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- Swiss Cat – Vacation notes and photos from Larry from his trip to Switzerland.
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.”
Question: What’s the key for a lineman to be able to play in this offense?
Schlarman: “For offensive linemen, it is important to be athletic and important to be able to move. With the schemes we have in the run game, you have to move and get in space to block linebackers. On screens you have to get out and move. Pass protection you have to protect against ends that you see in the SEC. Athleticism is key. You have to have certain size requirements. I like guy to be strong, smart, tough. All those are important. It’s really important to be athletic up front.”
Question: It is hard to find linemen that are athletic as well as smart and tough?
Schlarman: “That is good question. There are certain elements you can instill in guy but it is something you got to have inside of him to make him go. When we get guy that is 18 or 19, it’s hard to instill. You have to be tough and physical in our system just like in a pro style offense. Toughness is not something to overlook. Toughness is not a distance second to athleticism
“A lot of time when you research and watch film you can tell a lot about a guy’s character and toughness and some things that do not show up on field. One thing I always think is hard to tell is how will a guy get from high school to this environment where it is more competitive, happening faster and all the guys are bigger. How will he do in this environment? That is one of hardest thing to project. Some guys turn it up a notch, others do not respond. You can tell lot about toughenss and how physical a guy is from recruiting but ability to transfer it to the next level is hard to project.”
Question: Does he have returning players slotted into a depth chart going into spring practice?
“We have watched some film and what players have done in the past just so we can a good idea where to start everybody off. But we basically go into this with a clean slate and open mind. I don’t want to hold too much against a guy if in past he has not looked as good as I would like or give a guy too much credit for what did in the past. I went through it as player when coach Mumme came to Kentucky and I have to prove myself all over. If a guy has done well and has to prove himself again it is not a great thing, but guys that are true competitors do not mind and will crank it back up. It is a mix that you watch what they have done but you also go into the spring with an open mind to find out who can do what running the offense that we do.”
Question: Does it worry you going into spring practice that you don’t have a center with experience?
Schlarman: “Ideally you would like to have a guy that has a little experience, but at the same token we have got some guys that can definitely show us what they can do in that role. We will probably try two or three that have not played and see how they perform. It is a key position for what we do. Usually the center is a guy that leads us up front and makes all the calls. He is our quarterback on the offensive line. I am anxious to see some of the guys that step in and show what they can do.”
Kentucky started spring practice today. Here are some thoughts from offensive line coach John Schlarman, a former all-SEC player at UK, about various subjects.
Question: Did you think you might get to come to Kentucky as soon as Neal Brown was hired as offensive coordinator?
Schlarman: “It was kind of funny. I was out recruiting and saw Stoops got hired. I had met him one time. I just kind of jokingly texted Neal that when Stoops’ brother was hired at Oklahoma as head coach he hired somebody that ran our offense. We went back and forth. Then when it became more of a reality that Neal might get hired, I thought I might have a chance. Obviously, it was an exciting time for us. You never know if you will get the opportunity to come back and coach where you played and know the people and how great the fan base is. When the talks got serious, we all got fired up and hoped this would work out for me and (running backs coach) Chad (Scott). It was nerve-wracking, but I couldn’t be happier.”
Question: Do you stay in touch with Tony Franklin, the former UK offensive coordinator who brought you, Scott and Brown all to Troy to work for him?
Schlarman: “I stay in touch with Tony. He has had a tremendous impact on my career. He is the reason I got the opportunity to go to Troy. It was his call. It’s hard to stay in close touch far away (Franklin is now offensive coordinator at California), but we talk periodically. We got to be not only coaching co-horts but friends. If not for Tony, I would not be here. I knew he was hoping this would work out this way for all of us. He brought us together at Troy and has been a big part of each one of our careers. It doesn’t surprise me he is excited for us. That’s just the type person he is. He has done a lot for me over course of the last six years and even when I was a GA here and he was the running backs coach.”
Question: Why does this offense that Franklin taught Brown and Brown has now modified work so well?
Schlarman: “It has evolved over the years. No. 1, spreading people out and getting matchups in space, that been good for it since the days of coach (Hal) Mumme. We have added dimensions with our high tempo style of offense, with the zone read running game and options it brings to the table. Being multiple as far formations and personnel is another aspect that has come a long way from when we first ran in it 1997 at Kentucky. No different now than what you see in the NFL where a quarterback not only has to throw but also have the ability to run as a big dimension to the offense. It is a systematic approach, not just a grab bag of offense. What we do is very structured from day one of installing the offense to when we play a game. I think all guys here believe in it and to have success as a player or coach believing is important.”
Next: What he wants in an offensive lineman.
