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April 12, 2013Mark Stoops is about to pull the curtain back after 14 spring practices. Both the Wildcats' players and their fans are curious to see what's on the other side.
For the players, it's a chance to show the fan base what they've learned in spring. There's a new offense, new defense, new tempo, and a new approach. There are new opportunities, as the depth chart remains fluid.
"It's a chance to show everybody what we've got and the chemistry we've been working on, all the hard work we're putting in," junior wide receiver Demarco Robinson said. "I'm just ready for the season to start."
For the fans, it's a chance to show the team they've recovered from a 2-10 season that ended with sparse attendance at the Cats' last two home games. As of last Friday, about 42,000 tickets had been distributed. That's more than the attendance at the last two games at Commonwealth Stadium last season combined.
"It'll probably be surprising when we walk in and there are 50,000, 60,000 people in the stands for the spring game," junior safety Ashely Lowery said. "It's never been like that. It tops some of the games we had last year. It'll be surprising, but it'll be exciting at the same time."
The first team offense will team up with the second team defense in white jerseys to face the Blue team, made of the second team offense and starting defense. The Cats' three quarterbacks competing for the starting job -- Maxwell Smith, Patrick Towles and Jalen Whitlow -- will rotate between both teams to give them an equal chance.
There will be some other differences from a true game situation. Special teams work will be limited. There won't be any kickoffs or kickoff returns, and all punts will be fair caught to set the offense up.
It's the first chance for the fans to see what has conspired at the Wildcats' practices over the last four weeks, and the final chance for the coaching staff to evaluate players before the summer.
"We have a good understanding of the base offense and the base defense, and I think that was very important," Stoops said. "I think they have a good understanding of the tempo we want to operate at. I think they have a good understanding of how precise we need to be. So we made some good strides in those areas."
Stoops wasn't always so pleased. Senior middle linebacker Avery Williamson said the spring got off to a rocky start as coaches challenged players to move faster and play with physicality. They've come a long way since then, as coaches and players learned to how to approach the game, how to play, and how to trust each other.
Momentum in practice swung toward the defense early in spring as the offense struggled to execute while learning a new system. But the offense recovered last week, beating the defense in last Saturday's closed scrimmage.
The defense is hoping to get the last word in Saturday. They'll have to be ready when the curtain goes up and the lights are on.
"I'm excited to show everyone what we've improved on," Williamson said. "Last year was a really bad year for us, and I wanted to show everybody what we've improved on, how much better we've gotten and how committed we are to making these fans proud."