Football Line Play: Does Size or Talent Win The Battle?

Offensive lineman Bunchy Stallings at UK Media Day. (Keyli Chisesi Photo)

By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer

Most people that follow the sport of football have heard it said time and time again that football games are won in the trenches – at the line of scrimmage. You can have the greatest skill players in the game but if you don’t have big, talented players on the offensive and defensive lines that can consistently block and tackle your football team will not perform very well.

Knowing that to be true it seemed like it would be interesting to see the difference between the physical makeup of offensive and defensive linemen at UK from the 2012 team as compared to the 2017 version of the Wildcats. If you recall the 2012 team was the last year Joker Phillips was the head coach at UK.

At first glance it seemed like the current UK Football Staff had been bringing in much larger and heavier offensive linemen and defensive linemen and linebackers. Comparing the 2012 depth chart for the offensive line to the same chart for the 2017 team yielded surprising results. The current version of the Wildcats offensive line only outweighs the 2012 version by 2 pounds per man. The 2012 group averaged 306 pounds each and 2017 was right at 308 pounds per player.

Performing the same comparison activity with the first team defensive linemen and linebackers yielded similar results. Defensive linemen on the 2017 team outweighed the 2012 team by 10 pounds per man. But in the case of the linebackers the reverse was true. The 2012 team outweighed the current linebacker group by 7 pounds per player.

One would think that since the 2012 team finished with a record of 2-10 overall and 0-8 in the SEC the players on those offensive and defensive lines would be sub-par in the overall size and weight categories but that is not the case. The UK offensive line in 2012 averaged 6′ 4.5″ and the 2017 team almost exactly the same – 6′ 4.6″. Defensive line was the same – both teams averaged 6′ 3″ tall.

Knowing that the physical makeup of the teams is very similar one can only conclude that the current staff is bringing in more talented young men and developing those young men into better football players. Sheer physicality at the line of scrimmage is not the reason Kentucky Football is on the upswing. The recruiting rankings bear this out. The 2012 UK Football recruiting class was ranked 50th in the country. The 2017 Kentucky Football recruiting class was ranked 23rd.

Knowing that football games are won at the line of scrimmage it is very apparent that talented players – as in the last several UK classes that ranked in the mid-twenties nationally – along with weight room development and on-the-field technique improvement – not sheer size and weight – are what is winning the day at Kentucky so far. It looks like the key to winning football in the SEC – UK was 4-4 in the SEC last year – is not just bringing in players with SEC size but also SEC talent. When you can do both on both sides of the ball it looks like a recipe for success. The kind of success that UK fans haven’t seen for quite a while.

2 comments

  1. You must have size and talent. I think UK still needs a little more size, and a lot more talent on both the Oline and Dline, and their LB’s. Like more 4* and 5* talent. The true indicator for closing the competition gap in the SEC, for example, would be to compare UK’s trench players now against, say the likes of Alabama, Georgia, LSU, etc. UK has improved talent wise, there is no doubt, even though, as you state, our overall size has not improved that much over the last Joker team in 2012. Until UK can start ranking in the top 3 or 4 recruiting classes in the SEC, and nationally, year in and year out, it will be tough sledding against the top SEC teams they compete against in football. Stoops seems to be closing that gap a little each year, so coaching has to be a major factor in producing a consistent winning program going forward..

  2. The future success of UK football hinges on two very big “Ifs”. If we can maintain or improve on the level of recruiting that we have at the moment, and if we do have success on the field, can we hang on to Coach Stoops when the big boys come calling? You never know what the future holds, but one thing in favor of Stoops staying for the long haul is the fact that he wanted this job in the first place.

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