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July 22, 2009
THE MODERATOR: We are ready for our final coach of the day, Kentucky's Rich Brooks.
COACH BROOKS: I'll bet you're glad this day is over. I'll be last. That's where we get picked every year, so kind of appropriate, I guess (laughter).
I think that this year's Kentucky football team going into this season is a better team than I had going into last season. The reasons I feel that way is I believe our offense will be much more productive, which it needs to be, because we were not very good a year ago. Mark Hartline should show marked improvement, and I believe he will. All I have to do is think back about three years ago, Andre' Woodson's sophomore season, what he accomplished his junior season, and it was significantly improved. I think Mark Hartline will see a lot of that same type of improvement. The people around Mark Hartline will be more experienced and better, as well.
Defensively, we lost some very good players, but the great news is winning three Bowl games in a row, we've established some depth and better SEC-ready talent. And we have some young people that I think are going to be impact players for us on the defensive side, and I do not see us slipping on the defensive side because we lost some good players.
Q. Can you talk about Trevard Lindley's decision to come back. In the spring, you said you were almost surprised he did that after hearing how he was evaluated by the pros.
COACH BROOKS: Well, I was surprised. In fact, I really advised Trevard I'd love to have him back, but I thought he should probably go because he was evaluated by the NFL committee of being a mid second-round pick.
But he decided, with his family, and I was surprised, pleasantly surprised by the way, obviously, that he decided to return. He felt he needed to get stronger. He had a shoulder problem. He had to play in a strap last year. He lost a lot of strength and weight during the season.
At the Bowl game, after the Bowl game, he weighed about 170. Started the year about 178. Currently after a great winter conditioning and summer, he's over 190. I think that will put him in good stead, not only this season, but for longevity of a very long NFL season.
With the 16 regular-season games and the pre-season games, I think he knew he had to be physically stronger. He's gone about taking care of that.
Simply put, I don't think there's a better corner in the nation returning than Trevard Lindley.
Q. Once you get past Florida, maybe Georgia, do you feel like the east is pretty wide open?
COACH BROOKS: Well, you would think that somebody ought to be able to climb that ladder a little bit more often. Florida, clearly, you look at what they have returning, and you just have to, you know, say they're simply the best returning team in the country probably.
The SEC East to me has been, and continues to be, the toughest division in college football, and the toughest conference in college football.
We've changed some history at Kentucky; we have to change more. That would be beating some of the teams in our league that we've struggled to beat over a number of years. And we're a lot more capable of having that happen now than we were three or four years ago.
We've had success against a few teams, but we have to continue to build on that and beat more of 'em, because our goal is obviously to be a factor and have a chance to win the SEC East. To do that, we have to climb over the teams that have ruled the roost, if you will, and ruled it very well, I might add, in the past 10, 15 years.
Q. Would you mind saying who you voted for the first team all conference quarterback?
COACH BROOKS: You guys are going to try to narrow it down to get somebody to spill their guts? How could I not vote for Tim Tebow? We couldn't stop him the last few years. I voted the other guy second. It isn't me. I'm not the guy. Good luck in your search (laughter).
Q. As someone who has coached in the NFL, what do you think of Tim Tebow's prospects in the NFL? Does he have the talent to be a top 10 first-round pick?
COACH BROOKS: Yes. Does he have that kind of talent? He absolutely does.
It's my understanding that they're actually doing a few things that some of the pro scouts would like to see. They actually have him under center taking a couple snaps other than a quarterback sneak maybe this year. Supposedly he worked on his passing motion a little bit to tighten it up.
Listen, the guy completes a very high percentage of his passes. He's about as good a leader as you could ever expect at a quarterback position. He has all of the abilities and has made plays at the highest level of college football. So how can that not translate into a guy that can play in the NFL?
You know, I know there's some people that -- they pick holes in everybody. But this guy is maybe one of the best - or "the" best - college football player that's ever played the game.
Q. What do you think of the idea some people have that he should play a position other than quarterback in the NFL?
COACH BROOKS: The guys that make those decisions should answer that question, the guys in the draft rooms and the guys that coach 'em, because, you know, he's certainly capable. I think he has the talent to play other positions. But, you know, I don't have to make that decision.
Q. Over the past few years you've made a lot of recruiting inroads to the state of South Carolina. How did that come about? Do you intend on doing it in the future?
COACH BROOKS: We'll go anywhere we can to try to find good football players. Hopefully our exposure in the last three years has increased our visibility and our accessibility to some of the better players in the regions that surround the SEC.
