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VIDEO: ONE HOUR WITH BOBBY PETRINO AT ACC KICKOFF

2014 Offensive Line Review

Louisville’s offensive line put 3 players into the NFL (2 in the draft one as UDFA.  Jamon Brown, John Miller, and Jake Smith all 3 were extremely solid for the Cards.  The other two positions?  Not so much. Despite 3 Offensive Lineman going into the league Louisville’s stats were as follows:

#95 in Rushing Offense (511 of 939 plays, 54.4% of plays were rushes)
#113 in Sacks Allowed
#117 in Tackles For Loss Allowed

Clearly the above rankings are not sufficient and as a result the Cards had just the #72 Total Offense in 2014.  The fact that the NFL wanted 3 players out off of a line with these numbers says a great deal about the other two positions.

Former walk-on Tobijah Hughley was pressed into action at the Center position after the coaching staff elected to move Jake Smith back to guard after playing 2013 in the middle.  It was the best choice for the program after a series of Charlie Strong offensive lineman recruits left the program and was really the only position (other than QB) that Coach Strong and staff left the cupboard really thin.  Hughley snapped well, but struggled at times to hold the point of attack and his inexperience definitely showed at times.  Ryan Mack lost his starting tackle spot at various points in the year and was eventually supplanted by Aaron Epps who definitely steadied things in the 2nd half of the season.  Ryan Mack transferred to Memphis following the regular season.

The offensive line had 3 great players in 2014, but the inconsistent play of the Center and Tackle spot really hurt the Louisville offense in 2014 and stunted its potential.

Players Lost

John Miller -Started 13 of 13 games at Guard in 2014
Jake Smith -Started 13 of 13 games at Guard in 2014
Jamon Brown -Started 13 of 13 games at Tackle in 2014.
Ryan Mack- Started 6 games at Tackle played in 9.  Transferred to Memphis
Chris Acosta -made two appearances in 2014.
Jimmie Terry -Redshirted, removed from program.
David Noltemeyer -made one appearance in 2014.

Numerical Roster
#50 Khalil Hunter 6-4, 300 Jr.
#54 Kevin Austin 6-3, 307 Soph.
#56 Kiola Mahoni 6-3, 300, Soph.
#60 Tyler Haycraft 6-3, 269, Fr.
#61 Tobijah Hughley 6-3, 289 RS-Jr.
#62 T.C. Klusman 6-3, 275 RS-Jr.
#63 Nathan Scheler 6-1, 270, Fr.
#64 Gabe Ahner 6-3, 289, RS-Jr.
#65 Luke Schultheiss 6-1, 284 Soph.
#68 Danny Burns 6-6, 303, RS-Fr.
#70 Toriano Roundtree 6-8, 305 Soph.
#71 Chandler Jones 6-4, 300, Fr.
#72 Lukayus McNeil 6-6, 313, RS-Fr.
#73 Pedro Sibiea 6-3, 300, RS-Jr.
#74 Geron Christian 6-6, 320, Fr.
#75 Skylar Lacy 6-6, 306, RS-Soph
#76 Kelby Johnson 6-7, 297 Sr.
#78 Aaron Epps 6-7, 288, Sr.
#79 Kenny Thomas 6-6, 320 Fr.

Projected Depth Chart

ST
Kenny Thomas OR
Kelby Johnson OR
Toriano Roundtree OR
Geron Christian

SG
Khalil Hunter OR
Pedro Sibiea
Chandler Jones
Nathan Scheler
Luke Schultheiss

C
Tobijah Hughley OR
Pedro Sibiea OR
Kevin Austin OR
T.C. Klusman

WG
Kiola Mahoni OR
Pedro Sibiea OR
Skylar Lacy
Geron Christian
Gabe Ahner

WT
Aaron Epps
Lukayus McNeil OR
Skylar Lacy
Danny Burns

Our best guess starting line-up: ST Kenny Thomas, SG Khalil Hunter, C Tobijah Hughley, WG Pedro Sibiea, WT Aaron Epps.

WILD CARD
Kenny Thomas

Examining the 2015 Group 

OR. OR. OR. OR.

The truth is that Chris Klenakis likely knows who he is expecting to come in and win starting positions and how the depth chart is going to shake out.  But going through a big turnover of players, a Spring with an extremely limited offensive line group, an overall lack of experience, and a lot of new faces it’s really difficult for someone who isn’t in meetings or workouts to project who goes where….but Coach K still wants to see it during Fall Camp.

We’ve got to start with what we know.  Aaron Epps really came in at tackle last season and the offense got better.  Of course, Epps’ arrival coincided with the return of DeVante Parker but the 180 degree about faces at the snap of the ball certainly went way down as well.  Epps has great length, but has always struggled to keep weight on his frame and isn’t overly powerful.  However, Aaron has great hands and footwork, can give his QB time and is adequate in the running game.  Epps is the one sure-fire starter along the offensive line.

From there, it’s a crap shoot and a wide open competition.  That’s a great thing for developing players, but it isn’t a great thing when you open with Auburn, Houston, and Clemson. Louisville is going need to get its remaining 4 OL spots up to speed prior to the season.  What we don’t know is how much progress has been made during the summer.  A new NCAA rule allows coaches to spend 8 hours a week in the off-season program which could prove critical for position groups across the country that are re-tooling like Louisville’s offensive line.

