Stoops, Kentucky gearing up for Saturday's opener vs. Toledo

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) -- Mark Stoops addressed the media Monday in advance of Saturday's season opener against Toledo.

Q. Still playing the waiting game with Xavier Peters (NCAA waiver process)?

MARK STOOPS: Yeah, I mean, he's out right now until someone tells me different. There's a lot of things that we had to get in order, as well. Information we had to get from Florida State. They have to do part. So it takes some time to get it all in.

Q. If he were eligible, would he be ready to play right now?

MARK STOOPS: Well, yeah, it would be hard for him at this point just because the time he's been here. As you know, second year in college, redshirt freshman. For him to be totally new in our system, it takes some time. You heard me say it a bunch of times about that position: it's most definitely a different position. There's a lot of nuances to playing outside linebacker, standing up on your feet. It will take some time.

Q. This being the first game of the year, how do you prepare for Toledo?

MARK STOOPS: It's good for us to play an opponent like Toledo because they're a very good football program. They're used to winning football games. They're well-coached. They have two quarterbacks that are coming back with good experience, that are good players. We'll have to play very good. If you watch the MAC, you got to have great respect for the MAC, because they're always very well-coached. They're not going to beat themselves. I tell our team often early in the year, you know, we need to play aggressive, we need to play to win, but you can't beat anybody till you don't beat yourself. I think if you watch some of the football that's played early, you see a lot of that. We as coaches try to offset that as much as possible with camp and putting them in a lot of pressure-packed situations. But there's nothing like game reps. Both teams will have some new guys out there and some guys with experience. Game one is always a little bit different. But Toledo is a good football team. They're balanced offensively. They can run and throw. Extremely explosive a year ago, averaged 40 points per game. Used to winning. The defense is not going to beat themselves. They're very sound. They very clearly know who they are, what they do, and they do it well.

Q. Have you watched game film on them?

MARK STOOPS: Of course, oh, yeah.

Q. Anything stick out?

MARK STOOPS: (RB Bryant) Koback, like I said, both quarterbacks are good football players, both have some good experience. Losing their center, I'm sure I feel for that young man because he's a heck of a football player. They have to replace some wideouts. That will be big for them. They definitely can rely on Bryant. Koback, he's a good football player, rushed for darn near a thousand yards a year ago there. They have great balance. I'm sure they're looking for the same thing this year.

Q. As young as the secondary is, will Toledo come out and test it right away?

MARK STOOPS: I'm sure. I would think so. They do that anyway. They're aggressive. They scored over 50, I want to say, at least three times, maybe three or four times last year they scored over 50. I don't think that's anything new for them. They want to mix it up. They mix in their shots anyway. Anybody scoring that amount of points...

Q. On your depth chart, you definitely have the strong and nickel alternating. What makes Ty Ajian...

MARK STOOPS: To be honest with you, those guys are interchangeable. Jordan (Griffin) has more experience at the nickel. I'm going to look at it this week and see exactly what we go into game with. That could all change a little bit. To the offense, it doesn't matter whether a guy is playing low or high. If we're bringing that guy, which we do a lot, the guy replacing him is replacing the nickel coming the other way. Doesn't make a difference to the offensive guy. It's just bodies. But for us, we just got to continue to work with that, get as much experience as we can.

Q. DL Phil Hoskins status?

MARK STOOPS: Phil will be out the first two games due to an academic issue.

Q. Four freshmen on the depth chart. Are there more in that class that are going to play?

MARK STOOPS: We'll see. We go into this week with these guys on here, yeah.

Q. Big Blue Nation is really excited about how the season ended last year. The expectations for the start of this year. It's got to really come over onto the team. The players have to be excited about getting back out there. How do you keep them in check that they don't come this Saturday and the excitement takes over, they forget to play football?

MARK STOOPS: That's part of what they pay me for, get 'em ready to go (smiling). Motivation and how we handle our players on a day-to-day basis is a lot to do with it, getting them ready to go. It's a very, very long year. That is part of it. You can go back, and I'll use it as an example, we learn the best from mistakes a lot of times. There's been openers here before. We could go back to Southern Miss. Our team just overly excited, come out and play fantastic in the first half, and I think left a lot out there, just left it there, left it in this locker room. That's part of it, just handling the emotions, especially guys that haven't played much. Some of the older guys played a lot of football, understand that, know how to contain themselves. Guys that haven't played a lot, we're counting on them in large roles here this week. That is part of it, handling the opener, how we go through pregame, our routine. We've already done that twice just, so it's not fresh to them when they walk out here on Saturday. That's part of it. You may or may not remember, but that's what I talk about all the time, is I very much stay in a rhythm. I talk about the situation. That's the situation this week. The situation is it's the opener. Playing Toledo, we're at home. It's a new season. That's part of what we'll talk about. Then we talk about motivation, we talk about football keys. That's three things that I stay in line with every Monday.

Q. Do you remember your first game, what you were like?

MARK STOOPS: Well, I don't really remember. I was probably holding onto my ass (laughter).

Q. You talked before about MAC teams, how well they're coached. Do you feel like that's gotten through to some of your players? They put a lot of kids in the NFL, just like the SEC.

MARK STOOPS: Definitely. It takes watching the film. Our players know good football, teams that put you in predicaments, the way they execute. That's what it comes down to. It's not hard for our players to get their attention. No matter who we're playing, we're really worried about us, putting ourselves in the best situation to play the best football we can.

Q. Game week, how would you grade the secondary? Is it still a little too early to tell?

MARK STOOPS: We'll see. We'll be sitting in here next Monday and I'll address it a little better. It is what it is, you know. We'll see how it goes. I'm excited to watch them play. I can't wait to see them play. I'm excited to watch our whole team play. As coaches, I think you have an idea of who you are, what your team's going to look like. There's definitely a few more emotions with the first game because you really just want to get out there and play and see exactly what you have.

Q. In your mind, what's the best thing your team did during training camp?

MARK STOOPS: I think they played with a good hunger, desire to get better. They competed every day. I want them to put their heads down, you know, kind of submit to what we're doing, just buy into it, walk away from the distractions. There's a lot of mental preparation that goes into it during camp. They have to do a lot of walk-throughs, a lot of meetings, practice. They have to kind of submit, be all there all the time. I felt like there was really good focus and energy.

Q. How is Landon Young different than the last time you saw him?

MARK STOOPS: Landon, he's bigger. He's stronger. He's more confident. He's a year older. He looks really good. I'm really excited for him. As I mentioned, there's a perfect example of somebody that takes a negative and turns it into a positive.

Q. Do you feel comfortable with (kicker) Chance Poore?

MARK STOOPS: He hit a 56-yarder the other day at practice, so... I mean, I'm not saying I'm going to go for it at 56, know what I mean (laughter)? We'll see, uh-huh.

Q. LB Josh Paschal has come a long way back to be your starter.

MARK STOOPS: It's a great story. Appreciate all that you all have done to document that story, get it out there. Josh, right away, that was part of it for him, wanted to be very honest and very up front. Again, it is what it is. The story was out there. You all did a very good job of relaying that message, getting it out there for him, just for awareness only.

If you know anything about Josh, he doesn't do anything for attention. He'd just as soon let him be, let him play. But with this situation, he felt compelled to relay that message. So it doesn't surprise me the way he's handled it at all because he's a special young man. It's really good for us. It's good for the team. It's really heartwarming really just to see him out there because you see the pure joy in him, just truly being appreciative for the opportunity to be out there. I know we all have to remind ourselves of that all the time, all of us. But he is a great example to all of us of reminding us and our program to say, Hey, you better appreciate what you have and let's make the most of it.

Q. Another good story seems to be OL Kenneth Horsey, 15 months after heart surgery.

MARK STOOPS: There's no question. I mean, very, very serious issue. When that happened, I had no idea whether he'd play football again. To see him battle back, go through what he's gone through, is a remarkable story. Even physically the pain he dealt with through his chest, where they cracked him open. He has a pretty big scar there. Gave him a break last week during camp, we went swimming. You could see him walking around with a big old scar there on his chest. He's been through an awful lot.

Q. A lot of talk about your tight end room. How excited are you to see those guys get in the game?

MARK STOOPS: Another group, Justin (Rigg) has played, but the other two really haven't played very much. To see them next week, they're going to be one of quite a few guys. As far as the depth chart, I didn't look at it. There's probably quite a few guys that are going to play a significant role next week that hadn't in the past.

Q. Bryant Koback, if anybody will be motivated, it will probably be him. Do you have any regrets about how the entire transfer situation worked out?

