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All-Access sights and sounds with defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh, courtesy Kentucky Wildcats TV.

By LARRY VAUGHT

Creating more turnovers, especially interceptions, has been a point of emphasis for UK’s defense in spring practice.

“We always track our turnovers, and not only do we track the ones that we get, we track the ones that we should’ve gotten, and we make the corrections on that. And I think that we’re getting better at that. We are. We’re getting better,” defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said.

“I think we led the league in fumbles recovered (last year), but then we were last in interceptions. We’re not emphasizing it any more, but it’s a strong emphasis on defense in general.”

Head coach Mark Stoops did like that the defense got several interceptions Friday and hopes junior college transfer A.J. Stamps helps the Cats in this area from his safety position.

“I think just having A.J. (Stamps) back there helps us, gives us gives us a little bit more athletic (player). J.D. Harmon coming back at corner gives us some more versatility and more depth, so those two guys help,” Stoops said.

Both are former receivers and Stoops said it is easy to see Stamps’ skills.

“He’s got good athletic ability and he’s giving us some options back there, a lot tighter coverage, so that’s helped,” the UK coach said.

By LARRY VAUGHT

He’s played in 33 games — more than any other Kentucky defensive linemen except for all-SEC performer Bud Dupree — but he’s never had a chance to be a major player for Kentucky. That could change this year for 295-pound tackle Mike Douglas, a senior who is determined to  help UK reverse its football fortune.

Douglas was a three-year starter who played defensive end, middle linebacker, tight end and fullback at Largo (Fla.) High School when he was timed in 4.6 seconds for the 40-yard dash. He had 75 tackles his senior year along with 17 catches for 320 yards and two scores. His team won a combined 25 games his junior and senior seasons.

He was redshirted his first year at UK under coach Joker Phillips and then played nine games with 16 tackles in 2011 as a redshirt freshman defensive end. In 2012 he played 12 games with 12 tackles. When Mark Stoops took over in 2013, Douglas got a chance to play more and had 28 tackles, one sack, 1.5 tackles for loss, two pass breakups and a fumble recovery.

Douglas says his versatility to play different spots — along with a coaching change — impacted why it has taken him so long to settle into a bigger role for the Cats that is possible this year after the departure of defensive tackles Mister Cobble and Donte Rumph off last year’s team.

“I think part of it is just because I learn pretty good and I am effective pretty much anywhere you want to play me,” said Douglas. “I was a defensive end when coach (Steve) Brown was (defensive) coordinator here and then played tackle and nose guard when coach (Rick) Minter was here (as coordinator) and then last year they had me playing the tackle and nose and this year I am playing the nose. I think it is just versatility that I can help wherever I am needed on the line that kept me from finding my spot.”

While both head coach Mark Stoops and current coordinator D.J. Eliot are reluctant to praise players, Douglas’ play has impressed them this spring.

“ I guess from what everybody else is saying I am doing well. I just try to get better every day. I wish I could see the negatives to get better on and just keep doing the positives right,” Douglas said.

Douglas jokes that he has been at UK so long that two former teammates, Tyler Sargent and Sam Simpson, are now on the coaching staff.

“Now they are coaches for us. I feel like the old man on the block but I am glad I got to play with so many great guys like Danny (Trevathan), Randall (Cobb), Winston (Guy)  and a bunch of other guys like Ricky (Lumpkin). Great chance to meet so many great guys over the years,” Douglas said.

“Confidence was never a problem but last year helped in that it took it to another level knowing I could play at a higher level than even what my expectations were or maybe other people’s expectations were. I think it is just trying now to keep it there and go up another level.”

To do that, he tries to work out with Dupree all he can.

“I try to make everything a competition because Bud is just a high intensity person. I am a high intensity person when it comes to some things, but I am not high intensity person over everything like Bud is. I think hanging around Bud all the time and us being really good friends helps bring my intensity level that much higher,” Douglas said.

“My speed and getting bigger and stronger  helps me at tackle. Then I also think having Melvin (Lewis) push me helps me become better. You are always as good as your backup and I look at him as my equal. We always push each other. I make sure he goes hard in the weight room, he makes sure I go hard. We talk trash back and forth. I am talking trash to Bud. It’s all just a big family talking crap to each other and pushing each other.”

Douglas says playing in the NFL would be a “childhood dream” but he is more concerned now with improving.

