<7k& (Sato' &au&&
UK's Offensive Line Hopes To Find Answers
'86 Unit Beginning To Take Shape
Kentucky's running backs plus its offensive line equals ! plus ?, or transcribed in another term — backfield (!) plus offensive line (?) equals (?). Currently, that's a big problem facing the Wildcats.
We know how good Mark Logan, Mark Higgs and the rest of the backs are. Heaven knows what kind of impact Mr. AI Baker will have when he has the opportunity to churn his way forward with pigskin in grasp. What in all likelihood will determine the backfield's success, though, is how the offensive line improves as the 1986 campaign gets closer and closer to reality.
"We've stressed to the offensive line that we have more speed and talent at running back than we've had since we've been at Kentucky," said Farrell Sheridan, instructor
Cats' Pause Columnist
of the offensive tackles. "The backs can break tackles, they hit the hole quick, and have great acceleration.
"We've stressed with the offensive line — "If we know what we're doing and get ahead of the right people and sustain our blocks for a short amount of time, then those backs will gain yardage.
"They (backs) are talented, there's no doubt about it."
Last season the Kentucky staff figured the stability of the offensive line was the least of its problems. The group was experienced — four of five returning starters — and supposedly very talented. And, when the starters took five they could be replaced by capable second and third stringers. . .or so everyone figured.
The Right Scenario Didn't Take Place
Something, however, didn't jell when Vernon Johnson (6-foot-4, 259 pounds), Brad Myers (6-2, 263), Ken Pietrowiak (6-2, 235), Jim Reichwein (6-3, 256) and Tom Richey (6-4, 262) lined up to battle in the trenches. The same held true for their backups.
This was not the scenario that was suppose to be. They weren't the biggest group in the world but they had lined up together for a season or more.
In 1984, the offensive line had helped Jerry Claiborne and his Wildcats dispose of nine opponents, including a bigger and more talented foe, Wisconsin. Unfortunately for Kentucky things didn't materialize as the offensive line struggled at best in '85.
"Ugh. . .well, number one was strength," Sheridan responded when asked about the problems of last season's offensive line. "There were a couple of people playing for us that didn't have the strength to move people. They didn't have that explosiveness out of their stance."
With only one starter (Myers, who now weighs 271 pounds) returning this season, you would imagine Sheridan and offensive guard coordinator Jake Hallum to have their hands full. You're right. . .they do, but now they have the opportunity to mold bigger prospects.
"It feels a lot better when you can look up at them," said Sheridan with a confident glimmer in his eyes. "They seem to make you a better coach. We've got some good, young bodies to work with. We've been going against big defensive linemen (in the past) but now we can counter that with some big offensive linemen."
Mike Pfeifer quickly comes to mind as one of those gentle giants. The redshirt freshman who this spring was switched from defensive tackle to offensive tackle is listed at a towering 6-6, 276 lbs.
Two weeks prior to the Blue-White scrimmage Greg Kunkel (6-4, 275-pound junior) was ahead of Pfeifer for the right tackle spot. Kunkel was also a former member of Rod Sharpless' defensive tackle crew.
"Greg has come on quicker, with the reason being is that he's been in the program longer," Sheridan said.
Playing on UK's defense last season and a former tight end as a prepster give Kunkel the experience and "quick feet" which will be needed. According to Sheridan, Pfeifer has "made a great adjustment" but his quickness needs to develop if he's to get the upper hand against SEC foes.
"There's improvement every day and we're looking for big things from Mike in the future."
Rigger Rodies On The Offensive Front
Another move, this one within the offensive line, has senior Joe Prince at offensive tackle. Pr; ice, a product of Mayfield High School, is fighting sophomore Bo Smith (6-3, 263) ior the left tackle position.
Sheridan says senior Sam Rotella (6-3, 260) could play either tackle slot and if he continues to improve in the weight room over the summer then he will be a factor.
"Bo Smith is really having a real good spring," Sheridan said. "This is his second
year at tackle and he is a little more familiar with the position. He takes good steps and knows what he's doing a little better than Kunkel and Pfeifer right now."
Some of the younger tackles have been making steady progress, too. Freshman red-shirts Tom Crumrine (6-4, 276), Tony Nash (6-5, 255) and walk-on sophomore Mike Jones (6-foot, 246) "are big kids and work in the weight room. They've got a good future if they keep working."
Guards Dermontti Dawson and Myers will have to provide leadership if the line is to be successful. Both have the experience — juniors — and the talent — can bench press more than 400 pounds. Though it was those two words — experience and talent — which were suppose to be in the line's repertoire last season.
Overconfidence could have been, and probably was, the damaging blow. Sheridan admitted even the coaching staff was a little too confident. The assistant coach termed last year as a possible "blessing in disguise."
In other words you may be able to fool Claiborne once, but twice. . .
This spring it appears the players and the staff have taken a different outlook on football. This writer has a hunch overconfidence is a thing in the past. . .there's a big difference this spring.
Dawson is a good example.
"Dermontti Dawson is probably playing right now the best he's played in his career at Kentucky," Sheridan said. "He runs a 4.8/40 at 259 pounds. He's got the great quickness. It's what we're looking for in the other players — that explosiveness out of their stance."
Dawson Has Found A Home; Playing Well This Spring
Having played on the defensive line, as well as snapping the ball, it looks like Dawson has finally found a home at offensive guard.
"Right now if things progress and-people come through like we're hoping then we would like to lock Dermontti," Sheridan said. "Maybe that's why he's playing the best since he's been at Kentucky — he's playing one position. He's become a smart player and knows what he is doing.
"And, hey, when he hits somebody he knocks them backwards."
Butch Wilburn (6-2, 261), who is having an excellent spring according to Sheridan, Scott Haire (6-1, 243) and Joe David Turner (6-2, 270) will add depth to the line. Hookin' horns with defensive linemen for 60 minutes you not only need quantity but quality as well.
Presently at center Ken Lange is the No. 1 man to replace Pietrowiak. Lange, 6-foot, 262 lbs., is similiar to last year's starting center as both generate a lot of enthusiasm and are rawhide tough. The senior's strength is more potent than Pietrowiak's, evident of his 400-plus bench press.
A number of players are clawing at Lange's heels. Conrad Carney (6-1, 257), Jim Hill (6-3, 253), Mark Brock (6-3, 257) and Gardner Sorrell (6-2, 276).
Carney's progress has been slowed down this spring because of injuries. Up to last week Brock, who suffered a knee injury, has missed the April session. There is a chance he may get to practice the final week or more of spring ball.
"Ken Lange has the lead at the center position," Sheridan believed, "but behind him. . .we've got a number of bodies. It's just a matter of who wants it bad enough. Kenny Lange, right now, wants it the worst.
"We're depending on a lot of young players to come through and give us the depth we need for the offensive line next fall."
Summer Workouts Will Tell Who's Reen Working, Who's Not
If the offensive line is io erase any question marks it must do it in the weight room. The telling factor will be the players' dedication to the weight room during the leisure
(Continued On Page 18)