The University of Kentucky offensive line is poised to be one of the top units in college football in 2020. Four starters return from a group that helped set UK’s single-season school records with 3,624 rushing yards, 36 rushing touchdowns, and average 6.3 yards per carry. The foursome was also credited for 167 knockdown blocks and has 80 career starts collectively. Let’s take a look at the returning starters:
Center, 6’2″, 310 lbs., Senior
After starting 33 games, Drake Jackson has been a mainstay on John Schlarman’s offensive line for the past three seasons. Arguably the best center to ever play for the Wildcats, Jackson’s junior season was topped off by being a First Team All-SEC selection and being named to the watch list for the Rimington Trophy, which honors the top center in college football. A true technician, he missed just two assignments in 845 offensive plays in 2019. Jackson was also named as the Co-SEC Lineman of the Week for his performance against Vanderbilt.
Tackle, 6’5″ 347 lbs., Junior
Darian Kinnard started all 13 games while registering 32 knockdown blocks in 2019. He was penalized just once in 706 snaps while earning Second Team All-SEC honors by Pro Football Focus. Kinnard is one of the top offensive tackles in the nation and could depart for the NFL following his junior year. A mauler along the line-of-scrimmage, Kinnard is also one of the top athletes on the team. He has a chance to be considered as one of the best right tackles in program history.
Tackle, 6’7″ 321 lbs., Senior
Lexington Lafayette’s Landon Young was a five-star prospect coming out of high school. Young missed the entirety of the 2018 season due to injury but bounced back for a solid junior campaign. He was named Third Team All-SEC by Athlon after totaling 64 knockdown blocks. Young was also the Captain of the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team.
Much like Kinnard and Jackson, Young is a technician and missed just one assignment in 754 plays. His best performance of 2019 came against Eastern Michigan when he was named the SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week after grading 91 percent in the win over the Eagles.
Guard, 6’6″ 305 lbs., Senior
In a repetitive theme, Luke Fortner is extremely fundamentally sound which was evident after missing zero assignments in 646 plays a year ago. Fortner has played a ton of snaps in both a starting and reserve role.
Fortner’s off-the-field work has been equally impressive. A mechanical engineer major who, along with Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky and other engineering students, helped design a specially built pushcart vehicle to provide a Kentucky Children’s Hospital patient the chance to both accompany the Wildcats on the Cat Walk and attend a game at Kroger Field in a project called “Lift Them Up.”
WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN?
Kentucky returns four starters from an offensive line that was named as a semifinalist for the Joe Moore Award which honors the top OL in college football. This group is talented, seasoned, and extremely well coached. Landon Young, Drake Jackson, and Luke Fortner totaled just three missed assignments in a combined 2,236 offensive snaps in 2019. The 2020 version has the chance to be one of the top groups in program history and produce four NFL selections.
Coach John Schlarman will be looking for a replacement for Guard Logan Stenberg. Stenberg was taken in the fourth round of the NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions. Potential fillers are Kenneth Horsey, Austin Dotson, RJ Adams, and Jeremy Flax. With a vacated spring practice, preseason camp (whenever that may be) will be vital for filling the open left guard position.
The Big Blue Wall is more than a mere nickname. Schlarman’s offensive linemen are developed to be nasty by nature and fundamental technicians. He’s got four future pros to work with in 2020. This should be fun to watch.