Young Kentucky line leaning on veteran duo

jsmith3@herald-leader.comAugust 15, 2012 

Practice on Tuesday ended in a pool party, which felt like a redundancy for Kentucky's five new freshman offensive linemen.

Their heads have been swimming for the past couple of weeks.

"It's hard on them because they know they don't know what the puzzle's supposed to look like," offensive line coach Mike Summers said recently. "They have to believe that as I spoon-feed them the technique that they need and the fundamentals and the scheme they need, it will all start to come together. It's a process."

As fun as it might be to mess with the freshmen, sophomore lineman Darrian Miller said it never happens.

"We're not big on the whole freshmen hazing thing because we know it's not easy to learn a new system, so why make it more difficult on them and slow down their progression for fun?" he said.

The former Bryan Station standout is less than a year removed from being in the place of Jordan Swindle, Zach Myers, T.J. Jones, Jon Toth and Jordan Watson.

"It's not easy at all," Miller said. "You have to categorize information and assimilate it very quickly. It's not easy by any stretch of the imagination."

This group may need to grow up faster than most, after UK lost three longtime contributors on the offensive line in Stuart Hines, Chandler Burden and Billy Joe Murphy. The trio combined for 75 starts.

Hines and Burden, who had 58 of those starts, comprised the entire left side of the line, the blind side for whichever quarterback is named the starter for UK's opener at Louisville.

Miller is slated to be the starting left tackle next to redshirt freshman guard Zach West, a former Lexington Christian standout.

The coaches seem comfortable with the first group of linemen — even though they're young — but that second group is a question.

"I'm comfortable with five or six of the offensive linemen, but there are some guys who need to come on," offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said before camp. "If we go through a rash of injuries, it will get very difficult."

The two returning starters, center Matt Smith and two-time All-Southeastern Conference guard Larry Warford, knew they'd probably need help from this freshman class, so they took it upon themselves to be coaches this summer, when the actual coaches aren't permitted to work with players.

Having Smith and Warford around as surrogate coaches has helped the young linemen get a jump.

"I don't know how the freshmen would have survived without those two," Watson said at Media Day. "We're a young, green bunch, and Matt Smith and Larry Warford have been as supportive as I could have ever dreamed an upperclassman would be. There's been no hazing, no taunting, no intimidation factor."

Fellow freshman Swindle called the veteran duo: "Awesome."

"They walked us through all of the plays and everything, and if it wasn't for them I don't think I'd be where I am with the playbook and everything," he said.

The playbook is the hardest thing to wrap your mind around when you make the jump from high school to college, Warford said.

"It's understanding what everybody else is doing and how the schemes are working," Warford said this summer. "Transitioning from very basic concepts to these complex things, it's very tough as a freshman. But it's just crazy how quickly they're learning and all that."

And it's not just about knowing what's going on, Smith said.

"It's just the speed of how fast you need to know things," the senior center said of making the jump from high school to college. "We get up to the line and we've got about three or four seconds before we have to make all of our calls, know what the defense is and adjust to anything that happens.

"It's more mental than physical because everybody at this level is pretty strong and pretty fast so it's all about how quick you can pick up on things."

Both Sanders and head coach Joker Phillips seemed optimistic that the young line will be able to make the adjustment.

"While we will be somewhat limited up front, I expect us to be better than we have been in other years since I've been here," Sanders said.

"I just think our guys are more talented. They're not as experienced, but they're more talented."

Practice report

Sophomore running back Josh Clemons experienced swelling in his surgically repaired knee after UK's scrimmage on Saturday and hasn't been able to practice since then, position coach Steve Pardue said Wednesday.

Clemons had an MRI on Tuesday and they are still waiting for the results.

"He's ready to play mentally, we just have to make sure he's back healthy," Pardue said. "He needs reps. ... To be a great player, you have to practice. ... Hopefully we'll get him back and he'll get those."

Pardue indicated that the starting job is a dead heat, with CoShik Williams and Raymond Sanders running 1 and 1A. Sanders, who had both knees scoped last season, has trimmed down and looks his "best since I've been here."

■ Freshman offensive lineman Zach Myers suffered a high ankle sprain and is in a boot.

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog:

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