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2017 Kentucky Football Position Previews: Offensive Line

KSR’s preseason position previews series continues with John Schlarman’s offensive line.  Don’t miss earlier previews of the Wide ReceiversRunning Backs and Quarterbacks.

The Personnel 

The Leader: Following the loss of Cole Mosier, there’s no denying the leader in the offensive line’s meeting room is Nick Haynes.  A consummate professional, Haynes has played every position on UK’s offensive line.  That experience gives him credibility to provide praise and critique to underclassmen across the entire line.  When Haynes speaks, everybody listens.  Now in his fifth year as a redshirt senior, where he will play remains a mystery, but the most likely destination for an All-SEC performer is right guard.

Mobile Interior Linemen:  Each player knows a variety of positions on the offensive line, so it’s easier to group them together than by each specific position.  The interior linemen are the most versatile.  It starts in the middle with three centers that can also play guard: Bunchy Stallings, Drake Jackson and Haynes.  Stallings will be tasked to replace Jon Toth.  More powerful and athletic than his predecessor, I do not foresee Bunchy rotating out of his position often to ensure a clean, comfortable and consistent exchange between quarterback and center.

The guy you need to keep an eye on is Logan Stenberg.  The trash-talking, nasty “big dude with a ponytail” is always prepared to pop somebody in the mouth.  An All-SEC freshman in 2016, the mauler will make a few pancakes this year you can’t miss from any corner of Kroger Field.  Stenberg will play Haynes’ former position at left guard, while Haynes commands the right guard position.

The Tackles: Following Cole Mosier’s injury, former five-star high school All-American Landon Young has been thrust into the role as Kentucky’s primary left tackle.  The 6’7″ 305-pounder was thrown into the fire a year ago and excelled; he actually received more reps at left tackle than Mosier did by the season’s end.

As the line currently stands, if Young needs a break, senior Kyle Meadows will be bumped from the right side to the left.  In Meadows’ stead will be “Big” George Asafo-Adjei.  Big George is one of the rare instances where a lineman plays tackle and guard, but the junior has received significant snaps at both spots on the right side of the line.

Rising NewcomersThe most talked about young offensive lineman at training camp was Mason Wolfe.  The Henderson, Kentucky native spent his redshirt season learning offensive tackle.  This year they pumped him down to guard and center.  Following Mosier’s injury, Wolfe’s received more reps at tackle, making him arguably the most versatile man on the line behind Haynes.

Luke Fortner, Tate Leavitt and Drake Jackson all received shout outs from Schlarman at one point during camp, but the name that might shock you is true freshman Naasir Watkins.  The 6’5″ 300 pound left tackle from Laurel, Maryland has received rave reviews from the entire offensive coaching staff, who like to compare Watkins to where Landon Young was a year ago.  There’s usually a rule against playing true freshmen, but Watkins might be an exception to that rule.

The Storylines 

ColeMosier71 | IG

Who will replace Mosier? — Obviously, it’s Landon Young.  The bigger question is who will become the No. 2 left tackle and can they be trusted as much as Young was trusted last year?  Just from watching Watkins practice, it’s possible, but it might be wise to give him a redshirt, putting two years between the two left tackles instead of just one.

If the Cats opt to use Meadows as UK’s second left tackle option, Big George will play more tackle than guard, putting him out of position.  He can do it, but his best fit is at guard.  Regardless, of what Schlarman decides, there will be a lot of moving parts.

How Deep is UK’s Rotation? — As of right now, Schlarman trusts eight guys.  That’s a solid rotation, but that doesn’t replicate the nine-man platoon system Kentucky operated in 2016.  He wants to have ten reliable bodies on the travel squad, but that doesn’t necessarily mean all ten have to play regularly.  Young and Stallings will play the majority of the snaps while the other three positions rotate more frequently.

Nick Haynes has Diabetes — People are wasting their time talking about this.  If you think it’s a big deal, I’m willing to throw fisticuffs.

Haynes has had Type I Diabetes for three years.  Throughout that time he’s played the best football of his career.  Now people are wondering if he can maintain his weight because they found out he has a health issue.

STOP IT!

He played at 260 last year in the bowl game and was the highest-graded offensive lineman on one of the best offensive lines in the country.  This is an issue he’s always dealt with and handled appropriately.  Just because we know about it now will not change how he handles it during his senior season.

On a personal note, Haynes is a great guy.  A respectful young man from a military family who’s bowled multiple 300 games, he’s much more than an offensive lineman.  Kentucky fans should be proud to have Haynes represent their team.

The Prediction 

John Schlarman can’t remember the last time there was a fumble on a snap, thanks to Jon Toth’s four years of service.  That will change in 2017.  That’s not a knock on Bunchy Stallings.  In fact, Stallings is a superior athlete to Toth and has a year of full-time experience bullying SEC opponents at guard.  However, he’s new and mistakes happen.  They didn’t happen under Toth, but there will be at least one timely bad snap that will frustrate fans this year.

The player behind Bunchy on the depth chart, Drake Jackson, will not see much action in his redshirt season.  Stenberg, Stallings and Haynes are arguably the best on the offensive linemen and he is behind them on the depth chart.

Landon Young will receive all of the left tackle reps to start the season, but midway through the season Watkins’ name will be called.  Injuries and fatigue will force the Cats from saving him from using a redshirt, unless Mason Wolfe exceeds expectations.

Overall, it will be difficult to replicate last season’s success in the trenches.  The Cats lost experience at the two most important positions: center (Toth) and left tackle (Mosier).  The line’s play will not be a problem for fans to worry about, but I’ll be surprised if Schlarman’s group dominates like they did in the final nine games of the 2016 season.

Article written by Nick Roush

"Look upon the doughnut, and not upon the hole." @RoushKSR