Matt Smith and Marcus Davis probably feel a little bit like pinch hitters in baseball these days.
The two University of Kentucky offensive linemen have spent fall camp battling it out for what amounts to a one-game starting assignment against Miami University on Sept. 5. The projected starter, senior Jorge Gonzalez, will be serving a one-game suspension for violating team rules. Gonzalez will likely return to the starting lineup Sept. 19 against Louisville, but both Smith and Davis are excited about the opportunity.
"You're always excited to get out there and show what you can do," said Smith, who redshirted as a true freshman last fall. "We all know that Jorge is our center. He earned the job, and he's got experience. But you also want the coaches to know that they can feel comfortable putting you in there if they need to."
UK head coach of offense Joker Phillips said the Miami game could also serve as a one-game audition for the job after Gonzalez departs.
"One of the guys is going to have to be the future," Phillips said. "Jorge is gone after this year, so we look at this as a good opportunity to see who our next center might be."
Gonzalez has taken an active role in helping both Smith and Davis prepare. Smith said Gonzalez told him a month ago that he'd likely be suspended for the first game, so the two players have been working as potential starters since the beginning of fall camp.
"Even though (Gonzalez) knows he's not going to be playing, he's been out here every day teaching us things and showing us how it's supposed to be done," Smith said. "He really cares about the program and wants to see us do well not only in the Miami game, but he wants us to be ready to compete when he leaves."
Smith and Davis can also lean on graduate assistant Matt McCutchan, who started three years at center before turning it over to Gonzalez.
"Between Matt and Jorge, you can't get two better guys to help you out," Smith said.
Smith and Davis both took different paths to UK.
Smith arrived in Lexington as a defensive tackle before reluctantly moving to center in fall camp.
"I think I've settled in as an offensive lineman," Smith said. "The coaches really felt I was a natural at snapping the ball, and after a while, I took to it."
Davis, a cousin of former NFL running back Shaun Alexander, originally committed to Division I-AA Wofford after his senior year at Boone County. But Davis couldn't resist the opportunity to play SEC football and instead accepted UK's offer to walk on.
Davis has slowly but surely earned his stripes, playing on the scout team as a true freshman and seeing brief action the past two seasons.
"I hope I've done enough to earn the chance to start," Davis said. "I really want to compete for the starting spot. I just want a chance. But when I get that chance I have to prove myself."
Both Smith and Davis offer pluses and minuses, according to UK Coach Rich Brooks.
"Davis has been in games, and he's taken snaps, but I'd like him to be a little bigger and stronger," he said. "But he knows what's going on, and that's important. Smith is a little bigger and stronger but doesn't know what's going on yet, so we don't know how he'll absorb it all. He's done some good things and done some things where you say, 'Uh-oh.'
One area where both players have done well is snapping.
"The ball's not on the ground, so that's a plus," Brooks said. "Now we just have to figure out which one is ready to go."
Second scrimmage Saturday
UK will hold its second fall scrimmage Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium. The scrimmage is closed to the public and media.