Returning players: Darrian Miller, Kevin Mitchell, Trevino Woods
Newcomers: Jordan Swindle, T.J. Jones, Jon Toth
Projected Starters: Darrian Miller and Kevin Mitchell
2012 Outlook: Replace Chandler Burden and Billy Joe Murphy, and improve pass protection.
The offensive tackle position saw its fair share of injuries in 2011 and, like most of the offensive line, had to move players around to fill the gaps on the depth chart. While most offensive linemen need a redshirt season to get themselves physically ready to play, Miller was able to be plugged in and showed some glimpses of the tackle he can become as his career progresses. He is solidly atop the depth chart at left tackle. The other side gets a little more interesting. Kevin Mitchell is the projected starter at right tackle now and was able to hold off senior Trevino Woods during spring practices. Despite this, he is in no way entrenched at the position and could still lose the job to another player. The battle for the starting job on the right side should be one of the most heated in camp.
Miller was a consensus top-20 tackle as a prep player and chose Kentucky over offers from Tennessee, Alabama, and others. A Lexington native and Bryan Station grad, Miller’s elite athleticism allowed him to step on campus and contribute immediately despite his youth. Now a year older, stronger, and wiser, Miller will anchor the left side of the line and protect the quarterback’s blind side this season. If there’s a sure-fire future NFL player on the line, it’s Miller.
As a redshirt junior, Mitchell is in his fourth year on UK’s campus. He began his career as a tackle, but was moved to guard and played there as a reserve last season. A lack of depth and unimpressive performances by the competition lead to him being moved back to tackle again prior to the spring. In 2011, Mitchell had some promising moments, but largely struggled at guard when filling in for injured starters and against subpar competition at that. He’s lost quite a bit of weight since last season as well and is now below 290 pounds, which may help him with speed rushers on the edge. At this time, Mitchell’s hold on the starting job seems loose at best and he will. Red to have a solid camp to hold off his competition.
While woods came in as an undersized-yet athletic lineman, the goal was always for him to bulk up to become an SEC caliber tackle. That has just never happened. Woods has struggled to stay above 280 despite his 6’4 frame and has. Ever been able to climb the depth chart as a result. He is in his fifth year in the program and the race for the right tackle job is as open as it will ever be, do it’s now or never for woods.
If you’re picking players to come off the bus first, Swindle’s got to be at the top of the list. He won’t win many foot races, but this 6’8 mountain of a man is an impressive specimen with surprising athleticism for a player his size. He has considerable potential as a left tackle, but the turmoil on the right side could present him with an opportunity to come in and steal a starting job much earlier. Even though Mitchell is still the favorite to win the job, Swindle has to be considered a close second due to his size and ability.
The man famously know for holding his own against Jadaveon Clowney in South Carolina’s state championship game two years ago, Jones is an athletic tackle that’s best feature is his ability to move. He is likely destined for a redshirt year (if possible) as the staff attempts to add the necessary weight to his frame. That said, a solid camp could place him as high as second on the depth chart at the left or right tackle positions and he could play as a true freshman.
When it comes to versatility, no one can touch Toth. He has thus size and strength to play at any of the three interior line positions and the footwork to be developed as a tackle as well. While I think his best position would be as a guard, he may see some time at tackle due to depth concerns and could even work his way into playing as a freshman because of said depth.