Mark Stoops said Tuesday that Kentucky is about to announce a starting quarterback. Could happen any day. Offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson confirmed a decision is looming. Curiosity will be satisfied. It won't be the key to the season, however.
Don't get me wrong: Who plays quarterback is important. Whether the starter is the junior favorite Patrick Towles or the redshirt freshman challenger Drew Barker, Kentucky needs consistent play from its signal-caller to execute the desired jump to bowl eligibility.
And yet the quarterback doesn't matter without protection from the offensive line. The offense doesn't matter if the defensive line can't put pressure on the opposing passer and control the opponent's rusher. The adage says games are won in the trenches. It still holds true.
There's reason to think Kentucky has what's necessary for improvement in both areas. There might not be first-round NFL Draft picks on either side of the line — not yet. There is more size, more experience, more depth.
At least three starters return — senior left tackle Jordan Swindle, junior center Jon Toth and sophomore left guard Ramsey Meyers — on the offensive line. Zach West, a senior battling sophomore Nick Haynes at left guard, has played a lot of football. Right tackle Kyle Meadows was the top tackle reserve as a redshirt freshman last season.
The talk of camp is tackle George Asafo-Adjei, the early enrollee who turned heads in the spring. With Asafo-Adjei running with the first team so far this fall as Meadows recovers from a severe migraine, heads keep turning.
"Big George is a hoss. I love the kid," Jimmy Brumbaugh said Wednesday. Brumbaugh is UK's defensive line coach. "He plays the game like you should play the game. He's physical. He's tough. He's going to talk to you. And he ain't going to take nothing from you."
"The talk around the locker room (is) George is going to be first round whenever he gets ready to come out," said defensive tackle C.J. Johnson.
That's a true freshman they're talking about.
"He got those 15 practices in the spring," said offensive line coach John Schlarman on Tuesday. "He feels more like a redshirt freshman, to be honest with you."
Let's talk about a player who was an actual high draft choice, first-rounder Bud Dupree, and his running buddy, Za'Darius Smith, a fourth-round pick. Both were defensive ends. Stands to reason Kentucky's defensive line will be weaker in 2015 without that duo, right? Not necessarily.
Stoops and defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot say UK will play more 3-4 scheme than 4-3. That means three down linemen with two defensive ends functioning as outside linebackers. With junior Jason Hatcher suspended, senior Jabari Johnson and promising redshirt freshman Denzil Ware lead for those starting spots.
In another testament to the importance of line play, when special teams/safeties coach Craig Naivar left for Houston, Stoops opted to fill the open position with a defensive ends/outside linebackers coach instead, hiring former California defensive coordinator Andy Buh. Brumbaugh now concentrates on the inside guys.
"It's more detail to the position," Jabari Johnson said Tuesday when asked about Buh. "It's just the icing on the cake, iron out the wrinkles."
As for those with a hand in the dirt/turf, senior Melvin Lewis and sophomore tackle Regie Meant have earned praise. Lewis has become a leader. Farrington Huguenin, a senior, is the probable third starter. Brumbaugh said Wednesday his goal is to develop depth. Johnson and Matt Elam are keys there.
"We have the bodies to be able to do it," Brumbaugh said.
Consider this: Since the 2006 season, the SEC has had 20 defensive linemen drafted in the NFL's first round compared to just three quarterbacks — LSU's JaMarcus Russell in 2007, Georgia's Matthew Stafford in 2009, Auburn's Cam Newton in 2011.
During that time, the league has won seven national titles. That says something about what's important.