MARK STOOPS: No, no, I think it worked out very, very smooth, seamless. Those are difficult situations. As I mentioned many times, you have to look at each situation individually. That's why there's so much discussion about it, because everything is not always black and white. There's different issues, different circumstances with somebody's desire to transfer. I think that's why you see strong opinions on that issue on both sides, because they're different.

Q. Do you have a feel for your wide receiver group this year?

MARK STOOPS: Much like the tight end group, I'm excited. I'm confident in them. I'm confident in our wide receiver group. I'm excited to watch them play. I think they've worked really hard. You've heard me talk about it through the spring, through the summer, through camp, that we need them to step up. We need to convert. If you look at us a year ago, the opportunities we had down the field, we had some opportunities. We got to convert on them. Our guys are working hard, not just at the shot plays, but the day-to-day, the discipline of routes. I think the whole unit has worked hard, with the quarterbacks and the receivers, tight ends, just to be more efficient.

Q. The example that the older guys that are not here anymore set for the younger guys, showing you can have success, how much have you seen it? How important is that? How much have you seen of that from the young guys, following the examples of guys that set the tone for you last year?

MARK STOOPS: I think it's very evident that you see our players. As I mentioned, early on with the preparation for this team, back in January and February, it was evident that they did learn quite a bit. You've heard me talk for many years about the players and being a player-led team. We're going to work hard to help our players in all areas. Leadership is first and foremost. At the end of the day you have to have great leadership in that locker room. I don't think there's any question that the 16 guys that left, left a great legacy in that area, where the players understand the difference between right and wrong. Doesn't mean we're perfect. We're going to make mistakes. But they are a player-led unit, are continuing to improve in that area, keep each other accountable.

Q. Has QB Terry Wilson made the progression you would have hoped for going from a first-year starter into year two?

MARK STOOPS: He has. Been very proud of him, the work he's put in. He's worked in all areas. He'll have an opportunity to go out there and show that Saturday. But he can't do too much either. He just has to play within himself. We have a lot of other people around him. That's always going to be the case. The strength of our team is always going to be the team. You heard me say that a year ago. It's not a fancy cliche, it's the truth. You got to have a good team. You're going to win as a team and lose as individuals. If we go out and play as individuals, we're going to lose. That will always be the case. This is the ultimate team sport here. We got to have all guys on the same page all the time or you're not going to be successful.

Q. (Question about the defense, guys that will help get pressure on the quarterback.)

MARK STOOPS: We're going to have to continue to evolve through the whole year. We're a new group defensively. There's a lot of new bodies out there. We feel like there's some strengths. I feel like we'll see where that pressure comes from. A year ago we had a very good combination. We had guys that could get to the quarterback, straight rushing. It may be different this year. We may need to pressure more. You just don't know what it's going to look like.

Q. What you said about leadership and legacy, a guy like Jordan Griffin who is stepping up for Davonte Robinson who is injured, how much of a leader do you see him as being?

MARK STOOPS: Jordan, he's been on our leadership council since he was a freshman. He's used to being put in a leadership role. You see more and more of that now. Again, I think as you play, earn the respect of your players, you'll see more and more of that. They have to find their voice, whatever way it is, to be a leader. I like what I see so far out of Jordan. We have quite a few on the defensive side, believe it or not. T.J. Carter is a guy that's been a leader. He's quiet, but he does a lot. Quinton Bohanna, same thing. He's not always vocal. Believe me, when he says things, people listen to him. I'm excited about those guys. DeAndre Square, same thing. He's finding his voice, but a guy that our team has a lot of confidence in, does things right, works extremely hard. It will happen.

Q. OL Darrian Kinnard and Luke Fortner…

MARK STOOPS: I feel very good. I feel very good about those two, I really do. I think a perfect example of that is those guys have to be on the same page all the time. The offensive line, they always have to be working together. There's so much communication that's involved there with those guys. They really work hard at that. Coach Schlarman does a great job. I'm excited about those two.

Q. How is Lynn Bowden coming along?

MARK STOOPS: Lynn has been good. Fun to see his growth off the field. He's been by far the most consistent he's been through this period. It's a tough grind there through a month of camp there. Lynn has been very consistent and working very hard.

