Questions Mark Stoops and players will likely field at SEC media days

Justin Rowland, Publisher
Cats Illustrated

Next week Mark Stoops and three of his players will show up to talk football and answer questions in Birmingham, Ala.

When the spotlight shifts to them, here's a preview of some of the questions they're likely to be asked and some of the topics that will probably arise.

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Questions for Mark Stoops

How big was the win over Louisville last year when it comes to getting the program to that next level?

There will be questions from local media and those might be more forward-thinking, but there will also be questions from reporters covering other SEC programs or the conference as a whole. And when they think about Kentucky football, from more of a bird's eye view, they might still be thinking about last year's win against the Cardinals.

If it comes up, don't expect Stoops to downplay it too much. But he's not going to want to dwell on the past too much.

What kind of impact can the 2017 signing class make for the program this year?

This is a common question that could be posed to any of the coaches at SEC media days. Mark Stoops might not want to talk about Lynn Bowden much until he has arrived on campus, even though it's all but a formality as CatsIllustrated.com reported recently. But Stoops could point to players like defensive end Josh Paschal and others, as potential first-year contributors. Especially with the new redshirt rules that allow players to see more game action while potentially keeping their redshirt tag.

What does an encore look like?

While there will probably be plenty of focus on Kentucky's 7-win "breakthrough" season, and that will make for a decidedly different tone than Mark Stoops endured in previous media day events, reporters will want to hear about expectations for what's next. It would be foolish for Mark Stoops to try to pin down an acceptable number of wins, so brace yourself for plenty of coach speak about being competitive week in, week out, and challenging the players to put themselves in a position to win each week. The good news, even minus truth serum: Those platitudes aren't going to sound silly after last year's finish.

How much of a better position is Kentucky in because of improved depth via recruiting?

This is a very real thing and a major reason for Kentucky fans to be excited about 2017. That the program could sustain the offseason transfer of four linebackers with the unit still appearing strong is a testament to that recruited depth. Building depth is a huge challenge at Kentucky in the SEC and it hasn't been an overnight project. Mark Stoops will rightfully be able to tout an accomplishment here and one that has also had a lot to do with player development and strength training.

What's the impact of Kentucky returning so many starters and so much experience?

This is another big theme for Kentucky going into the 2017 season. For so long Kentucky fans and program-watchers have heard so much about a youthful program. This year, the team's not all that young. It's a veteran-laden bunch at a lot of positions.

RELATED: Jarren Williams speaks with CatsIllustrated.com on his performance at The Opening, Blue Smith's recruitment and the Xavier Peters situation

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Questions for Stephen Johnson

How different is the mentality going into the season as the guy most expect will be the starter, compared to last year's situation after just transferring in without much pressure or high expectations?

One would have to imagine that when Stephen Johnson steps back, takes a breath and thinks about how his situation has changed, it has to blow him away. Expectations really were low when he arrived. Now, many would be surprised if he's not the guy for most of the year.

Do you still feel like you've got anything to prove?

While Johnson seems to have the respect of his teammates and the appreciation and trust of the coaching staff, it's true that Drew Barker wasn't unseated so much as he went out with an injury. Given that, the fact that Johnson wasn't always efficient last year, and Gunnar Hoak's impressive performance in the spring game, does he feel either of those other two quarterbacks breathing down his neck?

How much has your accuracy and throwing ability in the short and intermediate game improved?

Because, truth be told, this is a significant question.

RELATED: New details emerge in the Xavier Peters saga and CatsIllustrated.com has the story

How badly does Jeff Badet's decision to transfer to Oklahoma hurt the offense and how does it change your approach as a quarterback?

Badet was a go-to receiver for Johnson last year and, for a big stretch of the season, the preferred go-to play action threat over the top. Who else does Johnson have that kind of rapport with, and who can he develop that kind of rapport with?

Minus Jeff Badet and Boom Williams, does the offense have enough explosiveness?

Johnson isn't likely to talk about Bowden, who will be expected to come in and make a immediate impact in terms of playmaking ability. But he probably will talk up his receivers.

