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By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky coach Joker Phillips still isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t sure if senior offensive guard Stuart Hines will start against Western Kentucky Thursday, but at least now he knows heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll play.
Hines has missed most of the preseason training camp with a knee injury. However, he went through all but the final five minutes of SaturdayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s practice on the second team and seems close to being ready for the season-opening game in Nashville.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“IÃ¢â‚¬Ë†am trying to make it back for this first one,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Hines, a preseason all-Southeastern Conference pick and permanent game captain. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I am definitely getting closer. Getting on the field the last two days has made me feel better and gives me more confidence about getting back for the first game.Ã¢â‚¬Â
The game is extra meaningful to Hines because heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s from nearby Bowling Green.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I will probably have at least six or seven family members there and then all that western Kentucky crowd will be coming down to watch us play. It will be a little like a homecoming,Ã¢â‚¬Â Hines said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I definitely do not want to miss this game.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Hines has spent far more time watching practice this August than normal. That has given him a chance, though, to evaluate UKÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s offense from a different perspective.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“ I feel pretty good about things. We started out camp with four of us (offensive linemen) getting hurt. We had some younger guys in and struggled, but you have watched everybody improve until now,Ã¢â‚¬Â Hines said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“That has been a neat thing to watch because when you are playing you are caught up in everything and trying to get better yourself. You donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t really notice that, but I did this year and I see guys getting better.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Hines said not to worry about injuries nagging the line all year even though guard Larry Warford hurt a toe Saturday Ã¢â‚¬â€ Ã¢â‚¬Å“heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s got nine more, so heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll be fine,Ã¢â‚¬Â joked Phillips Ã¢â‚¬â€ and center Matt Smith needed treatment as soon as practice ended.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t really think it is something we need to worry about. All the injuries are pretty insignificant,Ã¢â‚¬ÂHines said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Nobody has really got anything too bad. Mine is probably one of the most serious and IÃ¢â‚¬Ë†am almost back to full health. It is just something that you deal with playing football. Part of the game is injuries and being able to manage it.Ã¢â‚¬Â