The coaching staff brought in 4 JUCO college players on the OL in an attempt to mitigate the losses of its 3 starters.  2 Guards, a Center, and a Tackle.  First Khalil Hunter arrived to Louisville for the Spring semester from Eastern Arizona.  Technically Hunter can play Center (and maybe Tackle), but he’s a guard and it appeared that he was the most solid option during Spring Practice.  Toriano Roundtree, also from Eastern Arizona, just arrived to campus and hasn’t had the benefit of off-season conditioning and coaching. Roundtree’s frame suggests Tackle would be the only option for him at 6’8 and his late arrival could also suggest that the coaches are still looking for a viable tackle opposite Epps. Kevin Austin from Mesa CC is a center prospect that arrived in June. Coach Petrino has stated that he is hoping that Austin will compete for the starting Center job, but again no experience in the Spring or in major college football.  The last arrival from JUCO is Kiola Mahoni from the College of San Mateo.  Mahoni is EXTREMELY athletic and can play both guard and center.  Could these 4 JUCOs come in and plug the spots Louisville needs after Epps?  Technically.  But this group has varying experience levels and time within the program.  It’s more likely that 1 or 2 cracks the line-up.

One player that figures to find the field (although we don’t exactly know where) is Pedro Sibiea.  Sibiea has been on the lips of several people within the program because of his versatility.  Pedro can play all 3 offensive line spots, which is great because Louisville needs to find solutions at every position.  The best guess is that Sibiea will win out at one of the guard spots and perhaps make a run at Center, playing Tackle only in an extreme emergency.  Pedro has been back and forth from offense to defense throughout his tenure at UofL and being able to focus solely on OL should allow him to really expand his game.

Skylar Lacy always seems like he is on the cusp of breaking into the starting line-up.  Last season the Cards were desperate and gave Lacy a shot probably a little too early in his development and Skylar played OK, but made some mistakes that you might expect.  A year later and perhaps Lacy is more solid, he’s shown flashes of great ability in the few practices we’ve been allowed to attend.  Coach Petrino also mentions Skylar whenever he talks about players who can play more Guard & Tackle.

Coach Petrino has recently really sung the praises of Kelby Johnson who will compete for the opposite Epps at tackle. Most would agree that Kelby did not live up to expectations in 2014 when the Cards were searching for someone…really anyone….to step up at the opposite tackle position of Jamon Brown and tried Ryan Mack before going to Epps.  Kelby never factored.  Perhaps a new approach and an improved familiarity has allowed Kelby to make the necessary steps towards seeing meaningful minutes on the field.

At Center Tobijah Hughley really needs to step up his game from a year ago in order to maintain his status as a starter.  Hughley did an admirable job in a tough spot a year ago, but it’s not a secret that Tobijah struggled holding the point of attack and maintaining his block.  Still there were few snap errors and I think Hughley did as well as he could have in 2014 after earning a scholarship in Fall Camp.  T.C. Klusman has been in the program for a long time and never broken into the starting unit, even when the position was wide open for the taking a year ago.

At tackle, Danny Burns cut a great deal of weight and has a tremendous wing span.  The consensus is that he is still a work in progress after his redshirt freshman season.  However, Lukayus McNeil might be ready following his red-shirt year.  McNeil added weight to his frame and Petrino recently said that Lukayus has an ‘onerous’ aspect to his game.  McNeil came to Louisville highly regarded and may be able to breakout in 2015 at tackle.

Lastly, the 3 true freshman that have come aboard for the Cards all have big time talent.  Kenny Thomas, Geron Christian, and Chandler Jones.  People inside the program have placed lofty expectations on Kenny Thomas, many feel that Kenny could be the best guard prospect in the program in quite some time. Even Sheldon Rankins expressed a desire to see just how good Kenny Thomas was when the pads go on this Fall, and that’s high praise for a freshman coming from a senior defensive lineman. Kenny could be asked to play Tackle in 2015 out of necessity…. in which case it would be most definitely the Strong Tackle.   Geron Christian has increasingly had fanfare in the media and from the coaching staff.  Geron is another player with the ability to play Guard/Tackle and without a single camp under his belt it’s hard to project how he fits here.  Finally Chandler Jones is expected to start Fall Camp tomorrow after missing the summer.  A freshman on the offensive line is behind the 8-ball already in every program so Jones will have some catching up to do.  Still, in this offensive line for Louisville don’t count anyone out.

Summary

We’ve gone through a lot of names without definitively placing anyone other than Aaron Epps. The combination that starts Fall Camp probably won’t start vs. Auburn and the group that goes out vs. Auburn probably won’t start vs. Clemson.  This group should be expected to be influx throughout the 1st half of 2015.  There are too many questions, too much inexperience, and probably not enough knowledge about who is who just yet.  The Cards have talent in the offensive line and the future is bright, but this group has to hurry the future for today if UofL expects to do well in the early part of its season.

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@UofLSheriff50. Louisville native, University of Louisville Business School Grad c/o 2004. Co-Founder of TheCrunchZone.com

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