By LARRY VAUGHT
When he had a chance to come back to Kentucky, it was an easy move for former UK offensive lineman John Schlarman to join Mark Stoops’ coaching staff and be reunited with offensive coordinator Neal Brown.
Schlarman, a former All-Southeastern Conference offensive guard in 1997 and graduate assistant at UK, had been the offensive line coach for six years at Troy University — where he first worked with Brown. Troy ranked among the nation’s top 26 in total offense in five of Schlarman’s six seasons. Schlarman coached eight first-team All-Sun Belt selections, including at least one first-teamer each season. One player, James Brown, went on to the National Football League.
Schlarman, a three-time all-SEC academic pick, coached at Bourbon County in 1998 and 1999 before returning to UK as a graduate assistant for three season. He became head coach at Campbell County in 2003 for two years and then moved to Newport for two season before offensive coordinator Tony Franklin brought him to Troy.
Schlarman, a Fort Thomas native, is married to the former Lee Anne Federspiel, daughter of former UK linebacker Joe Federspiel of Lexington.
As happy as Schlarman is to be back, he knows others are even happier to have him, his wife and three boys (Joseph, Benjamin and Matthew) back in the Bluegrass.
“I think the grandparents are the happiest to have the three grandboys back close to them. It has been a 10-hour drive for them the last six years,” said Schlarman. “All of our family — brothers, sisters, cousins — are all glad to have the boys closer to home. I don’t know if they love having us here, but they are glad the boys are back. The only one born here was Joe. The other two were born in Troy and that’s all they knew. But it will be nice to be able to see our family so much easier now.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Because Mark Stoops understood the offense that Neal Brown likes to run, it was not hard for the new UK head coach and his offensive coordinator to agree on staff positions that enabled Brown to be reunited with assistant coaches Chad Scott and John Schlarman at Kentucky.
“Coach Stoops has been around this offense for a long time. If you go back to 1998 when Bob (Stoops) hired Mike Leach (at Oklahoma), that was probably Mark’s introduction to this offense, too ,and that ended up in a national championship in a couple of years for those guys,” said Brown. “So when we started talking about this opportunity here at Kentucky he wanted to know … he knew it was important up front for us to have some guys who already knew the system and those were in place.
“Really, it was up to him to make those final hires. I made some suggestions I thought would be good fits here. Obviously with Chad playing here, being recruited here, his wife being a very good basketball — better athlete than him by the way — player here those things helped. John was a great player here, an all-SEC center, from one of the strongest high school programs (Highlands) in the state, a lot of family connections here, not only in his family but his wife’s. Those things were strong considerations for coach Stoops when he made those hires.”
Scott coaches running backs at Troy for two years when Brown was offensive coordinator and then spent the last three years with him at Texas Tech. Schlarman was Brown’s offensive line coach at Troy for two years and has been there the last three years as well.
Texas Tech is coming off a regular season in which it ranked second in passing offense (361.9 yards) and 12th in total offense at 501.4 per game. Texas Tech’s scoring average of 37.8 points per game ranked 16th. Troy enjoyed similar success. In 2009 the Trojans improved from 27th to third in total offense and from 33rd to fourth in passing. Kentucky ranked 12th in the Southeastern Conference in passing at 176.2 yards per game last year.
Brown said both new UK assistant coaches were “sold” on Stoops just like him.
“They’ve got a strong investment in this program. I think it’s always important when you go into a new situation to have people that are familiar not only with you personally but with what you want to do,” Brown said. “And anytime you’re in a little bit of a rebuilding situation, things are happening fast and things need to be done, and those two guys, they know how I want things done.
“I’m not going to spend a whole lot of time teaching them the offense or teaching them how I want things done. They know what I want done. They can take it and run with it.”
Brown said it’s not hard to understand why his offensive philosophy works.
“I think what it does, the tempo really affects people. The tempo really affects people. The second thing that happens is when you spread the field out, skill people, there is a bigger — and I’m trying to think of how to put this — the skill people are easier to recruit,” Brown said. “There’s not a great deal of difference between the No. 1 wide receiver in the country and the No. 25 wide receiver in the country. There is not that much difference at all. We can recruit a lot of good skill people, put them in space and make people tackle in space. I think that’s the No. 1 thing.”
Scott has not yet been assigned a position to coach as the Cats still need another position coach on offense. Brown said finding a receivers coach is a “work in progress” still.
“Coach Stoops has put a great staff together so far and we need two guys to hire still. It’s really going to be a work in progress. I think we’re going to interview some guys down at the national (coaching) convention, whenever that is. I don’t even know when that is, I’ve been going 100 miles per hour.”
He says what Scott coaches will depend on who Stoops wants to hire for the remaining position.
