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Stoops: Rodriguez out for No. 20 Kentucky, facing suspension

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UK Athletics
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Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. will not play in Saturday night’s season opener against Miami of Ohio and coach Mark Stoops expects multiple-game suspensions for the No. 20 Wildcats’ rushing leader and other players. Rodriguez pleaded guilty this summer to driving under the influence and other charges following his arrest in May.

Stoops expects multiple-game suspensions for the No. 20 Wildcats’ rushing leader and other players. Rodriguez pleaded guilty this summer to driving under the influence and other charges following his arrest in May. Neither the senior nor linebacker Jordan Wright was listed on the depth chart released Monday, but Stoops described their absences as “unavailable” rather than suspensions. Rodriguez is an All-SEC first-team selection and rushed for a career-high 1,238 yards and eight touchdowns last season.

From UK Athletics:

Head Coach Mark Stoops

Opening statement …

“Really looking forward to getting started here in week one. It’s been a long offseason as you know. We started this year just a few days early. It’s always a long camp, and we’re anxious to get started. We’re really looking forward to the challenge and playing Miami (Ohio). Coach (Chuck) Martin has been there nine years, there’s a lot of continuity in his program. A very well coached football team, a team that’s picked to win their division and play in the MAC Championship. So, we’ll have our hands full. I really like the preparation that our team has made throughout the summer, throughout this preseason camp. We’re in relatively good shape health-wise and again, I think it’s just that time. You guys have heard me speak, there’s been quite a few luncheons, dinners and things of that nature. The preseason talk, that wraps up today, which I think we’re all looking forward to. I know you all have got a lot of coverage and I appreciate the coverage that you’ve done up until this point and that you’ll continue to do throughout the season. For us it’s all about getting focused in, that attention to detail, getting dialed in on Miami, getting ready to play our first game. First games are always unique, because you have a pretty good idea of what you have, but you don’t know until you go play a football game. I have confidence in this team, I have confidence in the leadership, I have confidence in the preparation that we’ve done to this point. Now, it is time to go put it on the field, block out everything, really concentrate, have a great attention to detail this week, great focus this week, and go play it one game, one day at a time, one play in particular. I think that’s a big message early on because guys work so hard and so much going on. They’re just ready to go and you can get ahead of yourself. We can’t do that. You all have been here and covered my nine years and things don’t always go according to plan. You have to adapt and overcome any situation, be prepared for it, be focused, concentrate, be dialed in for this week’s preparation, and then one play at a time. Looking forward to getting started.”

On Chris Rodriguez Jr.’s unavailability…

“We were discussing that, because I knew it would be the first follow-up. I want to say, I appreciate the respect that you all had through this process, really. You guys know, because I’m very open and honest with you, you guys are very respectful in return. When I have something to say, we’ll say it. I just have to say, these players have some rights as well, and I have to be very conscientious of that. I expect a few of them to have multiple game suspensions, but I don’t know. I’ll address it next week. I expect maybe one of them to be back next week, but we’ll see how that goes.”

On clarifying the players unavailable…

“I didn’t say suspended; you did. They are unavailable to play.”

On confirming a potential second issue involving Chris Rodriguez Jr.…

“No, I cannot.”

On Kenneth Horsey listed second on the depth chart…

“Only because he’s been hurt. We hope to get him out there today, but he’s not at 100% right now.”

On Jager Burton listed as the starter at left guard…

“Jager (Burton) has done a wonderful job. Kenneth (Horsey) is a great leader, a starter on this football team when he’s healthy, he is not 100% right now. We love what we’ve seen out of Jager. It would be easy to list Jager as a starter. He’s really played well, and we’re excited about him.”

On the number of freshmen on the depth chart…

“I have eight. I figured I’d get that question today and the other day I said six, seven, eight, whatever I said. I think eight will play for sure. Definitely, little chance to get redshirted unless they get injured. As many as 12 could play this year, true freshmen.”

