Learning process for L'ville's rebuilt o-line

Dave Borbely has a major task trying to rebuild Louisville's offensive line, a unit that lost four starters from last year's team, including NFL Draft selection Byron Stingily. Borbely, and tackle Alex Kupper, spoke with InsideTheVille.com about the line's progress so far during fall camp.

Louisville assistant Dave Borbely has one of the most important jobs on Charlie Strong's coaching staff during fall camp.

Borbely, a coaching veteran with stops at Notre Dame and Virginia, must quickly rebuild the Cardinals offensive line, a unit that lost four starters from last year's 7-6 Beef O'Brady Bowl championship team, including NFL Draft selection Byron Stingily.

"The first concern, or question mark, on offense is the offensive line," said offensive coordinator Mike Sanford. "Last year we had six seniors on the offensive line and the only returning starter is our center Mario Benavides. It's a concern that we are replacing four starters. We're in the process of determining (starters) and developing them."

Benavides (6'4, 300), one of the top offensive linemen in the Big East, is a solid anchor to reconstruct UofL's new line around. Senior Ryan Kessling (6'5, 304) and junior Alex Kupper (6'3, 295) opened fall camp as the starting tackles, while redshirt freshman Jake Smith (6'3, 315) and oft-injured sophomore Kamran Joyer (6'3, 305) are at guard.

"We've got guys that know the system……right now it's a matter of executing against our first team defense and at times that's a struggle," Borbely said. "We've got to learn to communicate a little better, become more proficient in pass protection and better in individual techniques across the board – run and pass."

Louisville's offensive front was a team strength last season, allowing just 17 sacks on the season and paving the way for running back Bilal Powell, who rushed for more than 1,400 yards and was drafted by the New York Jets.

"We have strides to make, but it's a group that knows what it's doing so we'll be ready on September 1," Alex Kupper said. "I think we share a lot of chemistry. We all know each other, hang out and understand each other. The scheme works its self out, pretty much."

Borbely knows there will be growing pains as his young linemen gain experience and develop into a cohesive unit.

"I've been through this before and knew what this was going to be," Borbely said. "It's a process where you want them to play like the guys did a year ago. Eventually, hopefully, they will. It's a learning process for them because a lot of these guys are in there for the first time as full time starters. They've got to learn to fight through the heat, the pain and the mental fatigue and execute the offense."

That process should be aided by Benavides, a two-year starter who should be fully healthy this season after undergoing knee surgery during the off-season. Benavides, who missed spring practice recovering from surgery, has started 24 of 25 career games.

"He's been the lead dog since I've been here and the kids respect him," Borbely said. "He's got a level of toughness and tenacity that they all need to strive to achieve. He's doing very well in that role (as leader).

"This is going to be his third year starting," Kupper said of Benavides. "He's just a solid rock in the middle and the captain of the offensive line."

Kupper, a former walk-on from Trinity who earned a scholarship, is moving to a new position this season after playing center and guard his first two seasons. He's trying to fill the void left by Stingily at left tackle.

"Byron Stingily graduated, that's what went into that move," Borbely said. "I want to take a look at him early (in fall camp) and see if he has the athletic ability to play there. I believe he does."

Ryan Kessling, a senior from Tallahassee, played last season and appears entrenched at right tackle. Now, Borbely hopes Kupper can handle the job at left tackle and someone emerges during fall camp as a reliable backup.

"What I'm looking for right now is three tackles and I need a third guy to be our swing guy to play 20-25 snaps a game," Borbely said. "Alex is handling the position very well and he's a very sharp guy. He can see the whole field and understands what's going on. So he's doing okay right now."

Kupper said his adjustment to the tackle spot hasn't been difficult because of his knowledge of the position. Now, it's just a matter of mastering the physical demands of the tackle position.

"When you play the center position you know every position," Kupper said. "Scheme-wise, I know the adjustments. I just have to work on my technique, moving my feet faster and playing with leverage."

Jake Smith, a monster 6'3, 315-pound redshirt freshman, looks the part at guard. He received valuable practice repetitions during spring drills and has a bright future, according to Borbely.

"He's a young player who is learning how to play," Borbely said. "Four years from now we're going to say he's a hell of a player. Right now he's growing up and every situation for him is a new experience. We need to put him in as many game-like situations in practice and make it as tough on him as we can so when he gets in games he knows how to handle it."

Louisville signed four offensive linemen last year, led by monster tackle Ryan Mack and John Miller, a powerful 6'2, 310-pound guard. Athletic tackle Aaron Epps and center Mike Romano also add talent, but may not be ready to contribute this season.

"I'm very excited about that entire freshman group," Borbely said. "It's a very talented group. I think we hit strikes on all of those guys. All four of those kids are all talented kids, but it's too early to tell (if they'll play this season). They're trying to figure out right from left at this point."

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