Why was the connection with C.J. Conrad in the passing game a little off, if only by a hair last year, and why will it be different this year?

That's an interesting question. A lot of yards and points were left on the board because of a few inches on incompletions or missed touchdown passes in the Johnson-to-Conrad connection.

How much more comfortable are you and everyone else now that you're going into a second straight year with Eddie Gran and Darin Hinshaw?

Turnover at the offensive coordinator position has characterized the Kentucky football program under Mark Stoops, but there's finally some consistency.

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Questions for Mike Edwards

Do you feel like you've been snubbed by some preseason publications or lists that haven't placed you as high, or given you the kind of accolades, that a lot of Kentucky fans believe you deserve?

Sports Illustrated didn't include Edwards among their top 100 players in college football, and that's only one example. He was the leading tackler among SEC defensive backs last season (100), picked off three passes and is firmly established as one of the league's top players.

Is there a chance this could be your last season in Lexington?

"I'm not really thinking about that but it's everyone's dream to play in the NFL and if I have a chance to explore that route after this season, that probably means things went well for myself and my teammates this year."

Yeah, that'd be a good answer.

RELATED: Cause for hope, concern in every UK football game in 2017

What kind of impact did Steven Clinkscale make as your defensive backs coach in his first year, both on you and the unit?

Derrick Ansley was a very widely respected defensive backs coach while he was at Kentucky. When he left for Alabama and Clinkscale was hired, he wasn't as well-known as Gran or Hinshaw, but in terms of the unit's performance last year and his recruiting he's garnered more attention over time.

Were expectations too high for the defensive backs last year?

It's not like the unit struggled for the duration of the season, but let's be honest: The talk about a sophomore-dominated secondary being "elite" before last season was ridiculous and putting the cart before the horse. Last season might not have been humbling in terms of a humiliation, but the unit certainly showed it could still use plenty of improvement at times. What did they take from that?

What kind of impact will newcomers make in the secondary this year?

Especially Lonnie Johnson and the younger players, like Jordan Griffin and others.

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Questions for Courtney Love

What kind of reception has the team given Matt House following his promotion from LB's coach/ST coordinator to defensive coordinator?

Rather than go outside the program, Mark Stoops promoted from within. House has been a popular figure with pretty much everyone in the program, so expect Love to have plenty of good things to say about D.J. Eliot's successor.

How prepared is the front seven to step up and stop the run in 2017?

Because Kentucky's front seven didn't do a good enough job of that last year. Love can only speak for the defensive line so much, but he can really speak for the linebackers with a lot of authority.

How good can Kentucky's linebackers be this year?

Love had a ton of tackles last season but he doesn't have quite the same level of hype as his fellow linebackers, Jordan Jones, Denzil Ware or Josh Allen. He's the kind of leader who's probably okay with that, and he'll probably talk up his unit as a potential upper-echelon of the SEC group.

How has the culture changed at Kentucky in the short time since you arrived in Lexington?

It didn't take long for Love to emerge as one of the team's leaders. He came to Kentucky from Lexington and acclimated himself in the program very quickly. So he's got a unique perspective on the kind of culture change that might have taken place at Kentucky during the last couple of years.

RELATED: How will UK use its remaining scholarships in the 2018 class?

What have you seen from Kash Daniel?

Daniel isn't exactly the same type of player as Love, but he has certainly been a kind of understudy over the past year that he's been in the program. This is Love's last go-round in Lexington, so it will be interesting to hear him speak on his heir apparent.

How differently do things feel with De'Niro Laster, Kobie Walker, Nico Firios and Roland Walder gone, and how surprising was each departure?

He'll probably give each of those players the space to move on without much chatter, but the offseason turnover at the linebacker position(s) has been rare to say the least.

Which young linebacker in the program is best positioned to have a breakout year?

Everyone talks about the starters, for good reason, but between Jamin Davis, Daniel, Jordan Bonner, Jaylin Bannerman and Jamar Watson, what has Love seen from the next generation in practice and workouts?

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