Stoops impressed by Wildcats’ defense

Published 4:45 pm Sunday, April 1, 2018

LEXINGTON (KT) — Mark Stoops likes the way his team’s defense performed during Kentucky’s first full spring scrimmage Saturday at Kroger Field.

Defensively, we have some guys that have played for a long time. I’d say the defense is ahead right now and really had a pretty solid day, as we should be. We have a lot of guys who have played a lot of football for a few years. Defensively, I was very pleased. I feel like we’re much more stout than we’ve been. Guys are pretty physical inside and didn’t miss many tackles. Didn’t give up very many big plays as well. I feel like across the board we’re improving defensively like I would expect.”

The strides on defense have been because of depth, giving the defensive coaches more time to spend with second-team players on the depth chart.

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“That’s a big piece of it,” the Kentucky coach said. “We have a long way to go defensively (and) we haven’t arrived. Just because we have some guys that have been there, and I do have some confidence in them, we still have to learn to finish games and play a complete game and do all those things. It is a tough balancing act at times because I do want to get the twos in there against the ones and get them in some physical situations and see what they can do. We are doing that some.”

Because of an upgrade in overall conditioning, Stoops said his defensive players are “stronger at the point of attack” on defense. Stoops, a longtime defensive coordinator, likes the way in-state product Kash Daniel is performing during spring workouts.

“Kash is gaining a lot of confidence,” he said. “I just like the way he’s playing. I just think it’s his time and he feels very comfortable out there. I like the way he’s taking command. He’s a great guy to step right in and replace Courtney because of the leadership that Courtney had. I like the presence that Kash is bringing right now. Obviously, he makes some mistakes and needs to get better like everybody, but he has a good presence out there. He’s confident and is taking charge. I stand right behind the quarterbacks so I kind of get a vision on it. I like his presence and I like the way he’s playing.”

On the offensive side of the ball, Stoops said the progression has been slower but is to be expected because of a few missing links this spring. Stoops said quarterbacks Terry Wilson and Gunnar Hoak are making progress. Stoops said both signal callers are splitting the reps.

“Some good (plays), some bad,” Stoops said. “I’d like to say it’s all good across the board, but everybody says it, but it’s true about they need players around them. Offensively you have to be in sync. You have to have some guys that will create some big things for you. We did hit some today. It seemed like after some of the ones were out of there, they did hit some. That’s what we need. The quarterbacks will be fine. We need guys to make big plays around them.”

Stoops held out veteran running back Benny Snell to give A.J. Rose and Sihiem King more carries in the backfield against Kentucky’s first-team defense.

“That obviously hurts the offense a little bit with his power running game,” Stoops said. “We wanted to see what these other backs can do and Benny has played a ton of football. We kept him out.”

Kentucky’s annual spring game is set for 6:30 p.m. on April 13 at Kroger Field.