“The other day I told the team we are not going to go back to where we came from. We started out good my freshman class and went to a bowl game and I want to get back to that and go to a better bowl game,” he said. “With this new era, I want to leave it better than what I found it. That is my main goal right now. Then whatever the Good Lord blesses me with (in the future), I am fine with that.

“We are practicing hard every day and making new habits and we are starting to hold each other accountable for our own mistakes. All the senior and junior leaders are all coming together and just really trying to make this big push and everybody is buying in. Year two, everybody knows the system that much better. Everything is a little more fluent. I think we are going to do good this year.”

Douglas never expected back-to-back 2-10 seasons like UK has had the last two years when he came north to play college football. However, he has no second thoughts about being at UK.

“Not at all. I would do the same thing,” Douglas said. “When I first chose to come here, it wasn’t really about football or anything like that. It was about the relationships I built with people I met.

“I knew that if I did get here, people would have my back and that is what I feel the Wildcat community is all about in supporting each other. I don’t regret anything at all. I like Lexington. Of course, it is a big difference coming from Florida, but I have no regrets with anything I have done.”

 

 

By UK Media Relations

Members of the Big Blue Nation who will not get a chance to make their way to Commonwealth Stadium for the Blue/White Spring Game on Saturday, April 26 at 3:30 p.m. ET, will have several other ways to catch the action as the game will televised and broadcasted on radio by the UK/IMG Sports Network, it was announced.

Former Wildcat lettermen Jeff Piecoro and Dusty Bonner will be on the TV call, which will air live starting at 3:30 p.m. ET on CWKYT in Lexington, Ky., WMYO-TV in Louisville, Ky., and WSAZ-DT (My Z) in Huntington, W.Va.

Fox Sports South will have two delayed telecasts of the game. A same-day delay in the state of Kentucky only will air on FSN South at 7 p.m. ET on Saturday, while the entire FSN South footprint will see the game at 7 p.m. ET on Sunday, April 27

The UK/IMG Sports Radio Network will air the game on radio with the Voice of the Wildcats, Tom Leach, joined by former UK quarterback Freddie Maggard, and sideline reporter Dick Gabriel. The game will be live on 630-AM WLAP in Lexington and 840-AM WHAS in Louisville. Station information across the Bluegrass has not yet been determined. The radio broadcast will start at 3 p.m. ET.

Tickets to the game are free, and fans may obtain up to six tickets each. Tickets may be obtained in the following ways:

-  Online at Ticketmaster.com, www.ticketmaster.com/event/16004c64aca07a50

-  By calling Ticketmaster at 800-745-3000

-  In person at Ticketmaster outlets in Kentucky

-  NOTE: Tickets are free but there is a small service charge per ticket

UK students may obtain their free tickets at the Joe Craft Center ticket office.  Students may pick up two tickets per ID.

Tickets still available on game day may be picked up free of charge at the stadium, based on availability.  Due to construction at Commonwealth Stadium, seating in the south lower and south upper level sidelines will not be available. Capacity for the Blue/White Spring Game will be approximately 42,500.

By LARRY VAUGHT

Coach Mark Stoops thought Kentucky’s offense “took a little step back” in Friday’s practice.

“Didn’t have as good a practice as I’d have liked. Got back to some drops, which put us behind the chains a little bit,” Stoops said. “Good energy from the defense, again, we need to offense to continue to progress. Today was not our sharpest day, but we got a lot of good work in and looking forward to wrapping it up here next week and getting some good practices in next week to finish off spring.”

Stoops said the offense had a variety of problems.

“Just, just getting behind the chains, drops, maybe first-and-10 had some good play actions, balls batted down, so as you know — you saw it last year and it’s the same right now — we get behind the chains, we’re not very efficient,” Stoops said.

“Defense made some good plays. I think it’s a combination, and we’ll go watch the film. But it’s not always, and that’s what I told the defense, we had good energy and they’re playing good, but it’s not always because we’re playing stellar. Maybe the offense is not executing like they can. It’s a little combination of both.”

By LARRY VAUGHT

Cornerback Nate Willis will have surgery for a sports hernia and Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said Friday that would “put him back about three-four months” before he  is recovered.

“Fred (Tiller) has gotten reps at corner, and Cody Quinn’s getting a lot of reps at corner. J.D. Harmon has been getting a lot of reps over there. So we’re just kind of rotating them, and different days different guys do different things good and bad. It’s a long ways away, so it’s tough to tell who’s gonna be our guys,” said defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot on the impact of Willis’ injury.

