Coming out of spring football, the offensive line seemed to be the biggest worry for University of Louisville football coach Bobby Petrino.
But now Petrino seems pleased. The Cardinals added a couple of pieces in the offseason – junior-college transfer Kelby Johnson and the return of Chris Acosta – to go along with the three returning starters.
”They made great strides in the weight room this summer,” offensive line coach Chris Klenakis said. “Guy who needed to gain weight did that and guys who needed to lose weight, they lost it. So, they worked hard in the offseason.
”It gave us a better base to start off with this fall.”
Added Petrino: “I feel much better than I did in the spring that’s for sure.”
The Cardinals return five players - including seniors Jake Smith, John Miller and Jamon Brown – who have started games in the trenches before. The trio has started a combined 99 games during their three-year careers.
Jake Smith has started 38 games, including 12 straight. He was at guard the first two years, played center last season and will likely see time at both spots this season. He’s been practicing both positions in fall camp and Petrino said recently the staff would “use him in the place that he helps the team the most.”
Miller has started 34 games at guard, including 19 in a row, while Brown is a tackle with 27 starts, including 19 in a row.
Klenakis said the adjustment to the new staff is something “we don’t worry about anymore,” noting the players have adapted to the new staff.
”We have guys who are used to winning and who have played together,” Klenakis said. “The take pride in their work and it’s nice to see the senior leadership that we have on the line.”
Acosta wasn’t with the team in the spring but is back and has started four games during his career, while Ryan Mack started 12 games at right tackle last season and is back for another season. Mack was injured and missed spring ball but could still be the fourth starter on the line for U of L. He has been rotating at both the guard and the tackle spot for the Cardinals.
The 6-foot-7, 299-pound Johnson played as a freshman at Virginia before leaving and spending a year at ASA College in Brooklyn, N.Y. Johnson was a junior-college all-conference player last season.
Sophomore Pedro Sibiea has been back and forth from offense to defense and could be a key cog on offense this season, while Aaron Epps and Joe Manley are other players trying to work into the mix.
”We’ve got some guys working hard,” Petrino said.
Skylar Lacy, Freshman
The 6-foot-6 300-pound Lacy is a native of Indianapolis, Ind., who sat out last season and used his redshirt year.
Lacy didn’t have a great spring with the new staff, but lost some weight during the summer and has come back in great shape and ready to see the field.
”He has made some huge strides in the summer,” Petrino said. “He has looked a lot better than he did all spring.
Lacy was listed as a third-string guard but could see time at both guard and tackle and is likely to make it into the rotation.
”He’s improved a lot,” Klenakis said. “It started in the weight room. He worked hard this summer; he changed his body around and that has really given him a good foundation to start with this fall.”
Tobijah Hughley, Junior
Hughley is a 6-foot-3, 290-pound junior walk-on from Lexington Lafayette High School and many figure him to be the backup center to Jake Smith.
But coming out of spring ball, Hughley was the staring center and the staff felt comfortable with him in that position. It also gave the Cards a chance to play Smith at the guard spot, which could make the team better.
”I try to keep everyone on the same page,” Hughley said. “We try and work together and communicate and I try to make sure everybody is on the same page. I feel like that’s my job to make sure everyone is on the same page.”
Hughley has never played in a game.
**Klenakis said he was “going to get out best five on the field and see what combinations we have,” noting that Smith could play center or both guards spots. “We train our guys to play numerous positions.”
**Sophomore T.C. Klusman is listed as the second-string center in the media guide but is likely third and has been solid in preseason.
**Petrino said he would try to redshirt all of the freshmen linemen, including Lukayus McNeil, who is drawing rave reviews from the staff. Jimmie Terry and Danny Burns are the other two true freshmen.
”We’ll teach them all and have them all compete,” Klenakis said. “We’ll give them a chance to put it on video and go from there.”
**Watch later today for a feature on Jamon Brown, who has lost a ton of weight, and Jake Smith, who could play two positions for the Cardinals.
**Also watch for a video preview of the offensive line.
**The position series will continue tomorrow with linebackers.