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UK football positional preview: Offensive line

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Redshirt senior Matt Smith will look to lead the offensive line from his center position in 2012. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Redshirt senior Matt Smith will look to lead the offensive line from his center position in 2012. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Leading up to Kentucky football's season opener against Louisville on Sunday, Sept. 2, Cat Scratches will be taking a look at each positional group on the 2012 roster. We'll be breaking down possible contributors and giving an outlook for the position as a whole.

Possible contributors


Larry Warford, senior
- The most important thing that happened to UK football this offseason may have been Warford's decision not to test NFL Draft waters and return for his senior season. Warford is expected to be an anchor on an otherwise inexperienced line, opening up holes for runners and protecting Max Smith. He was second-team All-Southeastern Conference in both his sophomore and junior seasons and earned more All-SEC recognition in the preseason. The Richmond, Ky., native has been quiet throughout his UK career, but has made an effort to become more of a vocal leader.

Matt Smith, redshirt senior
- The quarterback of the offensive line, Smith will look to lead with Warford. After splitting time as a redshirt freshman, Smith has been UK's full-time starter at center, save for a couple games missed due to injury in 2011. He is a little bit more under the radar in terms of attention and recognition, but the 6-foot-4, 291 pounder is no less important to UK's success than Warford.

Kevin Mitchell, redshirt junior
- Mitchell is a player most fans who follow Kentucky closely will already know, but is going into his junior season as a starter for the first time. After filling in for injured players mostly at left guard in 2011 and playing nine games, Mitchell moved to right tackle this offseason. He has dealt with some bumps and bruises in fall camp, but is expected to be ready for the opener. Mitchell has worked hard in the weight room to add bulk to his long 6-foot-6 frame, benefitting from the presence of Rock Oliver.

Darrian Miller, sophomore
- Due to injuries along the line, Miller was forced into extensive action as a precocious freshman. He played in all 12 games, showing the talent and potential that landed him among the top-20 tackle prospects in the nation coming out of high school. However, the Lexington native looked like a freshman at times too. He has spent the offseason building strength and the difference has been clear according to teammates and coaches. Offensive line coach Mike Summers has spoken confidently about Miller, while Warford has predicted he will soon be an All-SEC performer.

Zach West, redshirt freshman - A classmate and roommate of Miller, West did what Summers wants most of his newcomers to do: redshirt. Even though he was sitting out, West worked with the second team in 2011 and even traveled with the team beginning at the midpoint of 2011. That experience figures to be valuable, though growing pains are inevitable playing collegiately for the first time. West is also a Lexington native and has made similar strength gains to Miller over the offseason.

Trevino Woods, redshirt senior - If you're looking for a player who could have a bigger impact that anyone is expecting, Woods could be your guy. He doesn't have a lot of game experience along the line, but he's practiced with the team for over four years now. More importantly, he has the flexibility to play both tackle positions and even some guard. UK has not been bitten by the injury bug like it was last season in fall camp, but there will come a time when backups have to play.

Teven Eatmon-Nared, redshirt sophomore - At 6-foot-7, 342 pounds, Eatmon-Nared certainly looks the part. In spite of his size, the Bucyrus, Ohio native came to UK as a tight end, but was moved to the offensive line, where he initially played tackle. Now, he has moved to guard where he will be asked to provide depth.

Max Godby, redshirt sophomore
- The Louisville native walked on before the 2010 season and made the team. Since, he redshirted his first year and practiced with the team in both 2010 and 2011. He began his career as a guard, but since has moved to center, where he is listed at No. 2 on the depth chart behind Smith.

John Gruenschlaeger, redshirt freshman
- On almost any other offensive line, Eatmon-Nared would be the player getting attention for his size. With Gruenshlaeger - nicknamed "Sunset" and "Big Jack" - on campus, that won't be happening anytime soon. At 6-foot-11, 339 pounds, Gruenschlaeger is the tallest college football player you'll likely ever see. He has dropped weight since arriving as a walk-on from Ft. Thomas, Ky., and has settled in at left tackle.

Shaquille Love, redshirt freshman - Love split time between the offensive and defensive lines in high school, but is now slotted as Warford's backup.

Projected depth chart (unofficial)

Left tackle
1) Miller
2) Gruenshlaeger

Left guard
1) West
2) Eatmon-Nared

Center
1) Smith
2) Godby

Right guard
1) Warford
2) Love

Right tackle

1) Mitchell
2) Woods

Outlook

A season ago, UK's offensive linemen bore the weight of expectations. The unit was projected as the strength of the team and was being asked to lead the offense. A year later, the story is quite a bit different.

After a 2011 rife with injuries and unexpected struggles, the offensive line begins the season with three new full-time starters and just two holdovers from last year's first team. With two seniors, a junior, a sophomore and redshirt freshman listed atop the depth chart, UK will rely on a unique combination of experience and inexperience to get the job done.

If they stay healthy, Kentucky has a pretty good idea what it will get out of the center and right guard positions, at least in terms of on-field production. Where Smith and Warford are being asked to step up is the leadership department and, by all accounts, they've done that this offseason. The other three starters - Mitchell, Miller and West - will certainly be relying on them.

Miller and West arrived on campus in 2011 with a lot of potential. The two freshmen bonded quickly and hoped to one day form an all-Lexington left side of the offensive line. That day has come earlier than expected. Miller has an idea what he's getting into having played extensively last season. West does too having watched his friend go through the rigors of the SEC for the first time, but now he's doing it for himself. It won't be all smooth sailing, but Miller and West believe their close bond will help them get the job done this season.

A question mark heading into 2012 is depth. The results weren't always great, but UK was able to deal with injuries last season because of having players like Miller and Mitchell available off the bench. With those two starting now, steady backups must emerge. Woods has been around for a long time now and has the adaptability to play multiple positions, so he's a leading candidate to step up. It will also be interesting to watch whether any true freshmen are asked to play. Summers talks often about how difficult it is for a newcomer to play in his first season, but if the time comes, could T.J. Jones, Zach Myers, Jordan Swindle, Jon Toth or Jordan Watson see the field?

All in all, the progress UK's offense makes in 2012 will start up front. Coaches are excited about the improvement at quarterback and at the other offensive skill positions, but they will all rely on the offensive line to hold up.

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