Coaching staff pleased with backup offensive linemen


Kentucky’s offensive line preparing to snap the ball during the game against the Georgia Bulldogs at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, Ky. on Saturday, November 5, 2016. Photo by Josh Mott | Staff.

The Kentucky football coaching staff has said time after time this season that this year’s team is the deepest they’ve had in a while, and that’s starting to show on the offensive line.

After Tuesday’s football practice, various coaches and players on the offense spoke to media about the current state of the offense, such as how the backup offensive linemen have played in recent weeks. 

“They’re making a step, kind of like we did a couple of years ago where we were playing a lot of guy and it really helped us later down the road when you asked about if were healthy,” offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said. 

In the past two games, nine total offensive lineman have played. The starters, George Asafo-Adjei, Drake Jackson, EJ Price, Bunchy Stallings and Logan Stenberg, have remained the same, but backups like Darian Kinnard, Luke Fortner, Naasir Watkins and Mason Wolfe have seen increased playing time. 

Sometimes when backups get more playing time, it means that the starting unit isn’t performing up to starting standards, but that hasn’t been the case for Kentucky’s offensive line according to its coach.

“The biggest thing with that is you just don’t want to see a drop-off in play,” offensive line coach John Schlarman said. “If they’re coming in and seeing a significant drop-off, then obviously you can’t rotate, and I see that gap closing, and not because the first group is not doing well, it’s because the second group is really picking up their play.”

Gran and Schlarman anticipate they’ll keep using nine offensive linemen in future games.

Terry Wilson’s confidence is improving

After getting benched in the third quarter at Missouri, Terry Wilson played the full game against Georgia, and Gran was pleased with the quarterback’s performance.

“There’s some things in that game, unfortunately it’s on the quarterback sometimes, and that’s the position that it is,” Gran said. “Each week he’s getting better and better in terms of eliminating those things.”

One of the reasons Wilson’s play improved against Georgia was because of his footwork according to quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw.

“There was some habits he had that you revert back to because that’s what he’s used to doing and he actually, you can see in his footwork, he sat in the pocket, he was playing like a pocket quarterback should play and that’s why his accuracy was so much better,” Hinshaw said.

Wilson had his highest pass-completion percentage and his second-most passing yards against Georgia. Wilson said the game is beginning to slow down for him, which has helped him put up better numbers.

“Everything feels natural, it feels how it should feel,” Wilson said. “Like I said a long time ago, it just goes along with experience.”

Run game improvements

Kentucky’s running backs have rushed for over 100 yards in only one of the last four games. Kentucky’s star running back Benny Snell has been held to 73 yards or fewer in three of the last four games, and he believes that’s because of the connection with his offensive lineman.

“I got to be right on my steps and my technique on the things that I do and the o-line got to be right on getting their gap, getting their protection and getting to the second level,” Snell said. “It’s like usually if I do my technique right and I do everything right, somebody on the o-line messes up and that messed the whole play up, or vice versa.”

Another thing hurting the running game is first down efficiency according to Gran.

“We were right at 50 percent this last week, we want to be at 55 percent,” Gran said. “We were close, the game dictated that maybe we throw it a little more so if we can get to that 55 percent mark, then we’ll be where we’re better as an offense.”

Benny Snell has a few more goals left for this season

In Saturday’s game against Georgia, Snell became the first Kentucky player in program history to rush for at least 1,000 yards in three consecutive seasons.

Snell said after Tuesday’s practice that that accomplishment was one of this goals coming into the season, and that he has a couple more goals left remaining on his list. 

“I got three goals left, the biggest one is the rushing record,” Snell said.