Part two in an eight part series previewing the 2014 Kentucky Football Wildcats.
Cats hope added experience, depth and tonnage lead to improved line play in 2014. In the inaugural season of the Mark Stoops era, Kentucky’s “Air Raid” offense faced a myriad of problems. The receiving corps was woefully thin and remarkably inexperienced. Aside from an occasional flash from freshman Jojo Kemp, the runningbacks displayed neither elusiveness nor explosion. The quarterbacks were constantly hurt, and were sporadic even when healthy. In short, it was a debacle. But with all of the sources of ulcers and sleepless nights for offensive coordinator Neal Brown, perhaps none hamstrung the Cats as much as the play of the offensive line. While it may be a tired cliche that football is a game won or lost at the line of scrimmage, the axiom remains largely correct. Unfortunately, the Cats were simply man-handled at the point of attack for much of the season. Though it can be difficult to quantify offensive line play with statistics, some numbers are telling. Kentucky ranked 13th in the SEC in rushing offense and allowed more sacks and tackles for a loss than any team in the conference. With the rather inauspicious opening season in the rear view, the Cats are hopeful that a more veteran group, and another year in Kentucky’s much-celebrated strength program, will turn the o-line from a disaster into a position of strength.
POST-SPRING OFFENSIVE LINE DEPTH CHART:
Darrian Miller 6-5, 292 Sr. Lexington, KY (Bryan Station)
Teven Eatmon-Nared 6-7, 339 Sr. Bucyrus, OH
Zach West 6-4, 318 Jr. Lexington, KY (Lexington Christian Academy)
Nick Haynes 6-3, 319 Fr.RS Niceville, FL
Max Godby 6-4, 298 Sr. Louisville, KY (Christian Academy of Louisville)
David Baumer 6-5, 295 Fr-HS Cincinnati, OH
Jon Toth 6-5, 301 So. Indianapolis, IN
Zach Myers 6-3, 287 So. Miamisburg, OH
Dylan Greenberg 6-2, 295 Fr-TR Tucson, AZ
Ramsey Meyers 6-4, 300 Fr-RS Orange Park, FL
John Gruenschlaeger 6-11, 363 Jr. Ft. Thomas, KY (Newport Central Catholic)
or Cole Mosier 6-6, 348 Fr-RS Walton, KY (Walton-Verona)
Jordan Swindle 6-7, 306 Jr. St. Johns, FL
Kyle Meadows 6-5, 294 Fr-RS West Chester, OH
Shaquille Love 6-4, 323 Jr. Harriman, TN
Kentucky has cause for optimism on the offensive line. That optimism begins with experience. The Cats will open 2014 with returning starters at four of five positions. Included in this group are talented tackles Darrian Miller and Jordan Swindle. Miller is a two year starter at left tackle who is considered an NFL prospect by both the current staff and the previous staff. Miller has started Kentucky’s last 24 games, and is a cornerstone player in the program, as indicated by his appearance on the cover of the 2014 Football Media Guide. His bookend at right tackle is junior Jordan Swindle. Swindle made dramatic progress last season, his first as a full time starter. Intelligent and soft-spoken off the field, the 6-7 Floridian is reputed to have a nasty disposition on the field. Neal Brown has referred to Swindle as the leader of the entire offense, a position Mark Stoops reinforced by selecting Swindle to represent the Kentucky offense at SEC Media Days.
Zach West is a two year starter at guard, and should bounce back from a rocky 2013 season in which he was slowed by nagging injuries. Kentucky should also improve up front through an increase in size and strength. Kentucky’s projected starting five weighs a combined 62 pounds more than they did just one season ago, an average of a little over twelve pounds per man. Fortunately, this twelve pounds was carefully cultivated through the highly sophisticated exercise and nutrition plan formulated by Kentucky High Performance Coach Eric Korem as opposed to my method, which was based primarily on eating combo meals in my car in the parking lot at Arby’s. Both resulted in weight gain, but it seems reasonable to assume the method utilized by the Cats will be more productive.
Center John Toth, who started at center as a freshman in 2013, may benefit more than any other player on the roster from his weight and strength gains. Listed at 283 to start the 2013 season, Toth played at around 270 by the end of the year, an unheard of weight for an SEC offensive lineman in the modern era. Even at that size, and in his first year at the position, Toth was named to the freshman All SEC team by the league’s coaches. With his obvious talent, and 30 pounds of added muscle, Toth should be a force in the middle of the line for the Cats.
Kentucky coaches were not afforded the luxury of redshirting many players in the 2013 class. However, their patience with regard to offensive line recruits should pay dividends in 2013. The Cats were able to redshirt all of their incoming offensive linemen last season. As a result, Kentucky currently features three redshirt freshmen in the two deep, including the projected starter at Right Guard, Ramsey Meyers. These players now have a year’s worth of high level weight training, as well as a year of learning the system at their disposal. The coaches are hopeful to do the same with the four offensive linemen in the 2014 class.