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UNIVERSITY OF KENTUCKY MEDIA CONFERENCE
August 8, 2014
COACH NEAL BROWN:Â How's everybody doing?Â I know there's a little golf tournament going on down the road.Â So I appreciate you all being here.
We've had four practices in the books.Â Yesterday was a little bit slower paced.Â Guys finished up finals.Â Excited about the group.Â Feel much more‑‑ I feel better.Â I feel more excited.Â I like where we're at, especially compared to where we were a year ago.
I know I'm going to get a lot of questions about the quarterbacks.Â I really like how they're preparing, how they're performing so far.Â Really the next five, seven days will tell a lot.Â We've done a little bit of good‑on‑good work, but we've been real careful because our guys are going through finals, and Coach Korem did a study and found a lot of injuries occur during finals week.Â So we're being really careful with our guys.
So now we're going to pick up starting this afternoon and do a lot of good‑on‑goods, throw our quarterbacks in a lot of different situations.Â I hope within the next five or seven days, one of those guys are going to stand out.Â I think Coach Stoops touched base on that.
You can ask, but I probably won't have much to say about those guys, other than you can ask about them individually, but I probably won't have much to say about where we're at in the position.
I'm about at the point where I'm tired of answering the question, and a lot of you are tired of asking it.Â So with that, we'll open up questions.
Q.Â How often have you been in a situation where you had to open up at about 5:00 in the morning and practice at 6:00?
COACH NEAL BROWN:Â One other time.Â We did it the last year at Texas Tech.Â And to be honest, you've got a lot of time.Â I think you have 30 practices now.Â It's really not that big of a deal.
We were real conscious about giving our guys academic time because coaches are always in a hurry.Â That's just the deal.Â We're always in a hurry‑‑ get better, get better, get better.Â But the reality of the situation is we've got 30 practices plus a lot of potential walk‑throughs.Â We've got plenty of time to get ready for the first game.
So we did it at Texas Tech.Â That's what I was telling‑‑ obviously, Chad and Tommy were there with me.Â That's what I was telling the rest of the coaches, just say it's not that bad of a situation.
Q.Â [ No microphone ]?
COACH NEAL BROWN:Â Getting up early‑‑ the good thing about it is our older guys, with the previous staff, they practiced real early in the morning, which I know put a damper on your schedules the first four days too.Â Really Coach Stoops did it so maybe not as many will come.Â I'm just kidding.
I think it is a little bit of a shock to their system.Â Now, what we did‑‑ and I thought Coach Edmond and Coach Korem did a good job of this.Â They kind of prepared their bodies for it at the end of the summer.Â A lot of team runs, the team workouts started at the same time we were going to practice.Â So kind of got them prepped for that.
Q.Â Have these quarterbacks done anything in the first few days that looked different than you saw in the spring, dramatically different, I should say, that's changed at all how you see them?
COACH NEAL BROWN:Â Well, I think, if you look at them individually‑‑ really, what I was‑‑ what I really wanted to see from the end of April from the spring game until when we started on Monday, was how much better they improved fundamentally because I gave them a lot of different things to work on.
I'll go through each individually and give you one little tidbit.Â I think Reese Phillips has improved his arm strength.Â That's something that jumps out to me.
I think Patrick Towles, he still has work to do in this, but he's improving his ability to get the ball out faster.
Drew Barker has made less mental mistakes than he made during the spring, even in the last week of the spring practice.
And then Maxwell has shown the ability to throw the ball effectively down the middle.Â Now, he's still got to be able to throw it outside to the numbers, to the outside, but he's shown the ability coming off surgery to throw the ball effectively down the middle.
Q.Â You guys said almost every day we talked to you last year that you're waiting for someone to take the reins on that one.Â Is there a chance it doesn't happen with this group?
COACH NEAL BROWN:Â No, I think it will.Â I do.Â I think it will happen.Â We're going to start getting into more 11‑on‑11 work, and I do anticipate it happening.
I know you're tired of hearing me‑‑ you've been on the banquet circuit with me‑‑ but we're going to be better at that position.Â We're going to be significantly better at that position than we were last year.Â A lot of it has to do with year two in the system.Â A lot of it has to do we're going to be better around them at running back, O‑line has matured.Â We're going to be better at receiver.
We have a long ways to go at that position, but we're going to be more talented, and they're going to be more fundamentally sound.
Q.Â [ No microphone ]?
COACH NEAL BROWN:Â What we've done is basically, verbally, I've challenged them every day in certain areas, and I'm coaching them harder earlier in camp to perform at game level.
I'm asking them to make quicker decisions.Â We put in a little bit more third down training and some of that stuff earlier in camp, but it's more of me placing pressure on them.
In the spring, I took this approach.Â We're going to have fun.Â We're going to enjoy this.Â Focus on getting better, you individually getting better.Â That's what we focused on.
Now I'm telling them, hey, we're looking for a guy to win the job.Â Go win the job.Â Everything that you do during the course of a practice is getting judged.Â Yeah, you'd better have fun with it, but understand we are keeping score.
Q.Â How many running backs do you have ‑‑ can we still call it [no microphone]?
COACH NEAL BROWN:Â That's kind of the label that's put on it, I don't know.Â I think all of the coaches within this offensive family, I think it kind of‑‑ it got labeled that back in the '97 or so, and all the coaches that are in this family still use that.
I think, if you look at it, the offensive guys are in the system.Â I think everybody now is putting a premium on running the ball.Â I talked to Tom Leach earlier today on his radio show, and I really believe that, and it's said a lot.Â In this league to win, to win big, to win like we want to is you've got to be able to successfully run the ball when they know you're running it, and you've got to be able to stop the run.
We ran the ball effectively at times last year, but not so much when they knew we were going to run it.Â We've got to get better at that.Â I do like our depth at running back.Â Jojo and Braylon picked up right where they did at the end of spring.Â Those guys, I'm really pleased with them.
Josh Clemons, if we can keep him healthy, I'm really excited about it.Â He's going to be a load for second level defenders to tackle.Â He's a big strong kid.Â You'll see that today when you see him.
The two young kids have a ways to go.Â Stanley is really electric with the ball.Â He's got to get a whole lot more detail oriented.Â Mikel has made a big jump, really matured, changed his body.Â I'm excited.Â Along with Josh, he gives us another big kid.
Q.Â What's been your early impressions of Daryl Long?
COACH NEAL BROWN:Â Really smart kid, great character kid.Â He's going to be what we want at that position.Â Is he right now?Â Is probably not.Â He may be a guy that probably needs a redshirt.Â He probably will tell you that.
But he's long.Â He runs well.Â He's eager.Â I think he loves to play, which is always the most important thing when I'm judging guys.
That's the hardest spot to learn.Â What we're asking Daryl Long, Steven Borden, Ronnie Shields at that position, it's the hardest thing to learn because they've got to know what to do as a slot receiver, as a fullback, and as a tight end.
So he's learning, he's learning.Â I do like his skill set.
Q.Â Will he play this year?
COACH NEAL BROWN:Â I think it's too early to tell.Â I think that will be probably a question a couple weeks down the line.
Q.Â How important is the play of your second tier players?
COACH NEAL BROWN:Â It's going to be important.Â I think Javess is in line to make a big jump because there's going to be less thinking.Â He's fast.Â He didn't always play as fast as he really is.
Last year, you've got to think about it.Â He had his first practice the first week of August, and then we played.Â That is tough.Â I think you'll see a jump in him.Â I wish he could have gone through spring, but that's part of it.
Borden is a guy that really one of the objectives for me coming out of fall camp‑‑ I call it fall camp really, the first couple of weeks‑‑ is finding what he's best at.Â Let's use him the most effective.Â Is he the most effective as a fullback, inline tight end, or slot receiver?
He's got a really good skill set.Â He can run.Â He's big.Â He's strong.Â I've got to put him in positions where he can be successful.
Q.Â You said after the spring that the running backs had a 90 percent catch rate.Â They looked really good.
