August 16, 2011

Offensive line struggles with starters out

Ask Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips about the injuries on his offensive line and he'll tell you it's just a chance for the team to use some young players and build depth.

Things aren't so rosy for offensive line coach Mike Summers, though.

Senior guard Stuart Hines has been out since Aug. 10 with a sprained knee. Junior center Matt Smith and senior left tackle Chandler Burden both sat out Saturday's scrimmage and did not practice Monday.

Senior Jake Lanefski, who has filled in at center, said true freshman Darrian Miller was seeing most of the snaps at left tackle. Junior Trevino Woods and sophomore Kevin Mitchell had been splitting time at Hines' spot.

"When the guys go down you can bring the young guys in and they get really good quality reps, but the starters lose out on reps they could have got," senior right tackle Billy Joe Murphy said. "It's a double-edged sword. It has pros and cons to both sides of it."

Summers said some of the younger players have had issues after being thrust in with the starters. They've had trouble getting in position to block their man, and then had issues with their technique. Phillips has mentioned there have been several false start penalties.

"I'm not optimistic right now," Summers said Monday. "It's hard to be optimistic when you don't perform well. We've got guys who are in there right now trying to find their way around, they're not performing well so there's not much room for optimism."

Burden returned on Tuesday and took limited snaps, while Smith missed practice again.
Adding to the confusion on the line is the new scheme installed by defensive coordinator Rick Minter. With new blitz packages being added every day and so much change on the offensive line, it's been difficult for the young players to develop the consistency and chemistry found among the regular starters.

"A lot of young guys had to step up," Lanefski said Monday. "We're making the right calls, we're just having a lot thrown at us. They installed a few new things today. The run blocking we did this morning, we did awesome. Then the pass blocking today they brought every blitz you could imagine. We're going to have some mistakes but we have to clean it up before too long."

The situation in camp this year isn't entirely unfamiliar. Last season, only Hines returned as a full-time starter and four new players had to step up. That wasn't supposed to be the case this year, with four returning starters and a fifth (Murphy) who saw plenty of game action.

Murphy said he expected the line to take a step back with three starters injured, but it's still important to get the young players ready. After all, they could be just a play away from being forced into the same role in the season.

"When you take three of your five guys down, there's going to be a little bit of a drop off," Murphy said Monday. "We don't expect there to be that much of a drop off because we've got young guys who can play and we expect them to get in there and do pretty much the same things starters do, but when that doesn't happen, Coach Summers gets frustrated. They're learning, we're learning and we're learning as a unit."

Summers says there's no silver lining in having young players take so many reps. He wants his starters back as soon as possible.

"Young guys need to wait their turn," Summers said. "The old guys need to be out there practicing."

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