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Burden changes sides, shores up O-line

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FB 09_10 UK_Miami web 007.jpgChandler Burden has been swamped with homework. Pages upon pages of it.

Every night before going to bed, Burden opens up the playbook and dives into a world he's never lived in before.

"They're throwing a lot of plays at me," Burden said. "Today they threw like eight new plays at me. Everybody has a head start on me."

Burden, a two-year player at defensive end, is currently going through a spring practice crash course at offensive line. After hearing for two years of how he had the look, the skills and the potential to be a great offensive tackle, Burden approached the coaching staff after last season's bowl game and asked to move to change sides of the ball.

Although Burden would have likely challenged for a starting spot on the defensive line in the fall, UK desperately needed extra bodies and a familiar face to patch up some gaping holes at O-line. Just one starter - left guard Stuart Hines - returns.

"We're climbing a steep mountain right now with some guys that have been on the field that are basically inexperienced, especially inexperienced with playing with each other," first-year offensive line coach Mike Summers said. "We're spending most of our time on fundamentals and technique. I see improvement in that, but as an overall group we've got a long ways to go before we can be a cohesive unit."

That's where Burden, a 6-foot-4, 296-pound lineman out of La Salle High School in Blue Ash, Ohio, could come in.

Although he only played one season of offensive line during his sophomore season in high school, he brings an unmatched advantage of being a former defensive lineman. Having thought and played as a defensive lineman, Burden can recognize certain stances and fronts and anticipate different moves by his former brethren that his current offensive linemen are just now learning how to defend.

"You can pick up little things that you can't pick up unless you've played defensive line, like when they're going to stunt, when they're going to drop," Burden said. "I can recognize defensive fronts quicker than most people would because I've played there."

Burden is largely a work in progress. In addition to learning the new techniques, Burden must work his way through a playbook that is twice as large as he was accustomed to on defense. Four days a week, he's put to the test at spring practice.

One won't see plays and formations scribbled on his forearms, but all things considered, Burden is cramming for a full-time job in just four weeks.

"I was going through them last night, writing all of them down and writing what I need to do," Burden said. "There was 30-something plays they're throwing at me in less than a week. It's not huge, but it's more than I'm used to."

But don't overlook the possibility that Burden stars at left tackle in the fall.  Junior Billy Joe Murphy has the early lead over Burden because of three starts in 2008, but the offensive line as a whole is inexperienced and in training.

New terminology from the introduction of Summers will make the line better in the long run but has temporarily impaired the line in the short term.

Summer said the line is "paralyzed" by the ability to think because of some of the new terms and schemes. When the mind thinks too much, the rest of the body parts (the linemen) don't move as fast.

"When they hear words, there is a little bit of a delay between what those words are and what they mean and us being able to translate that into execution," Summers said. "The more that we cut down the time between understanding and the execution, then the better at offensive line we will be. We'll play faster and we'll be more efficient."

In that aspect, Burden isn't at as much of a disadvantage because everyone is starting from scratch.

In fact, before spring practice started, head coach Joker Phillips said they wouldn't have made the move if they didn't believe Burden could start immediately.

"He runs off the ball and gets his hands on people, controls people," Phillips said. "He has the athleticism to play the position at left tackle. He has the strength, he has the power, he has the snap in his hips. It's important for him to get reps also and he's getting a lot of reps. He has to believe in himself and quit being hard on himself. If he can just relax and play ball, we think we'll have something big in him."

Summers and Phillips both agreed that Burden has to reel in his own expectations a bit. Burden expects to jump in the rotation and experience immediate success, but rarely do things go so smooth.

"I'm not going to stop until I start," Burden said. "That's how I live my life. I try to be the best no matter what. I work as hard as I can to be the best. Until I'm the starting left tackle I won't be satisfied."

As it stands right now, senior Brad Durham sits atop the depth chart at right tackle alongside sophomore guard Larry Warford. Matt Smith, Sam Simpson and Marcus Davis are entrenched in a three-way battle for the center position and none of the three have separated themselves from the pack.

Burden, in a way, epitomizes the entire unit. The line is rich with talent and potential but lacking in inexperience and reps. Phillips is aware of the line's deficiencies but has raved of the play through the first two weeks.

"I love this offensive line," Phillips said. "I love what coach Summers is doing with them. They are starting to take pride in their play. They're playing fast. He's got them running fast off the ball instead of oozing off the ball. I'm excited about those guys."

Former coach Rich Brooks called last year's line the most athletic line in his seven years at UK. Phillips might have one-upped him in his first season.

"I think this one might be even more athletic than the one we had. I think they're much more physical also. They've got a lot of pride in their play. Four of them are from Kentucky. I think it means just a little bit more for those guys that are from Kentucky. That's what I'm happy about."

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