Football fans should temper expectations this Spring

By Alex Forkner | @AlexFork3

Believe it or not, it’s actually considered Spring right now.

And though the weather may not be participating, there are plenty of signs, like March Madness (do flowers still bloom if UK doesn’t make the tournament?) and the start of Spring football practice.

New head coach Mark Stoops came into the job like a lion, and Wednesday’s practice showed there’s no lamb about him. He and his coaching staff bring high energy and intensity, and it was only the sixth practice of his tenure.

After stretching and getting loose, the players convened at midfield inside Nutter Field House for a one-on-one hitting drill, which makes me wonder if Stoops loves the sound of pads colliding in the morning.

During certain segments of practice, rap music blared from speakers on the sideline (“Hypnotize” by Notorious B.I.G. was followed shortly by Tupac’s “Hit ‘Em Up,” so I guess this staff didn’t take sides in the rap battles of the ‘90s). Players were constantly moving during drills and between drills; even the ball boys were breaking a sweat. No time was wasted.

Fans are right to get excited about the new regime. Fans are right to plan to show up in droves at the Spring game on April 13. Fans are wrong to expect instant gratification.

The team currently practicing and the team that will line up for the much-ballyhooed scrimmage in three weeks will still very much resemble Joker Phillips’ last squad. The coaches and systems are different, but the players are the same.

And while Joker is off in Gainesville hashtagging his heart out, Stoops and company are working on transforming the roster into a team capable of winning games in the SEC next year.

“We’re about where I thought we would be, and sometimes, as you can see from the assistant coaches, from myself, from different people, it’s frustrating. We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Stoops said after practice.

Not helping the cause is a possible “significant” injury to defensive tackle Donte Rumph. Stoops announced after Rumph could need surgery and miss an extended amount of time, calling it a “big loss.”

So one of UK’s more seasoned defenders could be out for the foreseeable future. And UK’s young defense is still adapting to a new way of life and is thin at every position. And UK’s offense is in the midst of a three-man battle at QB and thin at every position.

I don’t want to rain on your parade, since the weather has done plenty of that lately. The fanbase’s optimism is admirable and arguably vital to the success of the program going forward.

The man with the plan isn’t worried, so neither should you.

“But nobody’s discouraged, nobody’s down. That’s our job. Just keep on grinding and getting better and better. But we are making progress. We just have a long ways to go.”

What will be seen this spring is a sketch of the final picture. As Brown has commented, he is short of receivers to run the practices, and with a quick hitting pass oriented offence, you need the bodies. And those bodies aren’t going to be here until the Fall.
Even this Fall not all the pieces are going to be in place, or practiced up, ready to play the system well. But we will see the direction the plan is taking the team. A lot of young players will be getting a chance to show their stuff where they might expect a season of learning the system with only spot use in games. And we know what young players not fully prepared do,.. they make mistakes.
But the plan is “simple” and easier to learn, or so the players are telling us, so the learning curve may be swift. This Fall promises to show us more exciting football, and we should see the structure beginning to fill in. Anything over four wins this year would be amazing, but I hope to be amazed.