This is the seventh in a series of posts which will break down the '08 football 'Cats. Today we break down the offensive line.
Last year Kentucky's offensive line helped produce some recording setting numbers; UK scored a total of 475 points on the season, which is a UK school record. Kentucky also averaged 155.5 rushing yards per game, the most in a dozen years. The offensive line gave up 38 sacks last year ( 2.9 per game ), a number that needs to go down , but at least a few of those sacks were coverage sacks. Andre Woodson also took a couple of sacks he shouldn't have ( that nasty habit he has of holding on to the ball too long ).
Considering the offensive line corp lost only right guard Jason Leger and center Eric Scott, it's no wonder Rich Brooks has said that he thinks the offensive line will be one of the major strengths of this years team. Don't get me wrong, Leger and Scott both had great careers at UK, but the players fighting to fill their positions are skilled and experienced. In fact, most of the players who will see action this year at the O-line positions have a load of game experience and more importantly, game success.
Garry Williams 6'3", 300 lb left tackle, senior -- The Seneca alum was 2nd Team All-SEC in '07. Williams was also SEC Lineman of the Week versus Florida Atlantic last year. He has started 25 straight games at left tackle, which makes him UK's most experienced offensive lineman ( he's played in a total of 34 games, starting 28 ). In William's sophomore year ( '06 ) the coaches named him the teams Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman. Williams was selected 3rd Team All-SEC in this years' pre-season poll. The big guy is responsible for protecting the quarterbacks blind-side, making him a valuable commodity.
Justin Jefferies 6'6", 310 lb right tackle, junior -- Jefferies is the returning starter at right tackle. He's played in a total of 25 games, starting 13. The St. X product is considered to be one of the more athletic players on the team, given his size. He once again will play a huge role in creating holes for the running backs.
Jorge Gonzalez 6'3", 300 lb center, junior -- Played in 4 games last year. Gonzalez is in the unenviable position of having to replace the departed Eric Scott. In '06 he was pushing Matt McCutchan for playing time before going down with a season-ending knee injury. He was the definite leader for the starting center spot coming out of the spring.
Fighting for a starting position
Christian Johnson 6'4", 325 lb left guard, senior -- Johnson has played in 36 games, earning 15 starts. The former Fort Campbell lineman has gained extensive experience over the last two years, and has been an important part of UK's running success. A good omen may be the fact that he was awarded with his first start last year versus LSU. Johnson is fighting a close battle with Zipp Duncan for the starting nod a left guard.
Stuart Hines 6'4", 280 lb right guard, redshirt freshman -- Hines, in only his first year of action, is competing with senior Jess Beets for the starting nod at right guard. Hines has proved to be extremely athletic, and a very hard worker. Coming out of Bowling Green High School, Hines was rated as one of the top-25 offensive tackle prospects in the nation by Rivals.com. He was also listed as one of the four best prospects in the state of Kentucky.by Rivals, Scout, and SuperPrep.
Zipp Duncan 6'5", 290 lb left guard, junior -- He is the returning starter at left guard, but he has a fight on his hands with Christian Johnson. Duncan has played in 25 games, with 13 starts ( 3 at right guard, 10 at left guard ). He played very well last year, especially considering it was his first season, including high school, where he played on the line ( he's a former tight end ). The Elizabethtown product has proved to be very athletic, and has aided Garry Williams in the protection of the quarterback's blind side very competently.
Jess Beets 6'2", 285 lb right guard, senior -- Played in 5 games last year. Came out of the spring as the leader to start at right guard, but he has freshman Stuart Hines pushing him hard. Beets is a former Junior College All-America.
Others who will contribute
Brad Durham 6'4", 310 lb right tackle, sophomore -- Durham was one of only six true freshman who saw action last year, and he was the only freshman to play on the offensive line. He backed-up Justin Jefferies, as he will do this year. Durham is one of the reasons that the offensive line of the future for UK looks to be very good. He came out of Rockcastle county rated as one of the top-10 prospects in Kentucky by SuperPrep, Rivals, and Scout.
Billy Joe Murphy 6'6", 292 lb right tackle, redshirt freshman -- Murphy will help buttress the offensive line by providing depth at the tackle position. He's behind Jefferies and Durham at the position, so let's hope he's a sponge. Murphy, out of Monroe county, was rated one of the top-10 prospects in Kentucky by Rivals, Scout, and SuperPrep. He was also All-South region by PrepStar.
Jake Lanefski 6'4", 278 lb center, redshirt freshman -- He is the clear backup to Gonzalez at the center spot. He's had the coaches eyes for some time; he played the center spot very well during his redshirt year. Lanefski has been playing football for only three years.
James Alexander 6'5", 295 lb left tackle, junior -- Alexander came out of spring the number one option behind starter Garry Williams. He sat out '07 with a back injury. He has played in 23 games, with 2 starts in his career. He also earned playing time as a freshman, which is unusual at his position.
Others who will see playing time
Dustin Luck 6'3", 280 lb right guard, junior -- Luck has experience at both guard spots. He's considered to be one of the hardest workers in practice. He's also added about 30 pounds to his frame.
Michael Williams 6'6", 294 lb left guard, junior -- He saw his first varsity action in '07. He's played in three career games. He made the team as a walk-on.
Marcus Davis 6'1", 280 lb center, sophomore -- The Boone county product arrived at UK as a guard, but injuries to other players have forced him to move to center. He has played in one game in his career.
Dave Ulinski 6'4", 280 lbs -- Ulinski was the co-winner of the Paul Hornung Award given annually to the best Kentucky high school football player. He's considered to be athletic enough to play on either side of the ball, but Ulinski has been slated for the offensive side of the ball. The Manual High School alum was rated the #7 prospect in Kentucky,and the #67 offensive tackle prospect by Rivals. Scout.com has him rated the #46 offensive tackle prospect. His grandfather Harry Ulinski was All-SEC, and honorable mention All-America at UK in 1949.
Matt Smith 6'4", 280 lbs -- Smith was 1st Team All-State out of St. X. He was listed as the #63 offensive guard prospect in the nation by Scout. He possesses tremendous upper body strength. He won a national power-lifting meet as a freshman.
Chandler Burden 6'5", 290 lbs -- He's an athletic lineman who has also won a state championship in track and field. He's been timed under 5.0 in the 40.
Trevino Woods 6'5", 265 lbs -- He has played football for only two years. He has tremendous quickness for a player his size. Woods was rated the # 48 offensive guard prospect in the nation by Scout.
Osaze Idumwonyi 6'1", 285 lbs -- He can play on either side of the ball, but will probably play on the offensive line. He is noted for his quickness, and his ability to explode off of the ball at the snap. Idumwonyi runs a sub-5.0 in the 40. He is listed as the #12 center prospect in the nation by Rivals, and the #62 overall prospect in the state of Texas.
Of course, any or all of the freshman listed above could redshirt the '08 season.
Kentucky's offense will only be as good as the offensive line. Barring injury, or some type of catastrophe, UK's O-line should provide Hartline and Pulley with time to throw, and the running backs holes to run through. There is plenty of experience and a couple of All-SEC-type players represented on the line, so there will be no excuses to be had if their performance is lacking.
Since most feel that the running game will be the engine that propels Brooks' train in '07, I feel as confident as a UK fan can feel that the O-line will perform up to the standards set last year. The running backs will need to average considerably more than the 155 yards a game gained last year, hopefully the competition for playing time will yield a focused and hungry group.
Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats!