Most Recent Posts
- Colts DL Bjoern Werner gave “words of wisdom” to Cats, liked way Bud Dupree was “coming off ball”
- SI.com’s Brian Hamilton ranks three Kentucky wins among four best NCAA tourney games this year
- Stan Van Gundy tells Mike Bianchi that John Calipari “had more NBA players” at UK than Lakers do
- Mike Douglas feels like “old man on the block” but knows he can help defensive line
- Trey Lyles has 17 points, Tyler Ulis goes for 9 points, 9 assists in Jordan Brand Classic
- Blue-White Game will be on live TV, delayed on Fox Sports South; Dusty Bonner, Freddie Maggard will join TV/radio call
- Marcus Lee to Return for Sophomore Season at UK
- Mark Stoops says offense “took a little step back” in Friday’s practice
By LARRY VAUGHT
Question: Has offensive coordinator Neal Brown always been one to say that a lineman can be a playmaker, too?
Offensive line coach John Schlarman: “He has always been a proponent that it all starts up front. We love that as offensive linemen and you hear that with coachspeak, but Neal takes a very active interest in the offensive line and making sure that our technique and our calls coincide with the quarterback and what the running backs are thinking, too. He knows it is a collective unit but that it starts with the guys up front.”
Question: How good does that kind of thinking from the coordinator make linemen feel?
Schlarman: “It helps. It probably gets to be like a broken record from me over and over on them. But when they hear that from coach Brown or coach Stoops, they say, ‘Hey, maybe we do have a key spot on team and what we do is important.’ You don’t always read about it in the paper. We have just as big a battle at center as quarterback, but that doesn’t get on the front page all the time. It is good to hear from other coaches as well as from me.”
Question: Do you and Brown talk about naming a No. 1 quarterback and center at the same time?
Schlarman: “We have not coordinated anything like that, but I would not be surprised if the two kind of came hand in hand. It gets to a certain point where you get a lot of guys work, but you get to where you have to get that first five ready to go out there and execute for first game. When you get to that point, it’s time to go. You get a guy you feel good about and you move forward.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Question: How has senior tackle Kevin Mitchell, your oldest player, been doing?
Offensive line coach John Schlarman: “He has done a great job this camp and since I have been here. He is a guy that doesn’t say a whole lot and leads more by example. He has game experience. He is a guy that we threw out at right tackle for a day and he’s not had a lot of reps there. He’s a guy that brings a lot of things to the table just as far as his toughness and ability to lead by example. Also just his flexibility to play multiple spots and you can plug him in where you might need a guy if somebody goes down.”
Question: Is junior guard Darrian Miller right that you are happy as long as a player does his assignment even if his technique is not perfect?
Schlarman: “You want your guys to have great technique, great pad level. But you also want to have a bottom line of do you execute your job on that snap or not. Sometimes if you don’t, it is something you have to get fixed. If your step is not perfect but you get the job done and execute your assignment, at the end of the day hopefully that is good enough for us to win games. That’s good to hear coming from him. He is a guy that is a great technician. I don’t have to harp on him a lot. He gets the job done. But it is important to have great technique, but the bottom line is to execute.”
Question: Does Miller ever say much?
Schlarman: “Not a whole lot until you kind of pry it out of him. He is quiet, but talented. The thing I am impressed with about him is his every day, hard hat mentality. He has that blue-collar mentality that coach (Mark) Stoops talks about. You can turn on any play during the course of a practice, and you can see him hustling to the ball. You can see (No.) 77 making an extra effort. Sometimes being the most talented guy, that’s not always the case. Sometimes those guys take plays off here and there and get by on ability. But man, he really works hard. He busts it every snap.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky offensive line coach John Schlarman took time after practice last week (he was not available after UK’s scrimmage Saturday when walk-on Max Godby took the snaps at center with the No. 1 offense) to offer insights on how UK’s offensive line is progressing as the Cats prepare to open the season Aug. 31 in Nashville against Western Kentucky.
Question: What is it like for offensive linemen to try and learn to play more than one position in this offense?
Schlarman: “I think in this offense you can learn multiple spots. I think when we are running zone (blocking) and pass protecting, it is very similar based on different positions and you are doing a lot of the same stuff. I don’t think it is that difficult. They are smart guys and are picking up on it pretty quickly. One thing that always enables you to do is keep your best five out there and be able to adjust the pieces of the puzzle to make it fit. If a guy goes down, instead of bringing in your ninth or 10th best overall guy, you can potentially bring in your sixth best guy. There might be a big gap in there. So it lets you keep your best guys on the field.”
Question: Do you like having just one center or will you rotate players there?
Schlarman: “Ideally you would like to find a guy and keep him in there and not rotate a whole heck of a lot at that position. But the more guys you can develop to play that position, the better off you will be. Especially in the SEC with the schedule we have got, you have to have guys ready to go. Like when Zach Myers went down in practice early (with an ankle injury), we had to have other guys ready to go. Zach West and Max Godby got us through and Jon Toth had a lot of reps in the spring, too. It’s a spot where you would like to settle into one guy and let him roll with it and take the bull by the horns and be the leader.”
Question: Was it a big setback for Myers to have to miss some practice?
Schlarman: “He is a really smart young man. Whatever was new, he will get mental reps and learned off field. He can stay sharp, but you have to see anything happen to anybody, but especially somebody who has worked really hard like him. He has done that and we have asked a lot of him. Sometimes we forget just because he is with the No. 1 unit that he is a redshirt freshman. He is still a young guy. Some of the stuff he sees, it is still the first time he is seeing it, so you have to be a little bit patient with a guy like that and just bring him along.”
Question: What is the difference in Myers and West at center?
Schlarman: “Myers has played the position for a long time so he is very comfortable with the ball in his hand. With West, he has played some guard, some center. That is something he has to get more familiar with is just the art of snapping and doing whatever he has to do other than snapping at the same time. That is something that doesn’t come quite as natural to him as Zach Myers. But there are other things that Zach West brings to the table that Zach Myers has to work on. We just have to get one guy in there and get him settled down to where he feels comfortable.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Junior offensive lineman Darrian Miller likes the “laid back” approach that new Kentucky assistant coach John Schlarman, a former all-Southeastern Conference lineman at UK, has taken.
Miller says Schlarman’s expectations are “not very much different” from former UK line coach Mike Summers, but they approach the end result in different ways.
“Coach Schlarman expects everything to be done correctly. But he is more okay if you didn’t take the exact steps and the job got done, it is still a good job. Coach Summers focused a lot on footwork and technique and being in the right position all the time. It is slightly more laid back with Schlarman, and I like that,” said Miller, a preseason all-SEC pick.
‘I feel both have been good for me, especially in the order they came. That was good for me. Coach Summers got my technique right and coach Schlarman is teaching me more about offense now. It has worked out great.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Just a few days after Kentucky offered a scholarship to seventh-grader Jairus Brent of Indiana, the Wildcats now have a verbal commitment from sophomore linemen Landon Young of Lexington.
The 6-7, 250-pound Young is a three-sport standout at Lafayette — he was second in the heavyweight division at the state wrestling tournament and in the top four in the discus and shot put both in track — and decided Friday he would go ahead and give his verbal commitment to UK coach Mark Stoops.
Former UK standout Dennis Johnson of Harrodsburg was Young’s middle school coach, and knew immediately he was special.
“He’s a great kid, a really smart kid. He’s also a phenomenal athlete,” said Johnson. “We did a 7-on-7 last year at Kentucky and I took him over to meet (then UK coach) Joker Phillips and told those guys they better get on him.”
Johnson, a three-sport standout himself, didn’t commit to UK until signing day of his senior year. However, he sees nothing wrong with Young committing so early.
“I think he is a Kentucky kid who wants to play at Kentucky, so why wait,” Johnson said. “He is a home-body, kind of like me. I think it is good for him to get it out of the way if he was able to know this is what he wanted and he says this is what he wanted.”
Young said Stoops and offensive line coach John Schlarman told him they like his “size, heart and drive” after watching him compete against elite recruits at UK’s camp last week. He got the scholarship offer on the camp’s second day and came back to campus Friday to make his commitment to Stoops.
“Growing up in Lexington, I was a pretty big Kentucky fan since I was little,” Young said. “Kentucky was always on the top of my list of colleges to attend because of SEC football and track. I knew I wanted attention from them and occasionally they talked to me. I knew I wanted to give them a look and see if they would offer. When they did, I knew then I wanted to zone in and commit.”
Young believes his three-sport status was something Stoops liked because it showed his competitiveness.
“He’s a mauler, a hard worker. He’s young, but aggressive,” Johnson said. “He works his tail off consistently. He loves competition. He went to the Junior National Olympics (in track) and is ranked nationally in his age group in the discus.”
Johnson told Young’s father in middle school that he would be “harder” on him because he was more talented than other players, not to mention bigger.
“I pushed him hard. He is a great kid and took it well,” Johnson said. “He started for Lafayette as a freshman. He went to a combine and did well. His best sport could be track. He’s just special.”
Young did not know much about Johnson when he took over as Jessie Clark Middle School coach. But Young’s father knew about Johnson’s high school, college and NFL career and the player researched him to find out more about him.
“When a coach is there yelling and pushing you as hard as he can, you are going to hate him for what he’s doing,” Young said. “But when we would get into games and I wouldn’t be winded, I had to thank him for pushing me like I did. He taught me a lot I need to know. He gave me helpful tips and advice for football and life.”
Even though he didn’t play offense full time last year, his offensive line coach at Lafayette was Jason Dunn, another former Harrodsburg star and long-time NFL tight end.
“He was a good role model, too. He was fine tuning what I need and helped make me better,” Young said.
Johnson expects Young to be an offensive lineman at UK and that’s what both Stoops and Schlarman told Young when he committed.
“I don’t mind where I play, but coach Schlarman pretty much has me at offensive tackle. Because of my height, he says I will not play defense unless I am another Too Tall Jones (a former NFL star with the Dallas Cowboys).”
Young has no other scholarship offers — because of track he’s not attended any other football camps this summer and likely will not except for one at UK.
“Next year I will be expanding and going into other states for football camps, but this year I am pretty busy with track,” Young said.
He will “look around” at other schools in the years ahead only to make sure Kentucky is “absolutely” right for him.
“I know things could happen, but my mindset is to stay with Kentucky. I want to still see other coaches and see what they offer, but I am planning on sticking firm to Kentucky,” Young said. “Coach Stoops told me to make sure I feel comfortable about what college I am going to. He told me not to rush and be sure Kentucky is right. But I love Kentucky.”
Young and his parents talked to Stoops and Schlarman about possibly being able to join the UK track team as well, a move Stoops endorsed.
“He said track and football work well together,” Young said. “So I might get the opportunity to do both at Kentucky.”
It’s a “jumble” at the center position for the Kentucky football team right now, at least according to offensive lineman and occasional center Max Godby.
Godby is an option at center once he gets completely healthy. Zach West is recovering from shoulder surgery and has been taking snaps at multiple positions, including center. Two redshirt freshmen – Jon Toth and Zach Myers – round out that so-called jumble.
In a time like this, where there is no set starter or backups, flexibility is key for the linemen under coach John Schlarman.
“I played at left guard and then our original o-line coach moved me to center…and then I got moved back to left guard again, swapping out at center a little bit,” Godby said. “It is a little bit more difficult because you have to change your stances and stuff but the good thing is you get a whole lot better grip on the offense… If you learn what other guys are doing, it makes your job a whole lot easier.”
Learning multiple positions might help the eventual starting center perform his duties there that much better. In offensive coordinator Neal Brown’s offense, the center must be able to evaluate what is going on and be a leader on the field.
“Those guys make calls,” Schlarman said of the centers. “They set tempo for us. They’re very vocal. They handle our cadence for us. The center is very important in this offense. Guys are going to have to improve and really step up at that position for us because it is such a big part of what we do up front.”
So far, Myers has been the one that has stood out to the coaching staff, according to Schlarman. The 6’3, 289-pounder says he has a picked up the offense pretty well so far, which has helped him get a better grasp on the position.
“This year it seems like I’m really learning the offense well,” he said. “I have a good concept of what’s going on. I think learning the offense was a little easier for me this year after having a year under my belt.”
Schlarman said that Myers has made the most progress so far of all the players taking snaps at center. His pad level, however, is something the youngster needs to work on.
“I think he’s gotten a lot better from day one to 13,” Schlarman said. “He’s got to play with great pad level. At that position, you’re in the A-gap and you go against some war daddies in there for some other teams, some great defensive tackles. If you play high, it’s not going to be a good thing”
While Myers concentrates on how low he is, another guy on the line has to worry less about pad level, and more about what’s under the actual pads. West has been limited during spring practice because of a shoulder injury he had to have surgery for.
His desire to get on the field during the spring, however, has not been hampered by injury.
“I’m proud of him, just coming off a surgery, getting out here in spring ball, and getting some work,” Schlarman said. “There are a lot of guys that could have just kind of gone through non-contact in the spring and probably no one would have said anything. But Zach’s not that type of guy. He wants to get out here and get work in.”
That kind of quality is what the coaches are looking for out of their “jumble” of potential centers. The ability to dig deep in the trenches and hit people is another one of those must-have qualities.
“I truly just love the game,” he said. “I love offensive line. I love just popping people a little bit. Whatever position I wind up at, I’m going to be fine with it.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Junior left tackle Darrian Miller, who has played in 24 games and made 14 starts, is being counted on to anchor UK’s revamped offensive line this season. Miller was ranked as one of the nation’s top 20 offensive tackles by Scout.com coming out of Bryan Station High School and played all 12 games as a true freshman, including two starts. This year he’s adjusting to a new offense and new position coach in John Schlarman during spring practice and offered these insights on how the adjustment is going.
Question: What has working with new offensive line coach John Schlarman been like?
Miller: “Intense to say the least. Focuses a lot on tempo and finish. Pretty intense.”
Question: What is the biggest difference between Schlarman and Mike Summers, your former line coach?
Miller: “Coach Summers was definitely in your face. Coach Schlarman does that a little bit more than coach Summers did. Coach Summers when he got disappointed, he would kind of quiet down. I don’t know why necessarily, but coach Schlarman will let you know when you do something wrong immediately.”
Question: Is this system radically different for an offensive lineman to learn?
Miller: “No, it’s not hard. I have pretty much down except for the few minor adjustments we have to make for the different blitzes and stuff that we see. But for the most part, I have it down.”
Question: Does it seem kind of amazing how you have gone from a guy hoping to play two years ago to the offensive line anchor?
Miller: “It does quick. When I came in, I really wasn’t expecting to play at all. Now starting and having that type of responsibility is kind of different. It’s not overwhelming. I don’t get overwhelmed very easy, but it has been something I have had to adjust to.”
Question: Have you changed more as a person or player in your time at UK?
Miller: “A little bit of both, but I think I have changed more as a person. When I was a freshman, I was quite irresponsible. Now I stay pretty focused all the time.”
Question: Are you even more comfortable with interviews now than two years ago?
Miller: “You get used to it and now I am a team leader, too.”
Question: How good could this offense be?
Miller: “I think it could be very good. The hurry-up, defenses won’t be able to handle that. Our offensive line can barely handle that. We still have to get used to that hurry-up and coaches have said we are not going as fast as we need to be going. As soon as everyone actually picks up the offense and gets it down, we will be moving a lot faster than we are now.”
Question: Does an offensive lineman condition different or more for this offense?
Miller: “Most of our conditioning comes from practice. During practice we are always up tempo. Get here fast, do this fast. It’s always very tempo oriented and that is where you get most of your conditioning in.”
Question: How physical will this offense be?
Miller: “It is pretty physical. You have to anchor down at times, especially in pass rush. We pass a lot and when a team passes a lot the defensive ends tend to key on that and rush up the field harder than they normally would. We have to be physical in the rush and pass.”
Question: How is it going without Matt Smith to anchor the line at center like he did the last two years for you?
Miller: “Besides high snaps, they are doing okay. They need to get their snaps down. Another thing is that they don’t necessarily get the calls out fast enough, so you actually have to know your assignment and the other players around you assignments. You kind of have to figure stuff out for yourself sometimes, but they will get a better understanding as we go.”
By ASHLEY SCOBY
It’s not just the wide receivers and quarterbacks who are excited about the Air Raid coming back to Lexington.
With Neal Brown and Company arriving at UK, the offensive scheme has switched back to a simpler system that is reminiscent of the old Hal Mumme-led spread offense at Kentucky from years ago. Within this system, players don’t have to think and evaluate as much, giving them time to simply react and play the game.
Even offensive linemen are finding this system to be easier as Kentucky enters its second week of spring football practice. With Brown’s scheme, offensive linemen only have a few formation checks that they have to know and won’t have to make as many calls and check-downs at the line as they’re used to.
Offensive lineman Zach West, a Lexington Christian product, said the new Air Raid scheme is easier to pick up on compared to what Kentucky used last year. The pace of practice with the new system is also faster, but that is something West is accustomed to.
“It’s the same pace I played with in high school, the exact same system,” he said. “It’s something that’s real exciting and gets everybody motivated to do better.”
Something else West is used to by now is offensive line coach John Schlarman. Schlarman was previously at Troy University for six years, helping to lead the team to three bowl games.
During his offseasons, however, Schlarman helped run camps at Troy that West and his high school teammates went to since he was a freshman in high school. That familiarity helped to ease the transition from UK’s previous offensive line coach Mike Summers, who was universally loved by his players.
“We were all really close to coach Summers,” West said. “That was somebody we all really looked up to. But coach Schlarman, we all really liked from the get-go.”
Schlarman is being handed a group of linemen who have been flexible during spring practice about switching positions. Kevin Mitchell, for example, is playing at both guard and tackle.
But there are things they need to improve on. Brown cited Darrian Miller as someone who needed to improve his leadership as time went on. Brown also said the offensive line group might not “gel” until fall camp.
“It’s always the last group just because there’s so much communication,” Brown said. “It’s kind of just getting to know each other.”
Until then, all the linemen are just focusing on getting through each practice at the pace their coaches are expecting. West himself is recovering from shoulder surgery and is taking it slowly in spring practice so far.
In the end, West thinks this will be a better offensive line than last year’s unit, saying that they may not be as athletic as last year’s bunch, but that they are bigger and stronger. That improvement on the line could lead to great things from this year’s offense. But one of the most exciting aspects of the new system for some of the players and fans is the potential to hear the old Air Raid sirens back in Commonwealth Stadium.
Even though they aren’t the ones scoring the touchdowns that incite those sirens, the linemen are just as excited about that new addition to the gameday experience.
“I’m from Lexington so I’ve known the Air Raid sirens my whole life and it was definitely exciting growing up knowing about them,” West said. “I was kind of disappointed when they got rid of them a long time ago. It’s definitely something big to come back to.”