HOOVER, Ala. — Kentucky coach Mark Stoops raised a few curious eyebrows with his decision to bring an offensive lineman, junior tackle Jordan Swindle, to SEC Media Days this past week, as one of three players allowed from each school.
But Stoops comfortably defended his decision when asked about the 6-foot-7, 304-pound (up 15 pounds from last season) Swindle.
“He’s earned the right to be here by what he has done,” Stoops said of Swindle, who’s from St. Johns, Fla. “We’re just extremely impressed by how he goes about his business. He works extremely hard.”
Stoops said Swindle was invaluable in setting the tone that Stoops wanted this past season in his first season as a head coach.
“A lot of the first year is setting a tone, putting the staples of your program in place, your core values,” Stoops said. “And Jordan was the first one, when we put him in a leadership role, to take charge and do an excellent job developing team chemistry and developing leadership.
Stoops went so far as to say that Swindle is “unquestionably the leader of the offense right now.”
“I would agree with that,” Swindle said. “I think I have the leadership role of the offense. I try to get the guys going on our side of the ball. I feel like it’s an innate ability of mine because I’ve grown up with a great father figure and a family that’s instilled in me those character values that it’s better to be a leader.”
Swindle said he’s an in-your-face kind of leader.
“I just got sick last year when people would get a little down on themselves in practice, and I could tell they were not into it, so I would just go around shoving people, yelling, getting in their faces,” Swindle said. “Not anything aggressive or mean, but just trying to get them riled up and ready for practice.
“It’s not my personality type outside of football, but inside of football, I love doing that. I love getting people jacked up. Outside of football, I’m very mild mannered, courteous, quiet and respectful.”
Physically, Swindle’s primary limitation in the past was a smallish size by SEC standards. He played at around 285-290 pounds as a sophomore. But added weight and strength, along with playing across the line from All-SEC defensive end Bud Dupree, have made Swindle a much better player.
“I would definitely get my butt beat by Bud every once in a while because he’s a freak athlete,” Swindle said. “But I would say he’s made me a tremendous player compared to where I was. Every week I have to use perfect technique, because if I’m not on point with my technique, he’s just going to go by me. Bud is one of the best defensive ends in the country, so I know that if I can block him on a consistent basis, that’s a real confidence booster.”
Steve Shaw, the SEC’s coordinator of officials, spoke at SEC Media Days and said early on in his speech: “From an officiating standpoint, we had a solid year last year.”
Fill in your punch line now.
“We had good movement in the off-season,” Shaw added. “We had three officials actually get selected to work in the NFL . We’ve had a few officials that won’t be back with us.”
It might surprise some that officiating in Division I college football, while not a full time gig, is serious business.
Officials work at their craft nearly all year long, starting with meetings with Shaw in January, extending to rules quizzes year-round, along with numerous clinics that aren’t just social get-togethers and cocktails.
“Next week we’ll have all of our officials here in Birmingham to test their conditioning and their rules knowledge, and then we’ll work on our on-field mechanics and our philosophy,” Shaw said. “When our clinic is over, we’ll start working scrimmages with our teams.”
Shaw said there will be a special emphasis this season on “protecting the quarterback.”
“When an offensive player is in a passing posture, when it’s clear a pass is going to be made, the defender cannot hit him at the knee or below,” Shaw said. “If he chooses to go low, under his own power, that is going to be a foul. People ask, do we have a strike zone for quarterbacks? Yes, we do. Now you hit them above the knee and below the neck.”
Much was made this past week of the lack of star power at SEC Media Days compared to a year ago, especially at the quarterback position.
Last year we got quarterbacks like Johnny Manziel, A.J. McCarron, Aaron Murray, and Zach Mettenberger at Media Days, and last week we got guys like Dylan Thompson of South Carolina, Jeff Driskel of Florida, Dak Prescott of Mississippi State, Maty Mauk of Missouri and Bo Wallace of Ole Miss.
Of that group, only Wallace and Driskel went into the 2013 season as starters.
“Some guys are going to have a chance to make a name for themselves,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said last week. “How many seasons start out where you just don’t know what a guy’s going to do? Even Jameis Winston (of Florida State) and Johnny Football (er, Manziel, of Texas A&M) ... in their first year of starting, they won the Heisman. Anything can happen with a guy who gets his opportunity. I wouldn’t count out the quarterbacks in this league to play great.”