This is the fourth in a series of posts breaking down the Kentucky Wildcat football team, position by position. For the first three installments, go here:quarterback, wide receiver, and running back.
It all begins in the trenches ... it's a cliché, I know, but it's a cliché for a reason. In the SEC, it matters not how good a team's quarterback and running game are. Without the o-line to protect the man with the golden arm and create gaps for the men who carry the ball, the offense will sputter, and never consistently perform to maximum capability.
On the opposite end of the spectrum; when a team has a veteran, battle-tested o-line, the men in the trenches can make the talent surrounding them look better than they actually are. This year, Kentucky is blessed with just that advantage. After all, the 'Cats return four of the five starting offensive linemen who last year ranked 2nd in the SEC in sacks allowed, 11th in the nation in tackles for loss allowed, and led the way to three consecutive 200-yard rushing games, a milestone not achieved at Kentucky since 1990.
Simply put, if the 'Cats have a successful pigskin season, a large chunk of the credit will go to the men in the middle. The men who churn, push, and leverage their way to besting their d-line counterparts. With a quarterback in Morgan Newton, who is getting rave reviews from those that matter most, and a running back corp deep and talented (although lacking in experience), the Kentucky o-line is positioned to make a huge difference in the 'Cats win/loss column in 2011. If coach Mike Summers' "line of beef" can to enable the skill position guys to have the time and room to do their thing, this UK offense could be the best to grace Commonwealth Stadium since the Andre' Woodson-led salad days of only a few short years ago.
Where's the beef? It's right here ...
Stuart Hines: 6'4," 295lb senior left guard -- Out of Bowling Green High School, Hines is the unquestioned leader of the o-line, and one of the leaders of the team. Hines has played in 36 games, with 24 starts in his UK career. He missed two games last year with injuries, and this season has battled a sprained knee, but it's looking as if he'll be ready for the season opener against WKU on September 1.
Larry Warford: 6'3," 336lb junior right guard -- The Madison Central product (he was born in San Diego where his primary sport was basketball. Can you imagine him setting a pick? Talk about your forearm shiver) was a preseason All-SEC selection after making 2nd Team All-SEC after the 2010 season. In 2010, he was also named a 2nd Team sophomore All-America by CollegeFootballNews.com. Warford has played in 23 games, starting 13 in his time at Kentucky. Warford possesses exceptional quickness and speed for a man his size, making him very difficult for his defensive counterpart to deal with.
Chandler Burden: 6'4," 313lb senior left tackle -- A converted defensive end (after his sophomore year), Burden has played in 31 games, making 14 starts at UK. Burdens versatility and strength (he's one of the strongest men on the team) are his major selling points as one of the best tackles in the SEC.
Billy Joe Murphy: 6'6," senior right tackle -- An alum of Monroe County High School, Murphy has served as UK's utility lineman for the last few years, last year starting two games at right tackle, two games at left guard, and two games at left tackle. He's played in 33 games, with nine starts.
Matt Smith: 6'4," 303lb junior center -- The product of St. Xavier High School has played in 19 games, making 13 starts in his UK career. Smith filled in admirably in the season opener against Miami, OH two years ago when Jorge Gonzalez was injured. Smith is outstanding at making the line calls, and with his shotgun snaps.
Jake Lanefski: 6'4," 283lb senior right guard and center -- Lanefski has played in 29 games, starting four in his Wildcat career. This year, he replaces Murphy as Mr. Versatility. He'll be expected to backup Warford at the right guard spot, and is listed as the third center on the team.
Trevino Woods: 6'5," 281lb junior right tackle -- Woods, who can play either tackle position, has played in 16 games at UK, and will see extensive action this season.
Kevin Mitchell: 6'6," 296lb sophomore left guard -- Mitchell, who is very athletic for his size -- he runs a 5.0 40 yard dash --has played in nine games since arrival on campus.
Teven Eatmon-Nared: 6'7," 332lb freshman left tackle -- Eatmon-Nared arrived at UK as a tight end -- his senior year in high school he caught 10 passes, seven for touchdowns. His strength and athleticism dictate him seeing serious time this year backing-up Burden.
Sam Simpson: 6'4," 292lb sophomore center -- Simpson, who played for his father (who played for UK from '77-'79) at Henry Clay High School, has shown amazing growth in his time at UK. He'll back-up Matt Smith at the all-important center spot.
Size? Check. Experience? Check. Depth? Check. Joker Phillips has made no secret of his desire to see this Kentucky football team, from an offensive standpoint, be as versatile as possible. Newton will be expected to throw the ball down the field, and the Big Blue committee of ball carriers will be expected to gain the tough yards, and control the clock. They, the men with the ball in their hands, will be given every opportunity to succeed because of the o-line beef blocking, and protecting.
In other words, barring catastrophe, this year there should be no excuses.
Thanks for reading and Go 'Cats!