COACH NEAL BROWN:Â That's what we want everybody to have.Â They were higher than that actually.Â They were higher than that.Â But go on.Â I'm sorry.
Q.Â How much could they be a part of this?
COACH NEAL BROWN:Â They need to be because, when you look at it, they're really talented kids, and we've got to get them involved in the pass game.Â That's been a huge emphasis with quarterbacks.
Your running backs should be your best friend in your pass game, okay, because if anything in the pocket breaks down or if they do a good job covering your primary combination, you've got to be able to find your running backs.
You look at teams that are really successful passing the ball‑‑ you can look at what we did at Texas Tech or what any of the top passing teams did in the country, the running backs have a lot of receptions, and they always break the first tackle, whether they make somebody miss or run through an arm tackle.
Q.Â You mentioned Drew improving since the spring.Â How did he benefit from?
COACH NEAL BROWN:Â Not only for Drew, but if you look at the guys on offense who went through spring.Â You look at Drew Barker, who was able to go through spring, all summer, he's really matured.Â He has a much better understanding, not only what we're doing on offense, but defensively how they're trying to defend us.
Mikel Horton, being here in the spring, going through some growing pains.Â There were tough times in the spring because he struggled at times.Â He was able to go through again.Â The new rules are extremely beneficial where we could meet with those guys a little bit each week.
But he was able to learn what to do.Â Now he's less in a learning mode and more in a details technique mode.
Thaddeus Snodgrass has made as big a jump in his first week of practice as anybody we've had.Â I'm talking about from where he left the spring‑‑ because he didn't perform that well in the spring game, but he's really studied.Â He's worked hard on his body, worked hard on his route technique, all those things, and he's made a big jump here in the first week of practice.
And T.V. Williams is a really smart football kid.Â He had a good feeling what we were doing in the spring, and that's carried over this fall.
Q.Â What do you get out of Dorian Baker and Garrett Johnson in receiver play?
COACH NEAL BROWN:Â We're going to need those receivers.Â Garrett started off a little slow, had a really good practice on Wednesday.Â He's a guy who will play in the slot for us.Â Could play outside, but probably need him more as a number in the slot.Â Was really well coached in high school.Â Got a good feel for the game.Â Knows how to play the receiver position.Â He's quick.Â Gets in and out of his breaks really well, has a feeling where to make the catch.
Dorian Baker and Blake Bone are both big guys.Â We like length.Â That was one of the priorities in recruiting.Â It will be a priority going forward as we need length.Â Everybody can run in this league.Â Everybody runs well.Â Every defensive back we're going to play in this league runs well, but everybody doesn't have 6'3" or above playing corner.Â You can make a lot of those tie ball situations goes to the bigger guy.
So Dorian Baker has been impressive.Â I think Coach Stoops hit on that too.Â He's been impressive the first week, and he's put himself in position to compete for playing time.Â Same can be said for Garrett and Blake.
Q.Â What about a guy like Cunningham, didn't play last season?
COACH NEAL BROWN:Â He's improved.Â I think this competition has been really good for him.Â He was really effective.Â He did a nice job in the spring, got better.Â He's done a nice job academically, bouncing back from where he missed last year.
He's getting pushed.Â We need him.Â We need him.Â He's a guy that we really need to step up in this camp and be able to make plays and give us snaps at that position.
Q.Â As offensive coordinator, would you rather not have Timmons returning kicks and punts?
COACH NEAL BROWN:Â I'm good with it because field position is a huge part of the game.Â We feel he's one of our most skilled athletes.Â He's one of the best, if not the best guys with the ball in his hands.
If you can steal a first down on a kickoff team or steal a first down on the punt return team, that's a huge advantage in this game.
Q.Â Third and fourth offensive tackle pushed this summer [no microphone].
COACH NEAL BROWN:Â I think it's probably a little too early because we've only had one really padded practice so far.Â I think Teven Eatmon is more comfortable at tackle than I thought he was.Â I think he can be a legitimate option for us there.
Kyle Meadows really benefited from his freshman year.Â I'm excited to see how he progresses the next two weeks.Â He's a guy that really needs to come and make an impact.
