getting it. So he’s getting more comfortable.
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR NEAL BROWN
On Wednesday’s practice:
We had a really good, spirited practice, both sides, some give and take. Defense made some big plays against us; we were able to regroup, made some big plays toward the end. I liked the energy we got, especially up front with the offensive line. We’re starting to get some leadership up there with Jordan Swindle and Darrian Miller and Jon Toth really coming along. It was good we had a couple running backs get back out there today, so we were better at position. The quarterbacks were all better. I’ve told you that. We’re all much-improved. Not much separation. It’s hard to tell until I get back and watch it, but that’s kind of where we’re at.
On what he wanted to see from Ryan Timmons this spring and whether he’s seeing it:
I wanted to see him take a step. I’ve been talking to him a lot about a kid we had at Troy named Jerrel Jernigan that plays for the Giants now. He was a lot like Ryan coming in: hadn’t played just a ton of true wideout. Jerrel had actually been a quarterback – an option quarterback – in high school. Came in, we used him – use Ryan very similar to how we used Jerrel at Troy in 2007. Then from the end of the season in 2007 through spring practice, into the start of the season in 2008, Jerrel changed his body, really learned how to play receiver, and he was a first-team all-conference player, a third-round draft pick, so on and so on. So that’s kind of the guy I’ve been talking to Ryan about. I’m pleased with where he’s at. His practice habits are a lot better. He’s catching the ball more consistently. And he gives us a big-play threat.
On whether Timmons is stronger:
Yeah, his body looks a lot better. Where he played three sports in high school, which is a great thing, he just wasn’t in the weight room a ton. And he had that shoulder surgery about this time last year, so he didn’t get to go through any of our offseason stuff. So his body looks a lot better.
On calling offensive tackles Darrian Miller and Jordan Swindle the offensive MVPs last season and whether that was about what they did or what skill positions didn’t:
I don’t know. It’s a combination probably. They were our two best players, so probably when asked that question I answered it just from who our best players were. Those two played at the highest level. Those guys, they take it personal. I probably get on them as hard as I get on anybody, just because I think they can play at a really, really high level, and when the guys see me challenging them, I think they accept that.
On what example Josh Clemons has set for young players:
Toughness and perseverance, without question. He really attacked his rehab. He looks better now than any time I’ve seen him. Obviously I wasn’t here when he was a freshman before all the injuries took place. He looked really good on video, I’ve seen him on video from his freshman year. But I think it does, especially some of these young guys to see how important it is for him to go through what he’s gone through to get back. It sets a great standard.
On if Brown ever thought TV Williams would be too small:
Yeah, I think that’s a concern. I think that’s a legitimate concern. I don’t think you can have a whole team of guys his size, but you can have small guys. We signed a kid named Jakeem Grant at Texas Tech, and he made a lot of plays when we were there and he’s made a lot of plays last year for them, and he’ll make some more in the two years you’ve got left. We’ll be careful. We know how to use him. We’re not going to ask him to be a lead blocker. We’re not going to ask him to do things that he’s not capable of doing, but he can stretch the field and he can make some plays when he gets the ball in his hands, for sure.
On if wide receivers need to improve blocking:
They need to improve everything. But we’re better. We’re still not where we need to be. But to be honest, it’s going to take time. I’m sitting here a year ago talking to you guys, and we were in bad shape at wide-out. I don’t think there was as bad a shape anywhere in the country going back to last spring. We’re better. By no means where we need to be or where we’re going to be. It’s probably going to take another year to get it exactly where it needs to be from a depth standpoint, but they’re better. They’re more coachable now, and they’re studying the game when they’re not here. I’m excited about those guys. They’re hungry, which is an improvement from last fall.
On Patrick Towles’ hitch, and if it comes back in stressful situations:
You know, I really haven’t seen it much this spring. He’s doing a good job. I’m pleased with how he’s worked, how he’s progressed. Fundamentally, he’s a lot better than he has since I’ve been here. I’m excited about it. I’m excited about him.
On if running back feels like a position that will be improved:
Yeah. I think we’ll be more talented. I think some of them are going to be young, though, with Mikel and Boom. It’ll be to be determined. I think with Jojo, if he continues to progress he should be a better football player. Braylon’s got some experience. So I think so. I’m optimistic, but they’ve got to go out and get it done.