On the development of the freshmen…

“I’m very pleased. As I mentioned a couple times, I really like the way they’re preparing, the way they’re playing. Consistency is what we’re looking at. You know, you’ve covered it a long time, in football there’s ups and downs, there’s highs, there’s lows. Freshmen have a tendency to go through that. How they respond to it will determine how much playing time (they get) and how they do this season. They’ve been very consistent to this point. Not perfect, like most of our guys. I really like the athleticism, the worth ethic and the attitude of these guys as a group. There are some guys that are getting headlines and they should. They’re playing and doing very well. There are others that are just quite not ready, but I absolutely love their athleticism, their attitude and the way they are going to play. There are guys, even a couple of redshirt freshmen, maybe were not talking about, they just need to stay the course. I feel like there’s some really good players in there. “

On Keidron Smith and Andru Phillips listed as starters on the depth chart …

“Keidron (Smith) and Andru (Phillips) are interchangeable at that position. Andru will start at nickel for us, Alex Afari, we could go three ways with who is out there on the first play of the game, defensively, depending on personnel, whether its Keaten (Wade), or whether its Alex or whether it is Andru.

On the secondary possibly having fewer snaps this season .. .

It’s two-fold. You look at things as the best 11, and that’s part of it, but then there is also a function within our defense depending on the personnel they play, the style that they play, so it just depends.”

On offensive tackle Deondre Buford…

“Deondre (Buford) can play either side. He’s worked both sides. We’ve experimented at left tackle and gave everybody a chance. David (Wohlabaugh Jr.) has been the most consistent, that’s why he’s getting the start. Kiyaunta (Goodwin) is still doing some very good things and coming along, and Deondre is as well.”

On what to be aware of with Miami …

“Without a doubt, I believe everybody in this room knows that, because you cover the sport and realize how good of football is played in the MAC. We have the luxury of playing this team who is picked to win their division and play in the championship game. And, they have a really good quarterback. So, anytime you are really well coached, and you have a good quarterback, I can promise you this, they’re ready to come in here and play. I think it was game two last year, they went out and played to a one-score game at Minnesota and had some opportunities to win, and they’re a very good football team. Coach (Chuck) Martin, he’s been around. He’s coach of the year at a lower level where they won at a high level. Then he’s been at Notre Dame, had great success there as a playcaller and offensive coordinator. He’s been here for nine years building this program. They’re extremely well coached on both sides of the ball and on special teams. They’re going to play very good, sound football. You’ve heard me say this before, you like it that way because you have to go beat these guys. They’re not going to give it to you. You have to go earn it, you have to go beat them, you have to go play well. They’re going to be very good. There are some very talented players. You look at their defense, you look at their inside linebackers, one of which was injured a year ago and is a sixth-year player. He is one heck of a ballplayer. A lot of experience on their defense side. They have a disruptive player in their nose guard, they have a corner that really stands out, and offensively, the stable of running backs, and the quarterback that can play at a high level. They want to take their shots. They’re going to get the ball down the field. They’re very efficient in their run game, not overly complex. They dress it up with a lot of people on the perimeter. They set up shots to set up plays down the field in a creative way which, will make us really be prepared.”

On Deuce Hogan being named backup quarterback…

“Both guys, as I’ve mentioned, wouldn’t have been a big surprise either way. Both guys have done a lot of good things throughout camp. Consistency is what I would say. Kaiya (Sheron) really showed some flashes that excites us. So, you never know where that’s going to go and how it’ll end up as the season plays out. We have confidence in both of the back-up quarterbacks and we’ll see where it goes.”

On Miami quarterback Brett Gabbert…

“He’s athletic, he’s experienced and can make all the throws. He’s just a good football player. We all understand that when you watch a team play and you see a quarterback that’s poised, creative and does what’s necessary to lead his team, he’s just a very good player. A lot of respect for him.”

On opening the season with a big crowd at Kroger Field…

“That would be very good for our team. I think our team greatly appreciates that. They feel that energy. It’s nice that we’re kicking off in the evening, could be a little cooler. Hopefully get a great night. I really appreciate the fan base, and the season tickets are up, and the student tickets are sold out. We’re expecting big crowds and we greatly appreciate that. You always hear me talk about that. I always appreciate it. I know the sacrifice they make. I can promise you that our team has worked exceptionally hard to go play well.”

On this season feeling any different than prior years…

“Not really, not to me. No. (laughter) Except I’m getting old.”

On your first win at UK in 2013 being over Miami …

“I didn’t even really realize that until you told me. It does seem like a long time ago. But, grateful. You know, year 10, that was a long time ago. A much different team. Just try to stay in the moment, stay in our normal routine, and getting the team ready to play. It’s exciting this Monday of game week. We’re going to be here every Monday. That’s always exciting, coming off a win, a loss, you name it. Getting a team prepped for the next opponent, getting into game week routine is something that is exciting.”

On what he looks for from Kavosiey Smoke in the first game …

“We expect him to be who he is. He has this opportunity right now. We’re excited, I’m excited for him, to see what he does with it. I have a good feeling, what he’ll do, because I’ve seen him play through the years, I’ve seen his preparation. I like the way he’s responded this camp. I think the coaches put pressure on him because we expect a lot out of him. I’m proud of the way he responded the last couple of weeks because he didn’t start out there. He didn’t start out in the number one spot. Whether Chris was there or not, he’s worked his way.”

On how much Kavosiey Smoke has matured…

“He has responded the right way. He is taking the coaching, he is taking the criticism in the proper way to make him better. Realizing that these coaches have high expectations for him, and our standard is high, and he has responded to that. I do not want to get into the negatives, I want to look at the positives that he has done, and he has handled it, he’s done it. He put himself in a position to get this start, and I am excited for him.”

On Ramon Jefferson over the summer…

“He really stood out in the second scrimmage. I think it is also difficult for those guys because of reps, we have a lot of good players. Not many other positions you can go through camp and you have three-, four-deep, and you can go that hard, but that position we are deeper. So, to get the touches and to prove themselves, they have to do that when they get their opportunities and make the most of their opportunities. We still have a great deal of confidence with the others and there is still different packages, so that is just the way it’s listed, after the game they may see a different rep count, so we will see the way it goes.”

On no strong-side linebacker on the depth chart and if Jordan Wright is one of the players who is unavailable …

“Yes.”

On evaluating the status of unavailable players…

“There is always layers to things, it is not always black and white. The players have rights, and there is processes that are involved and that is where we are at.”

On the situation with Eastern Kentucky Coach Walt Wells … 

“I am glad you brought it up, I wanted to recognize that and just say our thoughts and our prayers are with Walt (Wells) and his family. I really love Walt and I am really close to Walt, he’s just a really good person. I really enjoyed having him on our staff and being around him and really try to help him and help each other as much as we can, with him just being down the road, and really praying for him and thinking about him. He is really a good person, great family. I hope everything goes well for him. I was sick when I heard about it, it is not a good feeling.”

On the special teams in camp…

“I really feel good about it, I feel like it is very unusual that we have mentioned before, that you feel like you have a two-deep at kicker and punter – feel like you have confidence in four of those guys, and you know that is a good thing. Wilson (Berry) coming back, a year ago he was bothered by an injury and just seeing him come back, punting the ball extremely well, that gives us depth there and bright future, he is really doing well. Of course, Ruff (Matt Ruffolo) has been very consistent, and I feel like his leg is stronger and he has worked hard, and his consistency is up, so that is a good thing. Chance (Poore) is still very strong at kickoffs and can kick some long field goals if we had to and (Jackson) Smith is coming along. I really feel like we have some five guys that can kick.”

On the return game…

“Yeah, the return game I am excited about. I feel like Barion (Brown) on kick returns, he will give us some juice and give us a guy that can really hit it. We have other options there we can go to as well but that will be good to see, and Tayvion (Robinson) has been a proven punt returner.”

On if he ever thought he would be a game away from tying Paul “Bear” Bryant’s school record for most wins…

“No. (laughter) Just did not think about it, just not something you sit there and think about. Grateful to be here, we just talked about Walt (Wells) and other things and sometimes things are just out of your control. Obviously, I want more and want more success, want more victories, and want to continue to get the program to higher heights and going to continue to grind away at that.”

On if breaking Bryant’s school record for the most wins will help with recruiting…

“I do not know. I doubt it. We just going to have to continue to work hard at it and do the things necessary. I am not sure.”

On being compared to Bryant…

“I do not spend any time thinking about that. I would never want to disrespect the name, Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant, and I think everybody that understands football puts that name at the very top. Along, with maybe one other guy right now (laughter). So that means something, but it is totally different. I would rather them be comparing me to how many national championships I won like him. So, you can’t, I would never put my name in the same regard as him. I am grateful for what we have done here, and appreciative, and proud, but certainly not the same thing. The accomplishments he made to our sport at multiple schools -- that is not me, I am not putting my name in the same category as him. I have ultimate respect for the job that he did.”

