Kentucky may lean on offensive line

Most of the questions surrounding Kentucky this spring center around who will make the plays next season for the Wildcats.

That’s understandable when you lose the likes of quarterback Mike Hartline, running back Derrick Locke and receivers Randall Cobb and Chris Matthews. Cobb was the quintessential playmaker for the Wildcats the last two years.

What’s not being talked about as much, and probably should be, is that Kentucky returns what could be one of the better offensive lines in the SEC next season.

Kentucky was vastly underrated up front a year ago, as Mike Summers did a terrific job in his first season as the Wildcats' offensive line coach. Despite having to replace four starters, they finished second in the league in sacks allowed (19 in 13 games) and paved the way for Kentucky to finish fourth in the league in total offense and fifth in scoring offense.

Returning are four starters from that unit -- senior left tackle Chandler Burden, senior left guard Stuart Hines, junior center Matt Smith and junior right guard Larry Warford, who was a second-team All-SEC selection a year ago. Hines, who battled through injuries, also got some All-SEC mention.

The Wildcats will be experienced up front in 2011, and they also have some depth that will allow them to move some guys around in case of injuries.

Senior Jake Lanefski, who started four games at right guard in 2008, will be the swing guy. He can play center or guard.

Senior Billy Joe Murphy slides in for Brad Durham at right tackle. Murphy can play both guard and tackle and has started nine games during his career. He ended last season as the starter at left tackle.

Burden, who started his career as a defensive end, is still recovering from shoulder surgery and isn’t going through the spring. His absence has allowed the Kentucky coaches to get a closer look at redshirt freshman Teven Eatmon-Nared, who’s getting a lot of work at left tackle. The 6-7 Eatmon-Nared is up to 325 pounds after coming to Kentucky as a tight end.

Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said sophomore Kevin Mitchell also had a good offseason. The 6-6 Mitchell has trimmed down to 310 pounds and is another guy who could play guard or tackle.