Position series: Offensive line

Cardinal Authority is running a position series as a new preseason football feature to help you get familiar with the entire University of Louisville roster. The third day of the series takes a look at the offensive line position.

OVERVIEW

The questions are so different this year for University of Louisville offensive line coach Dave Borbely, who had to replace four starters last season.

But this season, the Cardinals have some familiar faces in the trenches. Borbely has two seniors who will anchor the line and three sophomores who were forced into playing a lot of time last fall.

"A year ago the buzz was how are we going to replace four starters," Borbely said. "We had a plan to do that and had new guy in there with John Miller.

"Miller is back, we moved (Jamon) Brown over from defense and he was a freshman and so was Jake Smith, (Mario) Benavides is healthy for the first time since I have been here and (Alex) Kupper is back and has played every position up there in a game.

"We're much more athletic than we have been in the past. We still have a ways to go, but at least we have five guys up there that have a year under their belt."

The 6-foot-4, 285-pound Benavides is a four-year starter and will start at center after missing the first three games last season. He's one of the leaders of the team and is on the Remington Trophy watch list.

Kupper (6-3, 296) is a former walk-on from Trinity and has played every position on the line, including center for Benavides when he was out. Kupper will play left tackle for the Cardinals.

The right tackle is likely the 6-6, 340-pound Jamon Brown, who is from Fern Creek and started his career last season as a defensive tackle. Jake Smith (6-3, 314) will start next to Brown on the left side, while Miller (6-2, 313) is the left guard.

"It can do nothing but help our progress, playing all those young guys last year," Kupper said. "It was hard to develop cohesion last season but when we got all five starters together, things took off. The sky is the limit for what we can do."

Borbely said he feels "really good" about his starting five, while U of L head coach Charlie Strong said having two of the team's nine seniors on the line – Kupper and Benavides – is really beneficial to the squad.

"A year ago and we couldn't find any linemen," Strong said. "Now you feel like those guys all have a year into it, and have gotten better and coach Borbely has done a good job coaching them.

"With nine seniors, two of them are in the offensive line and that's really good. When talk about a team being tough – has to come from up front and those guys get it started for us up front and those guys are tough."

Borbely said a big concern heading into camp was depth and he's hoping to have seven or eight players in the rotation. He said redshirt freshman Mike Romano (6-4, 295) and junior Kam Joyer (6-3, 285) have both been solid, while he's trying to get redshirt freshmen Aaron Epps (6-7 ,275) and Ryan Mack (6-4, 310) up to speed.

"We need a back up tackle to be a swing guy and a guard, who can be a swing guard and I need a backup center," Borbely said. "Anybody beyond that who can develop it's icing on the cake. We have some young guys that if continue to develop, we might be able to bring them in there at some point later in the season."

BREAKOUT PERFORMER

Jamon Brown, sophomore

Brown didn't get moved to the offensive side of the ball until after the fourth game of the season last fall. He started out at defensive tackle.

But Brown ended up playing in nine games, including one start, and became one of the young linemen that Borbely could count on.

Now, Brown went through an entire offseason and preseason as an offensive lineman and Strong said he expects "a big improvement."

Borbely called the athletic Brown "a very talented young man."

SLEEPER

Kam Joyer, junior

The 6-foot-3, 285-pound Joyer has been slowed by injuries since he arrived on campus for the 2009 season.

He spent one year as a redshirt and then missed the 2010 season after injuring his foot in the fall. He played in three games last season, including a start against Marshall, before he was slowed by injuries.

Joyer was enjoying a solid spring until he was slowed again by nagging injuries. Borbely and Strong both said he's having a stellar fall camp.

"He's playing center and guard for us and I am really excited about his progress," Strong said. "He had a great spring and has followed it up."

EXTRA POINTS

*Borbely said he was unsure who – if any – true freshmen could help out this season. Bowling Green's Joe Manley, Cincinnati's T.C. Klusman and Miami's Nacho Garcia are the freshmen working in the mix.

*Another freshman, Sid Anvoots, is sidelined with a back injury for the season.

*Sophomore Chris Acosta and redshirt freshman Chase Petersen are two other players currently on the three-deep chart.

COMING UP NEXT

*Watch later today for a feature on senior Mario Benavides and a look at Jamon Brown, who started his career as a defensive lineman.

*The position series will continue tomorrow with defensive backs.


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