For the first time since the Wildcats opened fall camp under Mark Stoops, that’s what they saw from their new head coach on Friday.
“Very poor day, to be honest with you. Very frustrated,” Stoops said. “Had to start certain segments over again today. Just very weak mentally, physically... I’m disappointed.”
Asked if he had any ideas why the workout went bad, Stoops added: “Not tough enough.”
When it comes to keeping the boss happy, UK had maintained an almost unblemished record through the first two weeks of camp. His typical post-practice remarks have included phrases like “We got a lot of work done.”
Stoops shot down the notion that perhaps the players needed a day to see the other side of their coach.
“I tell you guys the truth,” he said. “I tell you when I come off if I’m happy or disappointed. There’s no game. There’s no reason. I don’t have it on my calendar to be mad today.
“We gotta have some more pride about what we do. We gotta have some more leadership. We gotta have some more toughness, and we didn’t have any of that today.”
According to Stoops, the poor play was shared by both the offensive and defensive units. “All the way around.”
A former college player at Wyoming when Stoops was a young assistant coach, UK defensive coordinator D.J Eliot said it takes strong leadership to bounce back from a day like the one the Cats had.
"You have to have good leaders, and the good leaders will go in that locker room and say 'Guys, that wasn't good enough,'" Eliot said. "And each person needs to point at themselves to figure out what they didn't do to have a good practice today and to make it better for the next practice."
Kentucky opens its season two weeks from Saturday against Western Kentucky, a team that handed it a 32-31 overtime loss at Commonwealth Stadium last year. Coming off a 2-10 season and with prognosticators picking the Cats to finish last in the SEC, Stoops said it’s a team that must take full advantage of all its practice days.
“We wasted it today,” he said. “That’s what I told them. We wasted the day… We’ve got to get better, and today we didn’t.”
Kentucky has an important scrimmage scheduled for Saturday. Many starting positions, including quarterback and wide receiver on offense and the outside linebacker spots on defense, could be decided as the Cats begin to prepare for the opener against the Hilltoppers.
“I just want to see where we’re at,” Stoops said. “If you go back to the spring, it was hard to judge where we were at as a program because we didn’t have everything in the 15 days. Now, after a couple of weeks of practice here in camp under our belt, we’ve got to see what we can do on both sides of the ball and who can make plays.”
“I hope so,” Stoops said. “Because if they’re not, we’ve got real issues. I’ve said all along that we have good kids here and all that and they mean well, but we’ve got to have some toughness and some fight about us or we’re going to have a long year.”
Willis Impresses on First Day:
It wasn’t all gloom and doom from Stoops on Friday.
Junior college transfer Nate Willis, a cornerback from Arizona Western College, went through his first practice since arriving in Lexington on Wednesday morning after being cleared to play.
“I did see some good things from Nate,” Stoops said. “I think he’s got some good ability. It’s good to see.”
"His talents (are) that he's very quick, very athletic," Eliot said of Willis. "He's long, he's tall. Not all our corners have those assets."
Asked how difficult it might be for the 6-foot, 180-pound Willis to make up for almost two weeks of missed practice, Stoops said: “We’ll get him ready. That’s the good thing about corner. It’s very hard in application, but really pretty easy in theory. You’re not reinventing the wheel as far as assignments with cornerbacks. But if they can cover somebody, they can help you.”
His arrival helps bolster one of the thinnest positions on the team. The Cats have been practicing this week with only one experienced corner, sophomore Fred Tiller, while fellow sophomore Cody Quinn is nursing an ankle injury. Freshman Jaleel Hytchye has been working with the first-team at that spot.
Willis, who had three interceptions and six pass break-ups at AWC, shot down the notion of being the savior of the secondary.
"I'm just here to do my part," he said. "It's really a team matter so there's 10 other guys. Everyone has to do their part for the defense to come together."
The staff also made a minor position change with freshman safety Blake McClain shifting over to take reps at corner to see if he can help add depth at the position. The 5-11, 190-pound McClain had 60 tackles and three interceptions as a senior at Winter Park (Fla.) High School last season. He had nine interceptions during his prep career.