With an offensive line that returns two starters from last year's 5-7 team, University of Kentucky football coach Joker Phillips may have found replacement parts in a not-so-distant land — Lexington.
Darrian Miller, out of Bryan Station High School, and Zach West, out of Lexington Christian, opened spring drills last week atop the depth chart on the left side of the line, at tackle and guard, respectively.
Miller, 6-foot-5, played in all 12 games as a true freshman last season, when he weighed a bit under 300 pounds.
"He's now at 306 and looks like a left tackle in this league's supposed to look like," Phillips said.
West, at 6-4, 305, has added 9 pounds since being redshirted as a freshman last fall.
The teammates seemingly are joined at the hip.
Aside from playing next to each other, they have become close friends since they arrived on campus.
"I'm just going to say that he's pretty strange," Miller said as West sat within earshot. "That's why I like him. I'm pretty strange myself."
"Us both being from around here, we're both pretty 'chill' guys, and we have a lot of the same characteristics and a lot of the same hobbies," West said. "We just hung out a lot and just developed a bond together."
During his news conference before spring drills opened, Phillips noted that the local linemen had gone fishing at Lake Cumberland over spring break.
"They're going to play beside each other and I think it's good that they get to know each other a little bit better. ... They need to learn how to communicate with each other," Phillips said. "Offensive line, you'd better be able to understand what he's doing. They're going to have to be hip-to-hip to work on double teams. They're going to need to know to step with the right foot. I think it's important that they are close enough to communicate that way.
"Both bodies have changed (since last season). The way they talk to you is a little bit different. ... Both of them were a little shy. They've got the good look in their eye that you want from a college athlete, and I think that's one of the biggest ways that they've changed."
Miller started two games at right tackle last season. He also played some at tight end, including in the season-ending win over Tennessee.
"Actually, I came in (as a recruit) as a left-side," Miller said. "They just moved me over to right because of injuries."
He's happy to be back on the left side, where he is best equipped to do something about unhappy feelings left from last season.
"Hungry. Angry, Upset," he said when asked about UK missing out last year after five straight bowl games. "Just any negative emotion that corresponds with anger."
Emotions that serve as motivation this time around.
Mike Summers, UK's offensive line coach and running game coordinator, likes what he's seen from Miller and West in practice.
"They are young players and, traditionally, the offensive line is not a great place for young players because so much happens so fast and it's so physical in there," Summers said. "But both of those guys are intelligent, they're passionate about Kentucky football and they are developing at a very fast rate. So I'm very encouraged."
Even though he didn't get to play last season, West said he learned plenty from observing and talking with Miller.
During spring drills, the emphasis is on repetition. Repeating techniques "that we're trying to incorporate into muscle memory," West said.
Beyond techniques, "there's also the mental development that comes into defensive recognition, making line calls before the ball gets snapped, being able to work together in combination," said Summers, whose lessons extend from the field into meetings and film sessions. "All that stuff happens in the course of about four or five seconds, so the better they understand what we're asking them to do and the better that they understand the defensive part of the game, then they can anticipate what's going to happen."
The depth chart at left tackle lists Miller, sophomore Tyler Davenport and huge (6-11, 354) redshirt freshman Jack Gruenschlaeger. West is competing with 6-7, 342-pound sophomore Teven Eatmon-Nared.
Much can happen before the Sept. 1 season opener at Louisville, but West thinks about starting next to another Lexingtonian.
"It's exciting," he said. "It's really rare for teams to get two guys from the same city, especially two guys at the (adjacent) position on the same side of the ball. It's really rare and it's definitely a gift to be with somebody I've known for a while, and one of my great friends."
Cats to play partial scrimmage on Saturday
The Kentucky football team held a two-hour, 10-minute practice Friday morning, completing the installation of offense and defense in preparation for a half-practice/half-scrimmage on Saturday.
"We can only scrimmage (for the entire practice) three times, and we will do that the last three weekends," Phillips said.
The coach said Saturday's mini-scrimmage will be a good measure of how the Wildcats are doing after two weeks of practice.
"We want to see if we are playing fast, playing physical, playing with great fundamentals and good technique," Phillips said.
He said he's been particularly impressed with the play of the secondary so far in spring drills.
"I like the way they look and the way they train in the off-season," Phillips said. "We have a chance to have a big, physical secondary that is still athletic and still has some length to them. These guys have some girth to them, but they are also very athletic."
Mark Maloney: (859) 231-3229. Blog: markmaloney.bloginky.com