And certainly South Carolina high school plays good football. We have quite a few of them come up and compete in our passing tournaments, in our camps. You know, we just would like to build on that relationship. It basically started with Joker Phillips, obviously, having recruited the area before he came back to Kentucky.
Q. You talked about the improvement you expect to see from Mark Hartline this year. Last year, as an inexperienced quarterback, what kind of problems did he face? Now that he has some experience, what type of improvement do you expect to see from him?
COACH BROOKS: Mark Hartline did a very good job - the old term everybody hates to hear - managing our offense. He didn't make a lot of negative plays, but he didn't make as many positive plays as he needs to make.
I think we were fourth in the nation in sacks allowed. That isn't all because our offensive line just kicked the heck out of every defense we played; it was because Mark Hartline, when he realized, rather than taking a negative sack, he would throw the ball away, or scramble and run for some positive yards.
I think that he'll feel a lot more comfortable in our offense. He'll have more experience surrounding him. I mean, we played five freshmen receivers last year. We shouldn't have been caught in that position, but we were, because some of the guys didn't work out in the recruiting process.
But the experience around him will be greater, his understanding of the offense will be greater, and his accuracy I think will improve along with that experience.
Q. Your skill positions on offense were kind of a concern last year. You said you started five freshmen.
COACH BROOKS: You noticed that, didn't you, last year (smiling)?
Q. What did you see this spring and what are you expecting to see this summer that might lessen that concern for the fall?
COACH BROOKS: I think, one, we started five freshmen on offense. We started a new quarterback that had very little game experience. Randall Cobb turned out to be a great athlete. He will be a receiver most of the time, and we'll have a package for him in our Wildcat formation in the backfield. We have our players, Kyrus Lanxter came on, had a good Bowl game. Gene McCaskill came on and had a good Bowl game in our win over East Carolina at the Liberty Bowl. We have a young man by the name of Chris Matthews out of junior college who caught 86 balls, who's 6'6", 210, and runs in the 4.4s.
I think that the experience at tight end with TC Drake, Maurice Grinter, and Ross Bogue returning. All of those guys are going to be better than they were a year ago. And Mike's ability to get the ball to them will be enhanced because of their experience as well as his own improvement.
Q. You mentioned earlier about being more capable now of winning some of these bigger games than you were three or four years ago. How important is it to you as a coach to have been shown the patience you were shown by the administration to get a chance to have this chance now? Discuss about how the window of opportunity for coaches now seems to be so much smaller than what you were at Oregon 15 or 20 years ago.
COACH BROOKS: Well, there's no question that the patience level in society, let alone college football, is at a premium right now. There's not a lot of patience in the world today. I feel very, very fortunate to have been given the chance.
I think every situation's different, okay? You have to have people making the decision on whether change is good or change needs to wait to see if it can be good. You have to have knowledge to be able to make those decisions.
Oftentimes those decisions are made sometimes when they shouldn't be made: when you're on the cusp of having things go the right way. But you have to have some indication that that's happening.
I think that the good news is, is that we improved the talent level to where even the untrained eye could tell that we had improved, even though we hadn't been able to beat anybody and hadn't been able to win enough games to satisfy anybody.
Look how dramatically it did turn in 2006, from what it was in 2003, '4, and '5. Somebody had the intelligence and guts to weather the storm and allow this thing to move forward.
Now, you know, we need to climb the ladder. This is not good enough. Going to Bowl games and winning them isn't good enough. We need to compete for the SEC championship.
Q. What does Lindley return mean? Talk about Cobb, what kind of season you're expecting from him?
COACH BROOKS: Trevard Lindley, simply put, can line up against any receiver in the country one-on-one. And we would have a very optimistic feeling that he's going to cover 'em pretty darn good the whole game, not allow a lot of big plays. He not only can cover, he can make plays. He can intercept the ball. He can recover it on fumbles and run it for a touchdown, like he did at Arkansas two years ago. He's made as many big plays on the defensive side probably as any defensive player in Kentucky in the last 15 or 20 years.
And they're memorable plays. Our first win over an upper division team in our conference was three years ago against Georgia. The guy who put the exclamation on it was Trevard Lindley as a redshirt freshman, intercepting Matthew Stafford's last drive to try to pull the game out, he made the interception. He made an interception in the end zone against Clemson. He recovered a fumble against Clemson in the first Bowl win. The guy has just done unbelievable things. He's a true talent.
