No one ever wants to talk about the interior of the offensive line. The three anonymous positions between the tackles are often slept on, but that is not the case at Kentucky.
The Wildcats will head into 2021 with three proven veterans at the guard positions that all started games in 2020. Top-150 recruit Jager Burton is joining the group to go along with former top-500 recruit R.J. Adams as well as redshirt sophomore Eli Cox and redshirt freshman Josh Jones.
Offensive coordinator Liam Coen and offensive line coach Eric Wolford both have plenty of options at guard and are getting creative this spring with the personnel of the Big Blue Wall.
“I think that’s a position right now that has a little bit of competition,” Coen told the media on Tuesday after being asked about the offensive guards. “We’re messing around with [Luke] Fortner at some center, doing some different things with those guys rotationally which will get some guys a bunch of reps. I definitely think we’re going to run a little bit more, obviously, with some of the wide zone and getting those guys on the perimeter.”
Fortner enters this season having started 23 games the last two seasons after playing plenty of snaps in 2018 in a reserve. The sixth-year super senior will lead the way. Kenneth Horsey started eight games at left guard in 2020 while Austin Dotson started four games at right guard. This is a very dependable threesome.
The most highly touted recruit in Kentucky’s class of 2021 was Lexington (Ky.) Frederick Douglass product Burton and the true freshman is getting thrown into the mix right away. The 6-foot-4, 280-pound rookie brings some top-notch athleticism to the position and that is playing out this spring.
“Really excited about Jager,” said Coen. “He’s done some nice things and he definitely has athleticism. When he gets out on the perimeter, can run, can do some different things. Can really move in space.”
In the new scheme, the offense is going to put much more on the plate of the offensive guards. Kentucky is going to mix in both zone and gap scheme runs while occasionally asking these players to pull and make blocks on the edge. Having quality positional athleticism will be essential. This is quietly one of the most important positions on the offense.
With some proven veterans leading the way combined with some promising youngsters, the guards could help consistently turn successful plays into explosive gains. The competition is getting the group quality work at every practice and is better than the alternative.
“It’s kind of a good problem to have,” said Coen.