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Kentucky Football Position by Position Preview: Offensive Line

Article written by:On3 imageDuncan Cavanah
Part four in an eight part series previewing the 2013 Football Wildcats. uk-offensive-line-500x460   On the night of September 29, 2012, the Kentucky football Wildcats were looking to shock the world, or least the 49,800 who showed up at Commonwealth Stadium to see the Cats entertain Steve Spurrier's South Carolina Gamecocks.  At halftime, against all odds, Kentucky held a 17-7 lead.  For what would turn out to be the final time in a woeful season, Commonwealth was alive.  Jalen Whitlow's legs and an inspired defensive effort had put the Cats in position for a monumental upset.  Unfortunately, the second half arrived, and Jadeveon Clowney and his fellow other-worldly cast of defensive linemen descended upon Whitlow and company like a swarm of angry bees.  Kentucky had no answer for this relentless assault, and was outscored 31-0 in the second half.  The upset bid, and seemingly the last bit of fight of the 2012 team, was extinguished.  Kentucky simply could not hold up at the point of attack.   Judging the 2012 Kentucky offensive line based on one half against South Carolina, featuring the nation's premier player at defensive end, is actually a bit unfair.  In a nightmarish season, the offensive line was a relative bright spot.  The example is given only to underscore the absolutely crucial nature of offensive line play.  If a team is manhandled at the point of attack, scheme, coaching and dynamic skill position talent are all irrelevant. Playing in the SEC, Kentucky will again face defensive lines the like of which are typically only seen on Sundays.  Will the 2013 Kentucky offensive line be able to repel another avalanche of disruptive plays like the one we saw against the gamecocks last September?   Post-Spring Depth Chart:   Left Tackle: Darrian Miller 6-5, 284, Jr., Lexington, KY (Bryan Station) Tyler Davenport 6-5, 296, Jr., Hodgenville, KY (Larue County)- walk on   Left Guard: Zach West 6-4, 308, So., Lexington, KY (Lexington Christian Academy) or Teven Eatmon-Nared 6-7, 330, Jr., Bucyrus, OH Max Godby 6-4, 280, Jr., Louisville, KY (Christian Academy of Louisville)-walk on Jordan Watson 6-4, 303, Fr-RS, Fayetteville, GA   Center: Zach Myers 6-3, 277 Fr-RS, Miamisburg, OH Jon Toth 6-5, 283 Fr-RS, Indianapolis, IN Max Godby 6-4, 280, Jr., Louisville, KY (Christian Academy of Louisville)-walk on   Right Guard: Kevin Mitchell 6-6, 289, Sr., Winston, GA John Gruenschlaeger 6-11, 350 So., Ft. Thomas, KY (Newport Central Catholic)-walk on Bill Davis 6-2, 320, So., Lexington, KY (Dunbar)-walk on   Right Tackle: Jordan Swindle 6-7,290, So., St. Johns, FL Shaquille Love 6-4, 313 So., Harriman, TN   Newcomers: Justin Day 6-8, 305 Fr., Aiken, SC Nick Haynes 6-3, 305 Fr., Niceville, FL Kyle Meadows 6-5, 270 Fr., West Chester, OH Ramsey Meyers 6-4, 290 Fr., Orange Park, FL   Why we should feel confident: On a roster that lacks experience in a number of key positions, the offensive line provides some degree of veteran stability.  Kentucky returns three starters in tackle Darrian Miller, guard Zach West and guard/tackle Kevin Mitchell.  Prospective right tackle starter Jordan Swindle played in all but one game last season as a reserve.  In addition, although the previous staff did not do any great favors for Mark Stoops and company in building a roster, they did bring in and redshirt three offensive line prospects that should now be ready for game action.  (Centers Zach Myers and Jon Toth and guard Jordan Watson.)   Kentucky has versatile linemen.  Kevin Mitchell, who started every game of the 2012 season at right tackle, has been moved to guard.  Zach West, who was a standout starter at left guard as a redshirt freshman last season, is also working at center.  (see below)  Having linemen versatile enough to rotate to multiple offensive line posts is a luxury that will help the Cats survive the inevitable injury factory that is SEC football.   Darrian Miller is a prototypical left tackle with excellent feet.  Coaches believe that he will play in the NFL if he continues to develop.  In a passing offense like Kentucky intends to run, it is imperative that left tackle be an anchor.  Miller provides a good starting point to keeping the Wildcat quarterbacks upright.   Why we should be concerned:   At all levels of football, no matter what formations or offensive system a team runs, each play starts out the same way: with a snap.  At this point, not only do the Cats not know who will receive the snap, they don't know who will deliver it.  The center carries huge responsibility in almost every offensive system.  Typically, it is the center that makes the protection calls.  He then must deliver the ball accurately to the quarterback each time as he is being ambushed by a 300 pound behemoth.  Kentucky will start either a redshirt freshman or a converted guard at this critical position. Though all the candidates seem to be viable options, it is a little unsettling to not have that spot secure just a month from the start of the season.   Although Kentucky has several players with experience, there are still far too few BCS quality offensive linemen on the roster.  As noted above, the depth chart is dotted with second and third string players who are walk ons.  This situation can only be remedied through time and recruiting. Yesterday's verbal commitment from four star offensive lineman Nick Richardson is a nice start.     Not So Big Uglies: Much has been made of the work of High Performance Coach Erik Korem, and his scientific approach to nutrition and fitness. Players have raved about the transformation of their bodies under his tutelage.  Apparently, the offensive line has not been immune from these changes. Of the 13 players listed in the Post-Spring Roster, all but one have lost weight since last season.  (Total of 95 pounds)  Coaches hope a more physically fit and agile line will offset this loss of bulk.   Position Battles: While the eyes of fans will no doubt be on the quarterback battle, the camp competition at center may be just as important to the success of the 2013 Cats.  The official depth chart found in Kentucky's 2013 Media Guide, and earlier in this post, indicates that the primary competitors for the starting center spot are redshirt freshmen, Zach Meyers and Jon Toth.  However, as indicated above, recent statements from Neal Brown indicate that returning starting guard Zach West will be given the chance to take the position.  Reading the tea leaves, it seems that if West can perfect the shotgun snap, he has the inside track on the job.  

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