Q.Â What about Badet?
COACH NEAL BROWN:Â Badet's is coming back from his injury.Â He's been practicing.Â He is‑‑ I think mentally, just understanding how to play the game, night and day from last year.
It's really‑‑ the last day or two, I've really watched some video of opponents who will play this year and just watching our game over again and just watching Jeff this week in practice and then comparing that to where he was last year, just way, way ahead, much further along from a mental standpoint of how to get open on routes and how to win on leverage, those types of things.Â So pleased with his progress.
Alex is yet to practice.Â We have a whole lot of trust in our medical people, and we always make medical decisions based on what's good for the team, but more importantly, on an individual basis, what's best for that team.Â We're not going to put him in the fire until he's ready.
He's still going through the rehab process.Â A lot's been made on ACL injuries.Â I still‑‑ I really believe they're a year long injury from post‑op.Â Some guys come back earlier, and you're in a position where you get released, but mentally, physically, I think it takes a year.Â I think he's probably ahead of that curve a little bit, but we're being cautious with him.
Q.Â [No microphone] that number one in the wide receiver spot in the spring.Â Who's sort of taken over that position while you're waiting for him to heal?
COACH NEAL BROWN:Â It's been by committee a little bit.Â We're waiting for somebody to jump up and take that.Â We can always play the tight end spot there too.Â Borden getting reps there too, him and Garrett Johnson.
Cameron Fogle is a kid who walked on from Cameron High School and was a receiver when Drew was a junior.Â He's done really well in fall camp so far.Â He's a potential option there.
We can always‑‑ DeMarco is a guy that's really flexible, who has a good understanding of what we're doing in those spots.Â We can move those guys around.
Q.Â What area would you like to see the most improvement from now until the opener?
COACH NEAL BROWN:Â I think now what our three goals as an offensive staff for our unit is, number one, improve our tempo.Â I've got a saying that right now it's tempo above all.Â So we want to improve our tempo first.
Secondly, we've got to get fundamentally better at each position group and as an individual player.
The third thing is we've got to develop a mentality.Â We've got to have a more offensive mentality.Â We've got to be able to overcome adversity.Â We've got to expect to convert third downs.Â We've got to expect to score touchdowns in the red zone.
So those are our three goals.Â If you want to break it down a little bit further, I think one of the key things for us moving forward‑‑ there's a couple things.Â When I look at it, how can we make big jumps statistically?Â If you make big jumps statistically, you're going to change the outcome of games.
The two givens are holding onto the ball, which is something we did a really good job of last year, and we emphasize Thad on a daily basis.Â I think that's a coaching.
And then penalties.Â We need to reduce our penalties, especially unforced error penalties, procedure penalties, those types of things, delay of games, anything like that.Â So those are givens.
Then what we've got to do is we've got to be better on first down.Â Drive starters and first down, first play of the drive.
If you go back and kind of look through my career, our staff's career as an offensive coordinator, if we've gotten a first down in our initial drive, if we've gotten that first down, we've been pretty successful.
So I want to see us be much better on drive starters and then much better overall first downs because last year we weren't very good on third down, and that's the truth.Â But a lot of that was due to us not being very good on first down.Â Most teams aren't going to be very good at third and seven or longer.
Q.Â What is the biggest hindrance [no microphone]?
COACH NEAL BROWN:Â Hindrance, what do you mean?
COACH NEAL BROWN:Â Prevent, not getting first downs.Â You've got to get the first down to play fast.Â That's what happened last year, we weren't getting first downs.Â You can't just say, hey, I'm going to play fast regardless because, if you do that, then you continually put your defense in bad situations, especially if you're not very good, you know what I mean?
So we‑‑ so now we're better.Â I think we've got more skill.Â We've got a better understanding of what to do.Â But the important part is we've got to get the initial first down.Â Once you do that, you can get the defense on their heels.
Q.Â You spent a little bit last year trying to maybe overcompensate for some of the lack you had at depth and trying to trick people.Â How much more will this be able to look like the offense that folks have seen you run?
