(Photo courtesy of Lexington Herald-Leader)
The one constant for the University of Kentucky football team the last two seasons has been its ability to run the football. Benny Snell has had consecutive 1,000+ yard seasons, which was in part due to his immense talent. However, the other part of Benny’s impressive performances is the UK offensive line. Coach John Schlarman’s unit has done a terrific job of opening up holes for Benny Snell, Sihiem King, Stephen Johnson and others. At the beginning of the 2017 season, the offensive line was struggling. This had a lot to do with the play of guard Nick Haynes. Haynes had been quietly battling Type I diabetes, which was causing him to lose weight. Haynes was listed at 300 pounds, but was actually closer to 260 pounds. The coaches, in an effort to help Haynes, moved him from guard to center, but it only made the line’s play worse. However, once Drake Jackson was inserted into the starting lineup at center, the line gelled and the rushing offense took off.
The 2017 offensive line finished the season in the Music City Bowl with a starting offensive line that looked like this:
LT: Landon Young (6-7, 305, So.)
LG: Logan Stenberg (6-6, 318, So.)
C: Drake Jackson (6-2, 290, Fr.-RS)
RG: Bunchy Stallings (6-3, 315, Jr.)
RT: Kyle Meadows (6-5, 300, Sr.)
The good news is that we only lose one starter, Kyle Meadows. The better news is that George Asafo-Adjei played significant minutes at right tackle, so there will not be a drop off to replace Meadows. The offensive line will be a strength of the team, so let’s take a look at the positions.
The tackle spot is the most talked about of any on the offensive line. This is particularly true about the left tackle’s spot, due to his role as the quarterback’s blindside protector. UK is in great position at left tackle with returning starter Landon Young (6-7, 305) manning the position. Young started all 13 games for UK in 2017 and performed admirably. Young was a force, protecting Stephen Johnson’s blindside and opening up massive holes on the line for UK’s back to dart through. Young has this spot wrapped up, but his backup is not as clear. USC transfer E.J. Price (6-6, 3-5) will push for a starting spot at right tackle, but may end up as Young’s backup at left tackle. Price is a massive man, who can absolutely serve as a blindside protector. Another option to back up Young is Naasir Watkins (6-5, 300). Watkins is a freshman who redshirted this season and has put on muscle and is heavier than his listed 300 pounds. This group is exciting, as they all are large and athletic tackles.
(Photo courtesy of Lexington Herald-Leader)
At left guard, Logan Stenberg (6-6, 318) proved to be a mauler, who enjoyed delivered crushing blocks on defenders. His size and technique allowed him to be a “road grader” in the running game, while providing a nice pocket for Stephen Johnson to throw from. He is the incumbent here and will be hard to unseat. Behind Stenberg, Luke Fortner (6-6, 305) will provide quality, experienced depth. Fort bee played in several games for the Wildcats and served as a talented player in a reserve role. Behind Fortner, incoming freshman Kenneth Horsey (6-4, 330) has the size to make an immediate impact, but will need to learn the playbook quickly. This is another position with a great deal of talent.
(Photo courtesy of UK Athletics)
While center was a problem early in 2017, the insertion of Drake Jackson (6-2, 290) settled the line’s overall play and served as a catalyst for a great year on the ground. Jackson’s consistency allowed Mark Stoops and Eddie Gran to run a variety of plays that they could not before, due to inconsistent play at center. Jackson had this position locked down. He will be backed up by Jervontius “Bunchy” Stallings (6-3, 315), when Stallings isn’t playing right guard. Another option to back up Jackson is incoming freshman Quintin Wilson (6-3, 290). Wilson was an outstanding prep player and possesses great technique for a young player, as well as good size.
(Photo courtesy of Twitter, Drake Jackson)
Right guard is often one with an unsung hero manning the position. This is true for Bunchy Stallings (6-3, 315), who played some of the season at center and right guard. However, his work at right guard is what will allow him to play on Sundays. Stallings is a big, mobile mauler who enjoys blocking and delivering the hit that springs the backs for big gains. Behind Stallings, Mason Wolfe (6-6, 310) is another large, aggressive blocker, who enjoys contact. He will provide quality minutes in the rotation at guard. Behind Wolfe, Kenneth Horsey may get some opportunities to play, as well as at left guard.
(Photo courtesy of Getty Images)
George Asafo-Adjei (6-5, 315) has been a starter at right tackle off and on throughout his career at UK. He now gets the opportunity to be the feature guy at right tackle, with the graduation of Kyle Meadows. Asafo-Adjei has always been an excellent run blocker, but has struggled at times in pass protection. This will have to improve to lock this spot down. Behind Asafo-Adjei, Sebastian Dolcine (6-4, 300) provides a big, talented freshman who redshirted in 2017 and has added muscle. He had good technique as a prep tackle and will need to continue to develop those skills to contribute to the rotation at right tackle. Incoming freshman Nick Lewis (6-9, 350) is a mountain of a man, with good hand and foot skills for a man his size. Lewis will need to get used to the speed of the college game, but may contribute considerably at both tackle spots.
(Photo courtesy of SEC Country)
If I had to make the depth chart for UK’s offensive line for the first game, it would look something like this:
LT: Landon Young (6-7, 305); E.J. Price (6-6, 315); Naasir Watkins (6-5, 300)
LG: Logan Stenberg (6-6, 318); Luke Fortner (6-6, 305); Kenneth Horsey (6-4, 330)
C: Drake Jackson (6-2, 290); Bunchy Stallings (6-3, 315); Quintin Wilson (6-3, 290)
RG: Bunchy Stallings (6-3, 315); Mason Wolfe (6-6, 310); Kenneth Horsey (6-4, 330)
RT: George Asafo-Adjei (6-5, 315); Sebastian Dolcine (6-4, 300); Nick Lewis (6-9, 350)
There are some possibilities that could change this. For instance, E.J. Price could play well enough during spring and fall camp to earn a starting job at right tackle. However, that is the only starting job that is up for grabs, in my opinion. The other four have talented, experienced players returning. This should bode well for UK and Benny Snell, allowing him to achieve another 1,000+ yard season on the ground. It also should give a new starting quarterback (Hoak, Wilson or Clark) the peace of mind to know they have an experienced group of hog mollies in front of him. This group will be the strength of the UK offense in 2018.
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