2023 Kentucky Spring Preview: Offensive Line

Most Watched Group On The Team

Hello everyone and welcome back to the fourth in our ongoing series looking at the 2023 Wildcats. We started with the quarterbacks,  moved to the running backs, and last the receivers.  Mark Stoops’ club has a couple of weeks left before practice ends on April 8th. As the spring moves along so do our position previews of the Cats. This time out we’re looking at the big guys up front whose job is to protect Devin Leary. We begin our 2023 Kentucky Spring Preview: Offensive Line with a look at the group needing to step up this season.

Back To What’s Expected

For anyone who’s watched Kentucky football over the last few years one of the hallmarks of the program is the offensive line. Under the late John Schlarman the name “Big Blue Wall” was coined for their abilities. In fact, they were one of the finalists for the Joe Moore Award for the nation’s best line in 2021.

Unfortunately for the Big Blue Nation, 2022 was not up to expectations. The group allowed 47 sacks which were fifth most in the nation and second-most among power-five schools. Only Boston College was worse. They all struggled opening up running lanes as the Cats only averaged 3.26 yards per carry. As a result Stoops and offensive line coach Zach Yenser looked to the transfer portal for instant help.

Instant Impact Transfers

Kentucky landed in the top 20 in the transfer portal rankings. A big part of that was two offensive linemen heading to Lexington. Transfers Tanner Bowles and Marques Cox from Alabama and Northern Illinois respectively provide a huge boost for the line. Bowles, a Kentucky native, is listed as a guard but played all five positions for the Crimson Tide. Cox graded exceptionally high last year before suffering a season-ending injury ironically in a game against Kentucky.

Continuing on with our 2023 Kentucky Spring Preview: Offensive Line we look at returning players shifting positions in the spring.

Moving Around Some Key Pieces

Spring football is the time when you experiment with things and see what works. One of offensive coordinator Liam Coen’s first decisions was to move Jager Burton to center. The sophomore from Lexington played in all 13 games last season, mostly at left guard. He became the first UK player since Logan Stenberg to earn freshmen All-SEC honors. However, he also spent emergency time at center. The staff was so impressed that he likely ends up there for 2023. This moves Eli Cox, who was the starting center last year, back to his normal guard position.

Most likely Marques Cox is your left tackle protecting Leary’s blind side. This allows Kenneth Horsey to move back to his preferred position of left guard. The super senior spent most of 2022 at tackle, a spot he wasn’t as familiar with, and had an up-and-down year. Much like he did at Alabama Bowles provides depth at every position.

The other tackle is likely senior Jeremy Flax with junior Deondre Buford, who’s listed as the backup at both tackle spots, right there. Another name to watch on the line is incoming freshman Koby Keenum. The Alabama native is the highest-ranked offensive lineman in the 2023 class. Nikolas Hall, son of former Wildcat great Antonio Hall, and Paul Rodriguez are also competing for playing time.

Final Thoughts

While nothing’s final until the first game in September the starting lineup looks pretty well set. Burton at center, Eli Cox and Horsey at the guards with Marques Cox and Flax at the tackles. On paper that group looks strong and should make not only Leary but the entire Big Blue Nation happy. There’s also plenty of depth which was lacking a season ago.

Thanks for checking out our 2023 Kentucky Spring Preview: Offensive Line here at Last Word On College Football. The Wildcats have Pro Day on Friday where 11 Wildcats will be headed by Will Levis to show their skills to NFL scouts. We’ll have a recap of that and then switch to the defense next time starting with the line.

Kentucky players ran drills as the Wildcats practiced at the Joe Craft Football Training Facility on Tuesday morning in Lexington, Ky. Mar. 21, 2023 Syndication: The Courier-Journal