Vaught's Views: Huff still believes in line

April 18, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - Going into last season Kentucky had an experienced offensive line that was expected to be one of the team's strengths.

Instead, the veteran group struggled at times to learn new offensive coordinator Ron Hudson's system and that may have kept the offense from being as productive as many had expected it to be.

"It's a complex offense. I don't know how complex it is compared to other college offense, but in comparison to what we've had here it is a lot more complex," said UK offensive lineman Matt Huff. "We were changing things and putting things in during the year, which is what you have to do to keep the offense fresh, but as a player that made it hard to learn."

That was last year. Now Huff and Jason Rollins, the other returning starter, are trying to help the Wildcats put together a new offensive line during spring drills in preparation for the 2004 season.


Huff, who has started 23 games the previous three years, has moved from tackle to guard. Rollins has stayed at the other guard.

They have been joined in the first unit this spring by Navy transfer Matt McCutchan (center), Michael Aitcheson (tackle) and Hayden Lane (tackle).

Mixed results Saturday

They got to test their skills against UK's defense in Saturday's scrimmage with mixed results. Of course, that's expected because Kentucky is much more experienced overall on defense and should be well ahead of the UK offense at this point.

"We just have to see how things keep going," Huff said. "Every practice gets better and we get used to playing together more and more. It's all new for us. We are not where we want to be right now, but hopefully we will get there. I still believe in this group."

While Huff, Rollins and Lane, who played in eight games and started one as a redshirt freshman last season, all have experience in Hudson's system, the other players working in the offensive line were scout team players last year.

Then there is junior college transfer Ernie Pelayo, who has an ankle injury and has not participated in spring drills.

Kentucky has several highly-touted freshmen offensive linemen, including Mayfield's Micah Jones, that could get a chance to compete for playing time when preseason practice opens in August.

Hard for newcomer to learn Hudson's system

But is it realistic to think a newcomer could master Hudson's system that quick if experienced players such as Nick Seitze and Antonio Hall had problems last year?

"It would be tough for a true freshman (to play immediately)," Huff said. "I haven't really seen any of the new guys play, but I've heard a lot about them and that some of them can really play. It can happen. Antonio came in and did a good job as a true freshman, but he admits he was overwhelmed at times. But we also have to get the best five linemen we have on the field no matter who they are.

"It's not an impossibility that a freshman could play. There are people mature enough and athletic enough to step in, but it's tough. I'm not going to lie about that."

Huff has tried to help the younger linemen all he can this spring. He was expected to miss most of spring practice after breaking his leg in last season's finale against Tennessee, but he's been able to take part in most drills since practice opened.

He says the offensive linemen will work out with UK's defensive linemen most of the summer and also will go through set drills to stay sharp until preseason practice starts.

"You have to stay fresh, keep the game in your head and study film even in the offseason. You can't let down," Huff said.

Could line be better?

But could a less experienced offensive line with more overall time in Hudson's system be better than last year's more experienced offensive line that had little time to adjust to the new offense?

"That's a tough question," Huff said. "I have a lot of confidence in these other guys. I really think we have a group of guys here now that we can do it with. Other people may not believe that, but you can't play unless you know what you are doing.

"I truly believe we can be as good as everybody wants to be. There's no limit as to how good we can be. It's just how hard we want to work and how much we want it and I think this group of guys wants it a lot more than people realize. We know we have work to do, we just have to make sure we do it."

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