“He’s a guy that’s got some versatility. He’s been a running backs coach most of his career. He spent a lot of time with our receivers at Texas Tech also. So we’re just kind of wait and see. We want to hire the best possible guy in that hat last spot on offense,” Brown said.
By LARRY VAUGHT
Question: Does it excite you to also have Chad Scott (running backs) and John Schlarman (offensive line) coming back to coach at UK with offensive coordinator Neal Brown?
Freddie Maggard: “Absolutely. Understanding past struggles and successes can only strengthen commitment. But to be totally honest, I don’t care if they are from Mars as long as they can coach and recruit. I’m ready to win.”
Andy Murray: “I had a chance to meet John a few times during his career and as a young coach and he is first class. As a player he was a worrier and literally went to a lot of practices on crutches and ankle boots. He will do a great job, and help coach Stoops create some that toughness that we have all been talking about.”
Derek Abney: “I vividly remember both of them. John was a quality guy in all facets of the game/life and Chad was a quiet, confident competitor. I’m so excited these two are coming back to Lexington. I’m always cautiously optimistic but I have to say I’m more excited than I anticipated, and the coaching staff is a major reason for that.”
David Hopewell: “Yes, I’m glad to see it. I know Neal has coached with both of them so they all know each other and how the other may react in different situations. That has to bring a lot of comfort to each of them. I know John better than I do Chad but I know both of them are ready for this level and communicate well with their players. John’s father in law is Joe Federspiel, the former UK all-SEC linebacker and pro bowler. I know Joe is glad to have his daughter and grandkids close again, too.”
Jason Todd: “Coaches always say that they love wherever they are working. But, I would think that it means a little more to you when it is just more than a paycheck. Having spent all or part of your playing days at a school would have to make it mean more than just any job. As a former player, I am excited to again have former players as part of the staff. Chad, John and Neal will all have experiences from their playing days that they will be able to pull from in their capacity as coaches that will benefit the program.”
By: ASHLEY SCOBY
As new head football coach Mark Stoops continues to assemble the rest of UK’s coaching staff, one of the program’s focuses has become clear: retaining the tradition of Kentucky football in the form of former players. Out of the coaches who have been officially announced, three of them have previously played at Kentucky.
Neal Brown, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, is in the Boyle County Hall of Fame for both football and baseball. He was an all-state wide receiver for Boyle County High School before he went to play two seasons in Lexington.
Chad Scott, whose particular position has not officially been determined (he will be some kind of an offensive assistant) was a running back at UK and has been coaching with Brown for the past six years (Troy, Texas Tech). His wife, the former Shambrica Jones, also played basketball for Kentucky.
And to coach the offensive line, Stoops brought in former UK guard John Schlarman. Schlarman, from Highlands High School in northern Kentucky, went on to be a four-year starter at UK and was on the SEC Academic Honor Roll for three seasons. He previously coached tight ends at UK in 2002 after spending three years in Lexington as a graduate assistant working with the offensive linemen.
Even further than those three coaches, it was also officially announced Thursday that former UK quarterback Andre’ Woodson would be returning to his position as graduate assistant working with the quarterbacks.
Tim Couch, a former field general for the Cats himself, was also instrumental in Mitch Barnhart’s coaching search that eventually led to Stoops’ hiring.
The lesson to be learned from all this? Although a former player (Joker Phillips) at the helm of the football program did not work out as expected, Barnhart and company have not forgotten the importance of maintaining the “Kentucky” brand.
Coaches who have gone through the ups and downs of UK football as only a former player could, will be able to better relate to the current crop of UK talent. They know the program, the history, the past failures and the past success. They know the city of Lexington and the state of Kentucky.More than anything, they care about the program. It’s one thing to bring in a new coach who has a bright mind or quality recruiting ties. But UK gets that extra “something” when the university hires those kinds of coaches who also have a love for the university and a connection to the state of Kentucky.
Having said that, it’s not a good idea to create an entire coaching staff full of former players. That’s why the staff Stoops has is of such quality: He has created a balance between maintaining those Kentucky ties and creating ties elsewhere.
For example, Vince Marrow (hired as tight ends coach) comes from the University of Nebraska (and before that, he played high school football with Stoops in Ohio). DJ Eliot, the new UK defensive coordinator, has been at Florida State with Stoops recently and orchestrated defensive turnarounds at Texas State before that.
Although Stoops has done a great job recruiting former Kentucky players back to their home university, he has also excelled in mixing them with guys who have recruiting ties in Florida, Ohio, Texas, etc. That mix of personalities and talent on the coaching staff will be the biggest factor in a possible turnaround of the Kentucky football program.