Kentucky offensive line searching for a mix that clicks

jsmith3@herald-leader.comOctober 20, 2013 

Kentucky's Darrian Miller (77) hoisted Raymond Sanders after a first-quarter touchdown against Miami (Ohio) in September. Miller at left tackle has been one of the few offensive line constants.

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  • Kentucky at Mississippi St.

    When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday

    TV: ESPN

    Records: Mississippi St. 3-3 (0-2 SEC); Kentucky 1-5 (0-3)

John Schlarman has been part blackjack dealer, part offensive line coach since he arrived at Kentucky.

He is on a constant quest to find the right player to fill the right position on the line for the Cats' offense.

Starting in the spring, going through fall camp and even into these first six games of the season, Schlarman has been shuffling nonstop.

"You're always searching for the best five," he said. "You don't necessarily know where that's going to come from. We've got to get some guys to step up at certain spots and say, 'This is my spot. I'm going to take this and run with it.' For whatever reason, that hasn't happened."

In six games so far this season, the Cats have used three different starting combinations on the line.

"You want to find the guys that have that burn inside, the guys who have that fire in them and want to go out there and get it done," Schlarman explained of the constant position rotations this season. "Not always the guy with the most talent, not always the fastest, not always the biggest, but the guy who's going to go out there and get the job done."

The only constants in the starting lineups so far have been Darrian Miller at left tackle, Jordan Swindle at right tackle and Kevin Mitchell at right guard.

But even Mitchell, one of three full-time starters back from last season's team, which lost long-time stalwarts center Matt Smith and right guard Larry Warford, was shuffled early in the summer from his starting spot last season at right tackle.

Specifically, the Cats have been searching for some consistency at the center and left guard spots, as well as regular contributors who can come in and provide some depth at other spots.

When asked what UK is still looking for at left guard, a spot where Zach West started all of last season and a couple of games this season, head coach Mark Stoops said the key is consistency.

"There's a combination of things," he said. "You know how it is in this league. It takes a lot of talent, and the bigger and the more physical you are and the more athletic you are, generally you have a better chance against some of these teams."

Recently, Stoops said he thought the offensive linemen are trying hard, but that he hasn't been "overly pleased" with their overall production.

"We're doing some good things," Stoops said. "I think Darrian Miller is doing a nice job; he's getting better each week and (Jordan) Swindle is competing his tail off. I've been very pleasantly surprised and pleased with his effort. I think he cares a great deal and is battling as hard as he can."

Schlarman is still hoping that all of this shuffling will benefit Kentucky as it starts the second half of the season.

"Moving guys on the offensive line and being able to do that, helps you get your best five out there, no matter what the circumstances are," he explained.

So if one guy goes out with an injury, you can plug in the next best player, even if it's not at a spot where he's seen a lot of work in game action. And at some point maybe UK will find the mix that clicks.

"There can be a big drop off from your sixth best guy to your 10th best guy," Schlarman said. "If your 10th best guy is your No. 2 whatever position, you can somehow get that No. 6 guy in there and make you a little bit better offensive line."

All of the pre-season shuffling has come in handy for UK in times of need.

In the most recent game against Alabama, former walk-on Max Godby, who has played at center and left guard so far this season, found himself at right guard, subbing in for Mitchell, who hurt his shoulder in the third quarter.

"Everyone's buying in, saying, 'We just want to put the team in the best situation to win,'" Godby said. "So many people aren't just dedicated to learning their position, but multiple positions."

As players learn various plays, they go over what each person on the line is responsible for. Then, it's just a matter of modifying your technique, Miller explained.

For instance, he said, both tackles on the team can play either tackle spot. Almost every player on the line can sub in for another.

"It gives us the ability to plug most people in at different positions," Miller said. "It gives us more depth with the same personnel and gives us an overall ability to move people around."

Schlarman is just hoping all of the shuffling will yield five of a kind for UK's line.

"We're just looking for the best five. And get things rolling a little bit. It's a constant search and battle every day, just trying to get better."

Quick hitters

Defensive end Alvin "Bud" Dupree has practiced every day this week and likely will play against Mississippi State after missing the Alabama game with a strained pectoral muscle.

Sophomore safety Zack Blaylock has been injured this season and will take a red-shirt season after having an undisclosed surgery a few weeks back, safeties coach Bradley Dale Peveto confirmed Sunday.

"Hopefully he'll be back in the spring," he said of Blaylock, who played in UK's last seven games last season with three starts.


THURSDAY

Kentucky at Mississippi St.

When: 7:30 p.m.

TV: ESPN

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

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