Sidelines with John Clay

Losing your left tackle not the way any football team wants to start season

Kentucky offensive tackle Landon Young (67) celebrated as running back Benny Snell (26) scored a touchdown in UK’s 24-20 victory over Eastern Michigan at Kroger Field last season.
Kentucky offensive tackle Landon Young (67) celebrated as running back Benny Snell (26) scored a touchdown in UK’s 24-20 victory over Eastern Michigan at Kroger Field last season.

You want teaching. You want execution. You want conditioning. You want competition. If you’re a college football coach, however, the most important thing you want out of preseason camp is to finish without losing a major contributor.

If only Kentucky football could be so lucky.

Two years ago, just as training camp was starting, the Cats announced that starting defensive tackle Regie Meant, projected to be a major force on the defensive line, was out indefinitely because of a personal issue. Meant later transferred to Jacksonville State.

Last year, early in camp, the Cats lost starting offensive tackle Cole Mosier to a torn ACL. The injury ended the senior’s college career. Then in the final scrimmage, head coach Mark Stoops lost veteran wide receiver Dorian Baker for the season to a dislocated ankle.

Before this year’s camp even started, sophomore defensive tackle Josh Paschal, a budding star, was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma on his foot. If and when he returns remains unclear. And then Saturday, just one week before the Sept. 1 opener against Central Michigan, came the deflating news about Landon Young.

The starting left offensive tackle suffered a knee injury in Friday’s practice that will cost him his 2018 season. As a true freshman and then a sophomore, the former Lafayette High School star had started 15 games and played in all 26. At 6-foot-7, 305 pounds, he was to be a vital member of a veteran line key to an improved UK offense this season.

And as a left tackle, Young would have been one of the important players on the team. In fact, I argued just that in a column ranking the 20 most important players to UK’s 2018 success. I put Young at No. 5 on the basis the left tackle “must protect the quarterback’s blind side against some of the best edge rushers in the SEC — thus the nation.”

Now that job goes to the untested. Stoops could turn to sophomore E.J. Price, the transfer from Southern Cal. He could go with Naasir Watkins, the redshirt freshman from Maryland. Or he could switch senior right tackle George Asafo-Adjei over to the left side, and plug one of his cohorts into the right tackle slot.

In addition to the on-the-field ramifications, you wonder what the loss of Young will do to UK’s mental state. After all, the O-line (and team) is already dealing with the uncertainty surrounding offensive line coach John Schlarman, who is dealing with an unspecified health issue.

Kentucky isn’t suffering alone. Canvas SEC training camps. Alabama lost offensive lineman Matt Womack to a foot injury. Missouri lost kick return specialist Richaud Floyd to a broken leg. Georgia lost five-star true freshman running back Zamir White to a knee injury.

Over the years, Kentucky has experienced its fair share of bad camp luck. I remember having lunch with then UK associate AD Gene DeFilippo one day in 1989. “Have you heard the news about Randy Holleran?” asked DeFilippo, later the AD at Villanova and Boston College. I had not. The Cats’ best linebacker had torn his ACL in practice that morning. Out for the season. “Terrible,” said DeFilippo. “Just terrible.”

It’s especially terrible for a program that traditionally deals with depth issues in the rough-and-tumble SEC. To be sure, Stoops currently boasts the deepest roster in his six years as the UK head coach. Still, losing your starting left tackle eight days before the opener would be a blow for any team.

Silver lining: Young had not yet taken a redshirt year. He should make a full recovery with two years of eligibility remaining. Phil Steele ranked the former U.S. Army All-American as the 20th best draft-eligible offensive tackle heading into this season.

“This season” at left tackle belongs to someone else, however. Next man up, and all that. For this Kentucky team, overcoming the mental hurdle of Young’s injury might be as important as the physical one. This is not the way you want to start your season.

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