Q. We've heard Taj Dodson's name a lot, what has he done?

MARK STOOPS: He's done well. He was making a move, doing some really good things, then he got dinged up a little bit. He missed some practice. He was out for a few days. That's an eternity during camp. Miss three days, seems like a long time. But then he came back, he's been impressive. He's getting his feet wet, moving him around a little bit, which is also hard at that position, playing him some at corner early, playing him some at safety, moving him inside. We felt like we needed some help inside. He gives you an athletic guy inside.

Q. DT Abule Abadi-Fitzgerals…

MARK STOOPS: He's come a long, long way. He's a lot like Calvin in that he really works hard to do what he's asked to do. There's a place for that. When you're playing those guys up front, you got to be very unselfish to play up front on the defensive line, do what you're asked to do. Sometimes you like loose players that are twitchy and can make things happen sometimes by being wrong. Then there's other guys that just fundamentally constantly want to do things right, really work at their technique. He's a guy that you're seeing grow. Coach LeBlanc has done a really good job with him, getting much better.

Q. I know you don't like looking back, but you have to miss Josh and Benny and Mike and those guys. How much contact have you had with them over the course of the summer?

MARK STOOPS: Who are those guys (laughter)? Just minimal, just minimal contact with them. They're doing their thing. All the ex-players, heck, Ed Reed I haven't seen in years. Came back in the off-season a year or two ago to spend a weekend here. Those guys know I love 'em, care for 'em. They're doing their thing. We're doing ours. We'll always be here for them to support them. I don't need to keep in contact with them all the time. They should be busy at camp right now.

Q. A number of your current players are attending high school games in the area. What are your thoughts about that? What do they get out of that?

MARK STOOPS: I love it. I love it. I like the fact that they're going to watch some football, supporting some of these local high schools, getting out. I'd much rather have them doing that than doing something else (smiling). I told our team, I could promise you, when camp breaks, you'll be reading some people on the ticker, you'll be reading some things in the newspaper. Let's just make sure it's not us, okay?

To my knowledge there's nothing out there right now. So seems like everybody has been well-behaved. Hopefully we'll keep it that way.

Q. What do they get out of that, watching the games?

MARK STOOPS: I just think it's good for the game. It's good for the local community. It's good for them just to go watch ball, and kind of reminisce back when maybe it was a little bit simpler for them than the grind of what we're going through right now.

Q. Did you watch the Florida/Miami game?

MARK STOOPS: Just because there wasn't a lot of games on. But that game, first of all, was entertaining. It was fun to watch. Two good teams going at it. Obviously, like any of us coaches, I'm not getting a quote out there, but it's true. Any time in game one there's a lot of things to clean up. It's what I mentioned earlier today. Everybody is going to go out there and play to win, but you can't beat yourself early. I think you got to really focus and stress that. For us, I do it every week, I do it every Monday. I take things from around college football, put out a football IQ, just show them video, things that happened. I'll pull a few from that game, several other games that were important. Late hits, turnovers, just things of that nature, where we all coach hard to avoid. Things happen. Believe me, I know we've been on other people's football IQ tests, too. We're far from perfect, but we're going to certainly point them out to them.

Q. How is QB Sawyer Smith grasping the playbook?

MARK STOOPS: He's doing a good job. Really impressed with him. Like the way he handles himself. He's very, very poised. He makes good, quick decisions. I feel very confident with him.

Q. Do you have to tell yourself anything ahead of the game that there's going to be some sloppy, game-one stuff, keep your cool when that happens?

MARK STOOPS: I mean, just because you may know it's going to happen doesn't mean you're very happy with it (smiling). I can't promise you anything. No, I think you're ready for the game plan, but the mission changes sometimes. Things happen. You have to adapt and overcome. If it's something I'll talk to the team about and say this. It is something you have to talk to yourself about and your coordinators. We have a game plan, but things change. You just have to keep your poise, adapt and overcome whatever situation you're in. We had some great examples of that a year ago where it looked pretty dismal. We stayed with it and found a way to win. Be the same way with the opener.

Q. You talked about the wide receiver group, tight ends as well earlier. How has Terry kind of played into that process with that year under his belt now? How can all three of those grow as the season continues?

MARK STOOPS: Well, they all work together. They worked hard, as I mentioned, getting back through the winter, coming back, watching film, seeing areas where we need to improve, seeing areas individual where each person needs to improve. They've worked hard. They've worked through the summer. They're out there working when we're not allowed to be there. They're out there holding themselves accountable, working hard in that heat. It's been a good camp. We'll see how it plays out.

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