Some highly respected analysts project seasons based upon returning experience along the offensive line. If that’s the case, then Kentucky should be receiving higher marks than it’s earned thus far during the silly season. This post will address the UK big fellas in relation to the team’s pending spring practice.
The Kentucky offensive line experienced one of the program’s most dominant seasons from the position group in 2016. Major factors for its success were depth, a quality center, experience, and collective healthiness. Fast forward to 2017. Starting left tackle Cole Mosier’s season ending injury that occurred during fall camp led to a seesaw effect within John Schlarman’s unit. Guards played tackle, left and right tackles flip flopped, and a revolving door at center resulted in bad snaps and other mistakes. Throughout early struggles, Schlarman stayed true to his coaching philosophy of establishing a standard substitution rotation and cross-training players amongst other positions.
Center Drake Jackson solidified the middle of the offensive line-of-scrimmage midway through the season. The rising sophomore’s play improved on a weekly basis. Jackson is said to have gained quality weight and strength in the offseason. He will be the base in which Kentucky builds for the next three seasons. The “Drake Effect” projects confidence for the three prior position groups we’ve discussed through this point prior to spring practice: Quarterback, Running Back, and Receiver.
The Departed Starter
Kentucky returns four out of five offensive line starters to go along with three players that factored in the rotation. The sole departure is long-time contributor Kyle Meadows. Meadows started 35 consecutive games. He started at both left and right tackle.
Projected Spring Practice Starters
Left Tackle: Landon Young 6’7, 305 Junior
- Started 9 career games at left tackle; 6 in 2017
- Rotated with Kyle Meadows and Cole Mosier at left tackle
- Extremely high ceiling. Needs to get “there” this spring. It’s time.
- Registered 27 knockdown blocks as a true freshman
- Former 5-star prospect, US Army All American
Left Guard: Logan Stenberg 6’6, 320 Junior
- Started all 13 games as a sophomore
- Only UK offensive lineman to start all 13 games at the same position in 2017
- Recorded 8 knockdown blocks vs. Tennessee
- Locked down starting role. Considered the group’s “enforcer”
- Registered 37 knockdown blocks as a freshman, missed just one blocking assignment, and allowed one QB pressure in 2016
Center: Drake Jackson 6’2, 305 Sophomore
- Started final 7 games. Jackson’s improvements coincided with Benny Snell’s increase in rushing yardage.
- First start was against Mississippi State after an encouraging performance in a win over Missouri
- Former US Army All-American
Right Guard: Bunchy Stallings 6’3, 318 Senior
- Started 18 games at both guard and center
- Was recruited as a center. Appears much more comfortable at guard.
- Seven consecutive starts within an interior offensive line grouping that consists of G Logan Stenberg, C Drake Jackson, and G Bunchy Stallings. This is an important note going into spring practice. Experience and familiarity are two vital coaches within a football program.
- Joins Stenberg to construct a physical duo of guards. Both play with a necessary nasty streak for the position.
Right Tackle: George Asafo-Adjei 6’5, 315 Senior
- Started in 11 career games at both guard and tackle
- Diverse nature of Asafo-Adjei’s game projects to multiple positions
- Finished 2017 by starting the team’s final 6 games at right tackle
- Played in over 30 games
Available Offensive Linemen for Spring Practice
The UK offensive linemen will be doing a great deal of jersey swapping during the spring game if my math is correct. Eleven scholarship lineman will participate in spring practice. No incoming freshmen enrolled early and will not factor in spring practice.
Sebastien Dolcine 6’4, 305 Freshman
- Redshirted in 2017. Projects inside to guard. Athletic mauler. Excited to gauge Dolcine’s development during the spring.
Austin Dotson 6’6, 310 Freshman
- Preferred measurables and demeanor for a right tackle. Redshirted last season. Much like Dolcine, I’m eager to watch the former Belfry Pirate match up against Denzil Ware, Josh Paschal, and Josh Allen.
Luke Fortner 6’6, 305 Sophomore
- Earned playing time as a redshirt freshman
- Joins Mason Wolfe as returning players that were actively involved in the offensive line rotation. Considered to be in starting rotation and will compete to be counted with the first five.
- A force multiplier, Fortner can play tackle, guard or center.
EJ Price 6’6, 311
- Transfer from USC
- Extremely high potential. Will be interested to see him compete during spring practice.
- Possesses talent, build, and ability to push for immediate playing time within the rotation or perhaps even as a starter at one of the tackle positions.
Naasir Watkins 6’5, 300 Freshman
- Redshirt was nearly taken off following the injury of Cole Mosier and others along the offensive front.
- Talented athlete. Watkins played tight end and offensive tackle at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School.
- Coaches have raved about Watkins’ ceiling. Will compete for starting tackle position. Assuredly will be in 2018 rotation.
Mason Wolfe 6’6, 310 Junior
- Provides quality depth. Considered another starter due to the rotation. Solid, will push for a starting role.
- Showed significant strides from 2016 to 2017
What does all this mean?
Starting positions are effectively locked up at guard and center. The interesting competitions could occur at tackle. Landon Young will have to hold off Naasir Watkins. George Asafo-Adjei should get the role but will have quality backups in Wolfe and Dotson. Fortner will factor somewhere. This group’s ability to play multiple positions paid dividends in 2017.
The Class of 2018 is the best offensive line group that Mark Stoops has signed. We’ll incorporate the rookies in a preseason post. Also reporting in June will be Chris Rodriguez and Kavosiey Smoke. Both are 200-pound plus bruisers that can run behind the pads. The fact that UK returns physical starters at guard-center-guard can only be considered a positive as the aforementioned youngsters will join Benny Snell to make up a group of downhill runners. Break out the Tylenol in fall camp.
Much like the highly successful 2016 OL campaign, experience, depth, and a quality center return in 2018. Will this current group of Cats produce as did Toth and company? Stay tuned as all offensive position groups tie together.