John Clay: UK's banged-up offensive line needs polishing before meeting Cardinals

Banged-up unit must nurture its chemistry

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistAugust 24, 2011 

UKFBC

Stuart Hines, a three-year starter, is the veteran left guard on an offensive line that returns several regulars.

MATT GOINS

  • Tennessee at Kentucky

    When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 30

    TV: ESPNU

    Records: Kentucky 2-9 (0-7 SEC); Tennessee 4-7 (1-6)

With Kentucky's football opener "inside the 10-day window" as defensive coordinator Rick Minter growls, five quick thoughts on the Cats.

1. For once I agree it's a good time not to be playing Louisville first.

The reason is the offensive line. Four of the five starters have missed most of training camp. Offensive guard and "face of the program" Stuart Hines is still not back from his sprained knee, which has to be a little troubling.

Yes, this circumstance has allowed the unproven backups to pick up more practice repetitions. That should help depth.

Yes, healthy starter Billy Joe Murphy has improved through his added practice time.

But an offensive line needs chemistry. To develop chemistry, it needs to work as a unit. Thankfully, the Cats will have the Western Kentucky and Central Michigan games for some O-Line polishing.

2. Please do not ask for the names of the no-name freshmen.

Joker Phillips said Monday it was a past mistake to hype individual freshmen by name. He's not going to do it this year.

He did let it slip that a couple of freshmen have worked their way into the two-deep depth chart at wide receiver. He just wouldn't give away the names of the freshmen. The guess here is Daryl Collins and Demarco Robinson are the unrevealed parties.

By the way, I think we'll be seeing Robinson on punt returns, as well.

3. It is better to play the scheme, then recruit to the scheme.

In talking to Minter on Monday, one thing he mentioned was playing a scheme so that a program can recruit to that scheme.

That's the old chicken-or-the-egg question. What came first? What should come first? Do you play the scheme that is best suited to the players you have? Or do you play the scheme that will attract the players you want to recruit?

Think back to 1989-90 and Rick Pitino's first year as UK basketball coach. Did Pitino possess the personnel to full-court press? No. But he did full-court press anyway, developing a style of play to attract recruits.

That's what Minter wants to do. He's using the hybrid position so he can recruit players who will want to play that position. I think it's a smart strategy.

4. Look for a big year from a big leg.

There are already a couple of excellent punters in the SEC — Georgia's Drew Butler and Ole Miss's Tyler Campbell. But UK's Ryan Tydlacka is no slouch, earning pre-season All-SEC third-team honors from both the coaches and media.

Phillips bragged on Tydlacka on Monday, saying that if the punter wasn't a punter he'd call him a "football player" or something like that. Remember, that is Joker's highest compliment.

Talking to special teams coach Greg Nord, he wants Tydlacka to improve his pooch punting. In fact, that's how Tydlacka started out, as Rich Brooks' pooch punter.

We already know that Tydlacka can boom the ball.

5. Running back by committee is the favored plan of attack.

Phillips was asked recently if he wanted to go with one back, or a committee of backs.

He said he didn't think there was any one back that would stick his head and shoulders above the others.

There are whispers that true freshman Josh Clemons could end up rising to the top. The grapevine says he looks awfully good with the football. But if you don't think blitz pickup is important, you've never talked to a quarterback or his offensive coordinator.

Sophomore Raymond Sanders is just gaining total health. There were good reports on Brandon Gainer early, but then the redshirt freshman hurt his elbow.

I'm anxious to see more of CoShik Williams. He's a scatback who has paid his dues. If he holds on to the ball, he may finally get his chance.

Reach John Clay at (859) 231-3226 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3226, or jclay@herald-leader.com. Read his blog at Kentucky.com. Check out his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/johnclayhl. Follow him on Twitter at @johnclayiv.

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