Part four in an eight part series previewing the 2010 Kentucky Football Wildcats: Offensive Line
I have long been a fan of preseason football magazines. As difficult as it may be for some of you young whipper snappers to fathom, there was once a day in which sports information was not available anywhere on the globe at the touch of a keypad. In those primitive times, there was absolutely no college football information disseminated between the conclusion of spring practice in April and the time preseason mags began to hit shelves in July. When that blessed hour finally arrived, sports nerds like myself could be found scurrying about magazine racks at gas stations and Super Wal-Marts looking for the new Lindy’s, Athlon or Sporting News. The purchase of these magazines represented the unofficial kickoff of the new college football season.
Yet for all the excitement associated with the release of the magazines, the content itself tends to be somewhat predictable and limited. This is especially the case in terms of the evaluations of individual teams. Due to the number of teams to be covered, and the corresponding limitation of space, the team analysis is fairly generic. Essentially, the formula for predicting success seems to be almost entirely based on the previous season’s record and the number of returning starters. Thus, in the case of 2010 Kentucky, the magazines treat 4 lost starters on the offensive line as an ominous harbinger of doom. Fortunately, at KSR, we are not bound by the same restrictions in space and can instead offer a detailed examination into just what the Cats will offer on the line.
It is technically accurate that Kentucky returns one offensive lineman who started the entire 2010 season (Stuart Hines). However, it is also true that the Cats have nine offensive linemen on the roster who have seen some game action at Kentucky, including six who have started. These nine linemen hold 156 games of combined experience and 31 combined starts. In addition to those nine battle-tested players, the Cats have three redshirt freshmen looking to push their way into the rotation. In short, the offensive line picture in Lexington is not as gloomy as the scatter-shot magazine overviews would indicate.
Chandler Burden 6-4, 291 Jr. Blue Ash, OH (LaSalle)
Billy Joe Murphy 6-6, 294 Jr. Gamaliel, KY (Monroe County)
Sean Stackhouse 6-4,270 So. Jacksonville, FL (Mandarin)
Stuart Hines 6-4, 291 Jr. Bowling Green, KY (Bowling Green)
Kevin Mitchell 6-6, 326 Fr-RS Winston, GA (Alexander)
Matt Smith 6-4, 288 So. Louisville, KY (St. Xavier)
Jake Lanefski 6-4, 292 Jr. Mobile, AL (McGill-Toolen Catholic)
Sam Simpson 6-4, 275 Fr-RS Lexington, KY (Henry Clay)
Larry Warford 6-3, 329 So. Richmond, KY (Madison County)
Dave Ullinksi 6-5, 321 So. Louisville, KY (duPont Manuel)
Marcus Davis 6-1, 283 Sr. Union, Kentucky (Boone County)
Brad Durham 6-4, 321 Sr. Mt. Vernon, KY (Rockcastle County)
Trevino Woods 6-5, 290 So. Athens, GA (Clarke County)
Stuart Hines is the bell cow of the group, having started every game in 2009 at right guard. He should have no difficulty sliding over to left guard to make way for Larry Warford on the right side.
For two seasons, Kentucky fans have asked why Chandler Burden was seeing spot duty at defensive end in what appeared to be an offensive lineman’s body. In the spring, Burden got his chance at offensive tackle, and immediately became a starter. In addition to being one of the strongest Wildcats, Burden brings an aggressive demeanor much needed on the line.
BEST POSITION BATTLE
The fight for the starting center spot will be ferocious. St. X grad Matt Smith played in six games as a freshman in 2009 behind Jorge Gonzalez. Jake Lanefski, listed second on the depth chart, has 4 starts at guard to his credit and a reputation for a mean streak. Sam Simpson, who redshirted in 2009, was a highly regarded prospect out of Henry Clay and may have the highest athletic ceiling of any player on the Kentucky offensive line.
THE “HUSKY” DEPARTMENT
If it appears that the Commonwealth Stadium turf is slanted slightly to one side when the Cats have the ball, it is not an optical illusion. The right side of the line, in the persons of Larry Warford and Brad Durham, is mammoth. Warford, who achieved a rare major college feat in playing extensive minutes on the line as a true freshman in 2009, weighs in at a robust 329 pounds. Tackle Brad Durham, who has shared time with the oft-injured and now departed Justin Jeffries for the last two years, is svelte by comparison at 321. It is safe to assume that the Cats will make use of this girth in short yardage situations.
Much maligned in the past, Kentucky’s offensive line has been a true strength for the last two seasons. In 2008, the Cats gave up fewer sacks than any team in the conference. In 2009, with no real threat of a passing game, the Kentucky line helped establish one of the conference’s most effective rushing attacks. The 2010 line, while less experienced than its predecessors, has more size, athleticism and depth than any group of the Brooks era. There may be some missteps in the early going as players get accustomed to playing together, but I believe the line will ultimately be a weapon rather than a hindrance for the Cats in 2010.
Next up: Defensive Line