Spring Briefing: Eric Wolford inherits experienced Kentucky offensive line

On3 imageby:Adam Luckett02/20/24


Kentucky new OC Bush Hamdan Press Conference

Preparations for the 2024 college football season are already underway at the Joe Craft Football Training Facility. Kentucky has made another offensive line staffing change. That isn’t something new for the program.

Eric Wolford has returned to replace Zach Yenser after spending the last two seasons at Alabama. The man who was picked to replace John Schlarman is back to work for fellow Youngstown native Mark Stoops and is inheriting a stable situation. Kentucky needs to upgrade the offensive line high school recruiting, but some transfer portal additions and roster retention have put the Wildcats in decent shape heading into 2024 at the line of scrimmage.

In KSR’s Spring Briefing series, we will cover every position on Kentucky’s roster before spring practice begins. Next up is the offensive line where Wolford will lead one of the most experienced units in the SEC.

Spring Rundown: QuarterbackTailbackWide Receiver, Tight End

The Room

Marques Cox (6-5, 311, Super Senior)

The Northern Illinois transfer was Kentucky’s best offensive lineman in 2023 and is back for his super senior season. Cox gives Eric Wolford a building block at left tackle with over 3,000 career snaps and should receive some All-SEC buzz over the summer.

Eli Cox (6-4, 311, Super Senior)

The class of 2019 signee will be a four-year starter for Kentucky in 2024. Cox has split time at center and right guard. Another with over 2,000 career snaps, the Nicholasville (Ky.) West Jessamine product had his best season under Wolford in 2021 and will be looking to put together a strong year before beginning his pro football journey.

Courtland Ford (6-6, 315, Redshirt Senior)

The USC transfer served as Kentucky’s swing tackle in 2023 and will once again compete for the starting right tackle spot in 2024. Ford brings some positional versatility to the unit and will have a role this season whether as a starter or a key bench piece.

Gerald Mincey (6-6, 337, Redshirt Senior)

Mincey was a late transfer addition for Kentucky in the winter transfer portal window and will be a factor in the right tackle battle. The South Florida native has played a lot of football in the SEC and could also play snaps at left tackle giving the offense another versatile option on the line.

Jager Burton (6-4, 307, Redshirt Junior)

The Lexington (Ky.) Frederick Douglass product was a monster recruiting win in the 2021 cycle, and has two years of starting experience under his belt. Burton has played all three interior positions but has not found a permanent home. This is a huge spring for the fourth-year player.

Ben Christman (6-6, 321, Redshirt Junior)

The Ohio State transfer missed all of last season after suffering a knee injury during fall camp. Christmas will likely be unavailable during spring practice but will compete for a role at guard over the summer.

Dylan Ray (6-6, 305, Redshirt Junior)

A former walk-on at West Virginia became a surprise starter for Kentucky in 2023 earning snaps at both guard spots. Ray will be a contender for a starting spot again and has some tackle flex. The class of 2021 product will be a factor somewhere.

Paul Rodriguez (6-4, 324, Redshirt Junior)

Another class of 2021 recruit in the offensive line room has yet to carve out a playing role. Rodriguez played for Wolford in 2021 and will look to compete at guard during spring camp.

Jalen Farmer (6-5, 310, Redshirt Sophomore)

After spending two years at Florida, Farmer entered the transfer portal and landed at Kentucky. The Georgia native will reunite with Wolford, who recruited him at both Alabama and Kentucky. Farmer is a prime candidate to become one of Kentucky’s starters at guard.

Koby Keenum (6-4, 295, Redshirt Freshman)

The Alabama native was a notable recruiting win for Kentucky in the 2023 recruiting cycle. Keenum could be Kentucky’s long-term answer at center once Eli Cox moves on. The second-year player could win that job now with a good season behind the scenes.

Austin Ramsey (6-4, 335, Redshirt Freshman)

The mammoth Philadelphia (Pa.) Roman Catholic product nicknamed “House” owns a massive wingspan and could be a long-term factor at tackle. After a redshirt season, Ramsey will look to settle into a permanent position in year two.

Malachi Wood (6-8, 283, Redshirt Freshman)

Another second-year player with intriguing measurables, Wood was a pleasant surprise in 2023 and could give Kentucky an in-house option down the road at left tackle. The in-state product needs to add weight and strength but appears to be on the right track.

Hayes Johnson (6-4, 300, Freshman)

The Campbellsville (Ky.) Taylor County product is an early enrollee who will be participating in spring practice. Johnson will need some time in the strength and conditioning program before likely becoming a factor. Expect a redshirt season for the three-star recruit.

Marc Nave Jr. (6-4, 330, Freshman)

A former Ohio State commit who flipped to Kentucky late in the process, Nave gives the offensive line some needed size in the 2024 class and will bring some tackle flex once he enrolls in school over the summer.

Aba Selm (6-4, 285, Freshman)

An early commit stuck with Kentucky despite some other interest throughout the recruiting cycle. The Northern Kentucky native appears to be one of the better young prospects in the offensive line room and projects as an important piece for the offensive line down the road.

Top Storyline: How does the offensive line mesh with Eric Wolford?

Kentucky is getting back a ton of career snaps on the offensive line. Marques Cox is a quality SEC tackle. Eli Cox might be the most experienced interior line player in the conference. Jager Burton has played a ton of football. Courtland Ford and Gerald Mincey are competing for the right tackle spot, and each has been through the fire during their collegiate career. There is no denying that this positional unit has taken strides in the last two years thanks to transfer portal recruiting and adding playing experience.

The biggest question will be how this group meshes with Eric Wolford and if the new position coach can get this unit to level up. Kentucky flashed improved play in 2023, but in the last five games, this unit simply could not run the football, and we saw some major protection breakdowns in some high-leverage moments versus Louisville and Clemson.

Kentucky has the experience and needs to play better at the point of attack. Can Wolford get this group to another gear?

What to Watch: Multiple position battles

We likely will not see starters named during spring practice, but some position battles could become clear. Both guard spots and the right tackle position are open. Jager Burton, Jalen Farmer, Dylan Ray, Gerald Mincey, and Courtland Ford will each be in the hunt for a starting spot this spring.

The 15 practices over March and April could tell us a lot.

If any player is limited to injury, that could allow someone else in that group to emerge as a favorite. Each player has an opportunity to make a strong impression on the practice fields, and that could help them get in position to lock up a starting role over the summer.

Bold Prediction: Spring practice will not tell us much about what the offensive line will look like in Week 1

Most of the attention throughout the spring will be on the offensive line, but I’m just not sure that we will learn much. There is going to acclimation process for the personnel on the roster in the first few weeks working under offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan and offensive line coach Eric Wolford.

There is also the possibility that Wolford could decide to go to the transfer portal to add some new players to the room. Just last season, Kentucky added multiple players from the transfer portal and also lost multiple players. Roster-building probably isn’t over for the Kentucky offensive line.

Do not assume the starting unit with the ones in the spring game will be the five that open the season in Week 1.

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