“It’s frustrating. It’s always hard when you have an injury and you got to be out because you miss all those reps. That frustration sets in, but you always got to look at things on a positive note. He knows that he’ll be back in time for the season, so he just has got to get the mental reps until then, and then when he comes back, he’s just got to be clicking on all cylinders.”

Eliot had liked what he had seen from Willis, a  junior college transfer who got eligible to join Kentucky just before last season started.

“I saw some progress there. He’s been out for a while now, but early I did see some progress,” Eliot said.

By ASHLEY SCOBY

Landon Foster’s life is a contradiction.

With a self-described job of kicking “not even a one-pound ball,” he is still one of the biggest gym rats he knows. He’s a perfectionist in an imperfect sport. And he plays football even though the majority of people he sees on campus thinks he plays baseball.

Foster, Kentucky’s starting punter since he stepped on campus in 2011, is used to all of the contradictions, though, because that’s just the life of a special teamer.

“We like to joke about it, just taking on the specialist’s role,” Foster said.

That role has included contributing to the @UK_Specialists Twitter handle, where the punters, long snappers and kickers post pictures from the weight room captioned “curls for the girls” and joke about which guy should get a tattoo to improve the group’s street cred.

More than anything, the specialist’s role includes a pursuit of flawlessness. A busted offensive play can turn into something miraculous if a team has superior athletes on the field who can make something out of nothing. But if it’s a busted punt or kick, it’s busted, and fans know it.

“We have one kick and every time we go out there, we have one time to be perfect,” Foster said. “Everyone is watching. As a punter, as a snapper, as a kicker, you’re the operation. No one’s really watching the blocking or anything.”

As part of that desire (and need) to be perfect, Foster and other special teamers have reaped the benefits of Erik Korem’s High Performance program, like the rest of the team has by now too. Foster said his body fat percentage went down to 10 percent (from 15 percent).

But for guys like Foster, whose job is to catch a long snap, drop the ball at exactly the right angle and boom it 40 yards down the field, putting on needless pounds of muscle isn’t what Korem is prescribing.

Instead, Foster is focusing on hip flexor mobility and quick-twitch muscle work that can help him improve on his – imagine this – specialty.

“Obviously we’re not going to be in the trenches with the linemen so why are we going to be in the weight room squatting 400 or 500 pounds?” he said.

Foster has plenty of actual game productivity to build on. He was named a Freshman All-SEC player by the SEC coaches his first year, as well as first-team Freshman All-American by Scout.com and second-team Freshman All-American by CollegeFootballNews.com.

All of those accolades, and people still don’t recognize Foster as the all-league punter that he is. ­

“When I wear Kentucky athletic stuff, I always get asked if I’m a baseball player,” he said. “I played one year of baseball and that was like my third-grade year.”

Sometimes, Foster will milk the situation, and listen to what fans have to say about the program while he’s still unidentified as part of the team. At the youth soccer games he referees on the weekends, Foster has heard from a fan how nice of a guy head coach Mark Stoops is, and how he should really meet him sometime.

“I just go along with it,” he said. “It’s really funny. I love the fans here and you really get to hear their passion for it and what they really think of it, rather than, ‘Oh, you’re on the football team. Let me tell you this and this.’”

That incognito role of not always being recognized by fans? It’s all just part of being a specialist.

UK quarterback Patrick Towles (Victoria Graff photo)

UK quarterback Patrick Towles (Victoria Graff photo)

By LARRY VAUGHT

Now that Jalen Whitlow has announced he will transfer rather than accept a move from quarterback to receiver, where does that leave sophomore quarterback Patrick Towles?

He couldn’t beat out Whitlow or Maxwell Smith when he was a true freshman in 2012 under then coach Joker Phillips. Last season he redshirted after Whitlow and Smith emerged 1-2 in the preseason quarterback battle under new coach Mark Stoops and offensive coordinator Neal Brown.

“I wasn’t here for the first time, so I don’t know if he really lost that or not, but he has made tremendous strides, now he’s got a long way to go, Patrick does,” said Brown Wednesday. “And he’s still making some decisions that aren’t correct, making some negative plays, but he’s gotten tremendously better from a fundamental aspect. So that should be a positive for him, not necessarily a negative for Jalen.”

With Whitlow gone, that also means Towles, Drew Barker and Reese Phillips will have one less person to split quarterback reps with in practice until a starter is named.

“That’s why we made the decision. We’ve got to get it down to a manageable number. We’re hoping to do that going into fall camp. I think that was part of the issues we had last year is we let it drag out too far and we didn’t get enough quality reps for either Jalen or Max,” Brown said.

By LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON — Jalen Whitlow made the best decision for himself to transfer to another school so he could continue to play quarterback, but he probably also did Kentucky a favor with his choice after being asked to move to receiver.

Whether it was his fault or not — and former coach Joker Phillips and current coach Mark Stoops have said repeatedly that it was  not — Kentucky was just not very good offensively when Whitlow played. The Cats were a combined 4-20 the last two seasons and while many noted how well Whitlow could throw and run in practice, he normally had trouble completing passes in games.

In Neal Brown’s offense, efficiency is the key word. Fans want big plays; Brown wants first downs and accurate throws.

Whitlow was not even a full-time quarterback in high school, but from the day he got to UK he was determined that he would play quarterback, and only quarterback. I still remember at the 2012 media day if he could envision himself being the next Randall Cobb, a high school quarterback who made the move to receiver at UK and is now in the NFL, and he quickly and politely told me he was a quarterback.

But he was not the quarterback to run Brown’s offense — and UK fans were never going to buy into him leading an “Air Raid” offense when in-state favorites Drew Barker and Patrick Towles, both prolific high school passers, and redshirt freshman Reese Phiillips, a much more accurate passer, were potential starting quarterbacks.

“We’re narrowing it down. So we’re making progress. We like where we’re at. We’re improving. We’re getting it narrowed down. It’s just like Jalen, last night, we made that decision with Jalen. I talked to him yesterday. He made that decision last night. I told you today. The other guys, we’re working our way through it. It’s not a big secret, we’re just working through it,” coach Mark Stoops said Wednesday when asked if Whitlow’s transfer meant Brown had picked a starter.

Stoops said it best when he noted that both he and Brown felt “Jalen’s best skill set” for Kentucky was at receiver. That obviously means the two coaches have seen enough of Barker, a true freshmen, along with Phillips and Towles to believe at least one, if not more, would be ahead of Whitlow at quarterback when the season starts.

“As far as the other three quarterbacks that are competing right now, we’re working through that situation. It’s fluid,” Brown said after Wednesday’s practice. “We’ve told you, and it’s going to be the same stance. You all can ask questions about it, but basically is we’re working through it. We want to make a quicker decision than we did last year, but all three guys, we’re mixing up the reps. They’re doing some good things, they’re doing some things that aren’t so good. As soon as we make a decision, just like today, you all will get notified.”

Brown admitted Saturday’s scrimmage, which was not open to the public, played a role in the decision to ask Whitlow, a versatile athlete, to switch positions.

“There’s more weight that goes into the scrimmages, but this decision wasn’t based just on Saturday. It was a year’s worth of work and I think Saturday was eight practices (into spring ball). So Saturday, the other guys probably did some better things, but it wasn’t just based off one afternoon,” Brown said.

Remember, Brown and Stoops had last spring and all last season to watch Whitlow and Maxwell Smith, who is out this spring rehabbing from shoulder surgery, to play quarterback. Most Kentucky fans were convinced neither could be a winning SEC quarterback. That’s why going into spring drills that Barker, Towles or Phillips figured to have a terrific chance to become the starter — and now one will be.

“You have a past performance. And I will say this as well: Jalen made strides. He was better this spring than he was in the fall, but the other three guys who are competing are better, too. And maybe they made bigger strides, OK? But this wasn’t premeditated, this was something as we went through the nine practices, we made a decision on, it was clear,” Brown said.

What about Whitlow being the most mobile?

You always try to tailor your offense and your plays to the skill set of your players. With him (Whitlow) in there, obviously there’s a few more options. But ultimately we want to throw the football,” Stoops said

Throw the football? That’s not Whitlow’s strength and that’s why he was not the right for UK or Brown.

“We’re always going to fit around our personnel. I don’t think the offense that we ran last year is ideally what we want to do, but I thought it gave us the best chance to win,” Brown said. “We can fit around his skill set. It came down to consistently making throws. That’s what it came down to.  He made really good throws, but not on a consistent as a basis as he needed to.

“This is not a negative on Jalen, OK? The other three guys are performing well. I feel good about where we’re at the quarterback position, now we’ve got to go do it with the lights on, but Saturday in the scrimmage or game atmosphere, that was the best that any quarterbacks have looked since I’ve been here for a calendar year.”

Which is why Whitlow is now headed for another school and UK is guaranteed to have a new starting quarterback next season.

Click on the photo of Mark Stoops to watch a video of him talking about Jalen Whitlow's transfer.

Click on the photo of Mark Stoops to watch a video of him talking about Jalen Whitlow’s transfer.

By LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON — Rather than move to wide receiver as he was asked to do by coach Mark Stoops and offensive coordinator Neal Brown, quarterback Jalen Whitlow has decided to transfer.

He started seven games as a true freshman n 2012 and started eight games last year in Stoops’ first season when UK went 2-10, the same record in had in 2012. He rushed for 663 yards and nine scores in two seasons and threw for 1,834 yards and 10 touchdowns.

“I’m never surprised. I know Jalen was disappointed. I was hopeful that he would give it a try, but I understand where he’s coming from,” said Brown after Wednesday’s practice.  “He’s played quarterback most of his life. He feels like he is (one), so I understand and I’ll support him.”

Whitlow will finish the semester before transferring and having two years of eligibility remaining. Stoops said it would be between him and Whitlow what transfer restrictions, if any, are placed on the player.

“I appreciate the University of Kentucky and what the coaching staff and administration have done for me,” Whitlow said in a statement released by UK since he was not available to the media. “I also thank the community and the fan support I have received here.  I wish the coaches and my teammates the best of luck.”

Stoops talked to Whitlow twice Tuesday about where UK was with the quarterback battle that includes sophomore Patrick Towles, redshirt freshman Reese Phillips and true freshman Drew Barker.

“He’s worked very hard for a long time, through high school and through college here, to help this university and be the best quarterback he can be. So I wish him the best of luck,” Stoops said. “We were in a situation where, once we told him where we’re working it out with quarterback, and asked him to play another position (and) if he’d be open to that, he decided that it’d be in his best interest to go somewhere else and play QB. That’s where his heart is. That’s what he wants to do. I understand that.”

Stoops said he had not asked Whitlow to change positions before discussing a possible move to receiver with him Tuesday.

“We’ve given him every opportunity to win the starting job. He deserved that right. He was in there. As you know, he played some good football for us at times last year,” Stoops said. “I’ve said this over and over again, it’s not all about the quarterback position. We needed to get better across the board. If Jalen was coming back here next year and being the quarterback and playing for us, we’d be a whole lot better than we were last year, just because the whole team should look better. It’s not just on him.”

Brown said he was “disappointed” Whitlow was leaving and called him a “great kid” on the team.

“Love the kid, appreciate everything he’s done for the program. I want to make sure that we understand that our lack of success last year, he only played a minor role in that,” Brown said. “We didn’t do enough as coaches and at other positions groups — I want to put that out there too, I want to make sure we’re clear on that.

“Respect his decision, understand, but again, disappointed. We had a couple different conversations yesterday. We made the suggestion about moving positions, and he wants to be a quarterback, which we definitely understand.”

Stoops said he knew moving to receiver would be a hard change for Whitlow.

“When you’re bundled up at the quarterback position, it’s a different position. Again, I don’t look at it like he’s throwing in the towel on us. I wish he was here,” Stoops said. “I wanted him to stay here and play for Kentucky in some position. But he wants to play quarterback, so we understand that.

“It’s hard, as you know. It’s hard to get four and five guys reps. Listen: I want to move on. I want there to be a clear-cut winner or a starter, or at least one and two, so we can start narrowing down reps. But one thing that I can be sure (of) is that I feel very fair that I gave Jalen a great shot to win that job.”

Both Stoops and Brown said the talk with Whitlow was not easy on anyone.

“It was tough. I have a lot of respect for Jalen. He’s a good kid. Worked extremely hard. He’s talented, and he does have the skill set to run the football, and throw it at times,” Stoops said. “He’s maybe not as consistent as we’d like to be in the pass game. But he’s a very good quarterback, and it is tough to have that conversation. I appreciate the work that he did.”

Brown said coaches know they have to make hard decisions as part of their job, but that doesn’t make it easier.

“It’s never fun. It’s not something I enjoy. It’s really one of the worst aspects. What I try to do … and what I did with Jalen … I told him I care about him, which I do. I want him to do what he thinks is best for him in regard to our team. But I also wanted to be up front and honest with him and I knew there would be a decision he had to make,” Brown said.

“I was hoping he’d make the decision to stay, but I do understand. And I appreciate his contributions. I really do. Last year was a tough year. It wouldn’t have mattered who played quarterback; it was going to be a difficult, difficult season. He weathered some things, some adversity, so I’m proud of him for that. But it is: it’s a difficult thing, for sure.”

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