COACH NEAL BROWN:Â It will be close.Â I think that's also important‑‑ and I've got that question a bunch.Â The more I think about it, I think it's important, when we look closer, we won't look exactly the same.Â But it's also important to understand that offense must evolve.Â We must evolve.
We were great in 2012 at Texas Tech, that's true, but if we did the exact same thing in 2014, I'm not sure it will be as successful because the defenses have evolved.Â So we've got to continually evolve.
But I do feel like right now‑‑ and what I talked about in the spring and what‑‑ after going back and really looking at everything that we did over December and January, we tried to out scheme people and overcompensate for areas where we were maybe less talented or didn't have the depth.
If I had to do it over again, I'd just go back and really focus on tempo and fundamentals.Â That's kind of where we're at.Â Those goals I gave John, those were one and two.
Q.Â One is matching you up.
COACH NEAL BROWN:Â Don't remind me.
Q.Â [ No microphone ]?
COACH NEAL BROWN:Â And Tom Leach asked me this not too long ago.Â I think goal‑wise, I think we'll start off with 75.Â In a perfect world, I think 80‑plus is what we want at the end of the day.
You've got to set goals.Â So 64, hey, that's your starting point.Â I don't like it, but at least I know where our starting point is.Â I think we need to get 75‑plus.
If you look, basically, we were low, but it comes down to this.Â We've got to convert third downs, which I already said goes a lot into how you perform first downs.Â We've got to convert third downs, which we'll be better at.Â We will be better at it.
Defensively, they've got to get off the field on third down.Â So let's say that we convert two more third downs a game and the defense makes two more stops on third down, that's four more sets of downs.Â So 12 plays at a minimum.
Q.Â Over a 12‑game schedule, if you broke it down, basically how many points have you got to average a game to have a winning season?
COACH NEAL BROWN:Â I haven't looked at it.Â That's an interesting question.Â I can go look at our stat software, and I'll be able to give you a better answer.Â You might hit me up later in the week on that, or beginning of next week.
I've looked at a lot of stats, but I haven't looked at that one.
Q.Â Have your running backs gone up against [no microphone]?
COACH NEAL BROWN:Â He's getting better.Â He's a load up front.Â We try to run him side to side and then maybe hit him up the middle.Â We haven't gone up against him a ton yet, but he's really big.Â Got a lot of football savvy too.
People look at his size, and that's the first thing they talk about.Â He's got a lot of football savviness about him.
Q.Â Everybody talks about Bud.Â Any other defensive guys that really stick out?
COACH NEAL BROWN:Â I think A.J. Stamps has had a really good first week.Â He sticks out.Â We're really good at corner, this from a technique standpoint.Â They can run a lot of guys out there.
Jason Hatcher is an issue at pass protection too.Â He gets overshadowed.Â Josh Forrest is a guy I think's improved.
His length at linebacker causes problems.Â He gets his hands on a lot of balls and can cover a lot of ground.Â Those are some guys that jump out to me.
Q.Â How about Zach West?
COACH NEAL BROWN:Â Zach's doing better.Â He knows.Â That was a huge emphasis for us is we needed to get better at that spot.Â We didn't play in the interior of the O‑line, center and two guards, we didn't play as well as we needed to last year.
The good thing is we've got most of those guys back.Â At center, I think John Toth has really picked up exactly‑‑ he was our most improved player.Â If not Towles, then he was the most improved player on offense in the spring.
He's put on weight, and he's been able to hold it at about 205.Â I don't know exactly where he is on the roster, but that's where he's about.Â He's doing a much better job.Â He'll be able to hold that line and get movement at the point of attack, which is important.
The two guards, Zach‑‑ we've got some guys, Cole Mosier and NickHaynes, those guys are pushing for the job.Â He's still there.
His biggest issue last year was lateral movement.Â When defensive linemen would move and he got matched up against a defensive end, he had issues.Â He's really worked over the last nine, ten months to correct that.Â I think he has.Â I think he'll be a better player.Â I think he'll continue to come on.
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