On how you ease the young guys into their first college game… 

“Yeah, it’s something that you have to be prepared for. It is something I have thought about, you know, a new team, you’re going to go into it with some inexperience at certain spots, and so, it’s something we have to be ready for and prepared for. We have depth, we have experience, we have good guys around them. We need them to be a part of a team and not feel like by themselves they have to do anything special. That is a message that all the players need to understand, especially in week one. It is something that I will hit them over the head with this week about doing their job and focusing on their job, because the bright lights do come on, and you’re coming into a stadium, and everybody wants to do a lot. You’ve heard that before, D-Linemen wanting to do someone else’s job instead of taking care of their primary (assignment). So, they will hear the word primary a lot this week, their primary responsibility first. And then play ball.”

On if he watched any of the games this past weekend… 

“I got the chance to watch my boys, so I was busy watching my kids, which was good. I watched just a bit of Nebraska (vs.) Northwestern. For us, another point in the same lines as primary, the team will hear this a lot, you can’t beat anybody until you don’t stop beating yourself. We weren’t fantastic last year with the turnovers and turnover margin. We don’t harp on it, I don’t want our team to play scared, I want them to play fast, aggressive, physical, but we have to eliminate mistakes or you’re not going to beat a quality team like Miami or anybody. You can’t beat anybody unless you stop beating yourself. We’ve been disciplined, we’ve been good at this camp, but last year, we were negative a bunch in turnovers and we have to get the rectified right from the start.”

On how you’ve seen the young receivers have adjusted…

“Well, I’ve been pleased. They’re very instinctual players, that helps. As I’ve mentioned, there’s high and lows, and every player on our team is going to have some ups and downs this year. Freshmen have a tendency over the years to have higher highs and lower lows. We want consistency out of them, and I’ve been pleased with what I’ve seen so far. They haven’t been perfect but they’ve handled things very well.”

On how challenging it is for the younger guys who want everything right away..

“It is something that we discuss. It’s something that I discuss with my own children. In this day and age, and in this time with the portal and all those things, people have a tendency to focus on others. You really just have to concentrate on yourself. That’s the conversation I have with my own boys. Worry about yourself. I’m proud of my oldest in that way, the transition he’s mde in the last year. It’s the same with our players. We have terrific players that we’re not talking about right now, but we may be halfway through this year, at the end of the year, next year. Who knows? Two years, three years, four years down the road. You don’t often see that. But there are very good football players on this roster that are going to continue to grind, continue to do their job and continue to take the medicine that the coaches are giving them, and eventually they will develop into what they can be. That’s a lesson for anybody in any sport.”

On if he expected to have a decision this week or did he receive new on the status of unavailable players…

“I’ve been in tune to the situation for a while. I haven’t been withholding, it’s just, things change. Things evolve, things change. Information comes and goes. There’s different layers to things. That means there’s multiple different entities involved. I prefer not to dig into more (of that). I’m not withholding anything. I’ve been pretty in tune to when I felt like things were going to happen, but I have bosses, and they have bosses, and so on.”

On the quality of local players…

“I’m happy to see that. I love to see all of our young people have success. Certainly, to have guys locally means a lot. It’s exciting. I think it’s exciting for the people who have watched them in high school, and it’ll continue to help build the high school football in this area, this community and throughout the state. There’s been a lot of impactful players for us throughout the years that have come from Kentucky, that’s for sure. We’re grateful for all of them and I feel like some of these guys are really going to stand out in the next couple of years.”

On Will Levis’ growth in spreading the ball around more…

“I said this a while ago and you have to prove it day to day, and week to week. We still have to go play games. I feel like there is more. You’ve heard me comment on that and talk about that. I feel there is depth in that room. I feel like for the first time since I’ve been here, I’ve been here for nine years, going into ten, I feel like that room is explosive. I feel like there’s some young guys that maybe aren’t on the two-deep that are going to be very, very good football players. Guys like Dekel (Crowdus) that are going to continue to get better and continue to grow. He missed all of last year and sometimes I have to remind him that he’s like a (true) freshman himself, with the injuries he’s had. But there’s really good players in that room and we have to go prove it. We have to go play and we’ll see where that goes. But I believe in that room. I know it’s as talented as it’s been since I’ve been here.”

On the receiver room having swagger this early…

“They’re pretty respectful on that field. The defense, don’t worry, they’re not going to take much from those guys. But they’re a good group. They have really good attitudes. I really like them. I like their confidence. I don’t think they’re out of line, I feel like they’re very respectful of the game, and with their preparation, their consistency, and their competitive nature. They’re also hungry, because they know they need to get better. I really like the overall attitude of the group, I really do. I feel like they’re going to get better and better. “