LEXINGTON, Ky. - UK began preparations for Western Kentucky University in earnest on Friday, shifting from camp to in-season mode with its season opener eight days away.
"We treated today like a Tuesday practice for Western Kentucky, and very pleased," UK head coach Mark Stoops said. "I thought it was a very good day. It was the first time we went through this format, where we go scouts and then we go against each other for part of the period. So overall, very pleased. Thought it was very good work."
During the fall, Stoops and his coaches have been doing work in the background to prepare for WKU, but Friday was the first time they brought it to the practice field. The staff has been balancing the evaluation of the Hilltoppers' personnel with scouting Bobby Petrino's teams at his previous stops, though Stoops has never coached against his WKU counterpart.
"It's hard to judge scheme-wise," Stoops said. "We can't look at that. Really you're just looking at personnel and just different people. The first thing you look at is (running back Antonio) Andrews. You look at No. 5 and you just see an absolutely fantastic football player. He's a very good player, does everything for them, and he deserves all the accolades he's been getting."
The defense that will try to limit Andrews next Saturday got a boost on Friday with the return of junior-college end Za'Darius Smith. Smith has missed the majority of camp with a high-ankle sprain, but practiced for the first time in more than two weeks. Watch video of Smith talking about coming back to practice here and look out for a story on him later on Friday.
Also getting good news on Friday was Max Godby. The junior has played his way to the top of UK's depth chart at center and has been awarded a scholarship after walking on before the 2010 season.
"He looked emotional and, you know, you feel good about that," Stoops said. "He's worked awfully hard, and he deserves it. We're excited to give him one."
Even outside of the Smith and Godby news, Stoops had a lot to get to in his question-and-answer session with reporters. Here are a few leftover roster and depth chart notes:
•Stoops gave some insight on UK's special teams personnel on Friday, saying senior placekicker Joe Mansour is the leader in the clubhouse, though a starter won't be named for another few days. Stoops cited his clutch kicking in fall camp as a major reason why. "When we've done two-minute drill in the stadium in scrimmage-like situations, he's hit two 50-plus(-yard field goals) to win the game, to win the scrimmage, to win that situation; let's put it that way," Stoops said.
•Demarco Robinson will be UK's primary punt returner, Stoops said, due in large part to his consistency in taking care of the ball. Though steadiness may be why Robinson beat out his younger competition, Stoops is looking for playmaking in the return game as well. "I hope overall the special teams - we've worked extremely hard," Stoops said. "Coach (Bradley Dale) Peveto has done a great job. We've put an awful lot of time into it, so hopefully we'll see some results."
•Stoops learned during practice that defensive tackle Patrick Graffree tweeted Friday morning that he will transfer to Eastern Kentucky. He had only good things to say about the redshirt sophomore. "We wish Patrick the best," Stoops said. "You can't ask for a better person. I've really learned to appreciate Patrick and all the work he's done for us, and I wish him nothing but the best."
•UK will also be without wide receiver Rashad Cunningham on the field this fall. Stoops announced the sophomore will not play in games but will continue to practice with the team.