Q. Talk about Randall Cobb.
COACH BROOKS: Well, he's an exciting play-maker. He has great play-making ability. Not only that, he has the maturity and leadership to go with it. He's extremely quick out of the break. He can accelerate with the ball in his hands. He can throw it and he can run it. He turned the first game -- we were kind of struggling. We had beaten Louisville last year in a very non-descript offensive game. We scored two defensive touchdowns in that game to win 29-2. We were playing Norfolk at home, struggling. We put Randall Cobb in at quarterback; he immediately scored two quick touchdowns just before half, boom, boom. The place went nuts.
He has exciting play making ability. He can run it. He can catch it. He can return it. He can throw it.
Q. Can you talk a little bit more about your defense, particularly guys like Corey Peters, Micah Johnson, what you like about your defense?
COACH BROOKS: Well, I think that Corey Peters is one of the better returning tackles in the league. Micah Johnson to me is one of the top linebackers in the SEC. We have good experience coming back at some positions, and we have great speed and talent returning that will replace some of the starters that went on to NFL camps this past year.
Remember the name Winston Guy and Danny Trevathan. Sam Maxwell will be a full-time starter. Danny Trevathan at linebacker. Winston Guy at safety. These guys are SEC-quality athletes and players. They're gonna replace guys that helped us win three straight Bowl games. And, at the same level, I think they're better than the guys they're replacing when they were starting their years as a starter on our football team.
So I think our talent level with which we are replacing players that are leaving is night-and-day different than it was three or four years ago. I think we have some quality people that are gonna make impacts in this league.
Q. You play Louisville, Florida, and Alabama in succession at home. How vital is that as far as trying to win all three of them to move up into the top of the SEC East?
COACH BROOKS: Well, obviously to get to the top of the SEC East, you know, we start with the one that's going to be picked No. 1 in the nation probably in Florida. That's a tough one. Alabama, obviously with Nick Saban, what he's assembled down there, is a tough one. And, you know, we need, like I said earlier, to start beating some of these teams that we've struggled to beat.
We're dealt a tough hand coming out of the SEC, start with those two back to back. But at least we have 'em at home. Some of our better games in the last several years have been in Commonwealth Stadium. We were able to beat Georgia there. We were able to beat LSU there. Hopefully at that early stage of the season - hopefully - we'll be a healthy football team, which we were not a healthy football team when we played Alabama and Florida last year on the road.
In one of the games, at least we were hanging around and had a chance. The other one we got thoroughly embarrassed.
Q. Do you Twitter as much as Calipari does?
COACH BROOKS: Well, I don't know if I Twitter at much. I twitter quite a bit lately. But I don't think I probably have as many people answering the Twitter or listening to the Twitter or whatever you do to Twitters (smiling).
You love that Twittering stuff, I can tell.
I'm an old school guy that has kind of taken a liking to it, I really have. You know who loves it the most? My kids. They can keep track of where I am. It's worse than having a cell phone on you.
Q. Can you talk about John Conner? Will his role change any at all this year?
COACH BROOKS: John Conner is our fullback. I think for that position, he's one of the best players in the country. We use the true I with him in the backfield about a third of the time. He's been a solid special teams player. I think he's an NFL prospect as a fullback.
He probably will touch the ball a little more this year, because every time he has carried it, it's usually positive yards. But he'll touch the ball more catching and running than he has in the past couple of years.
Q. On the defensive side of the ball, is it harder, given the spread offense, to keep a true front seven on the field? Do you find yourself having to do more and more five, six defensive backs?
COACH BROOKS: Obviously, that offense takes you out of, what I would call, our base defense. It's virtually impossible to have the four down linemen and your three normal linebackers on the field. We'll go to two linebackers and add a nickel back. If forced to, we'll go to our dime package and play with one linebacker. It does put a strain on practice time and things when you're going from one offense to another offense.
The real difference is you need to make sure you don't put your players on defense in a situation that they'll have a hard time being successful. And that's not allowing the offense to get you in physical mismatches, whether it be in pass coverage or in the run game.
The one thing that probably Florida has done better than anybody, because of Tim Tebow, is they have thrown it as well as the best teams that use the spread, as well as anybody in the country. But they run it a lot better because of Tim Tebow's threat as a runner. Not just the runningbacks, the receiver coming in and taking it, but Tim Tebow's presence as a runner and a thrower make that offense even a more difficult thing to defend.
Thanks a lot. Been a pleasure. You guys can go have a cocktail, a cold beer, talk about where you're going to put Kentucky again (smiling). There you go. Have some fun with it. I'm having fun trying to prove you wrong on occasion.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, coach.
End of FastScripts