Football is a brutal sport. Cuts, sprains, tears, and bruises are all a part of the game. But how much can an injury impact a team? We all place a premium on starting quarterbacks. Why not starting defensive tackles? If Teddy Bridgewater got up slow after a sack on Sunday, how many f-bombs would you drop? A large amount of UK fans would do the same for Max Smith. But how big of a deal would it be if B.J. Dubose or Roy Philon went down with an injury? Is there proven depth on UK's offensive line? It's an underrated aspect of the game but there's a reason why coaches release a two/three-deep.
Louisville released it's depth chart Sunday and the first thing that caught my eye was the amount of players with starting experience. To go along with that, the lack of guys with consecutive starts was a pleasant surprise to me. Probably seems a little backwards, but to me it shows that the coaches are willing to reward guys for practicing hard and that they are not afraid to shuffle things. The shuffling as well as some unfortunate injuries have left Louisville with a unique situation. UofL has players with game experience at every position outside of special teams. I don't mean garbage time minutes either. The defensive line has Jamaine Brooks and B.J. Butler listed as third stringers. They both played significant minutes last year and will be asked to do the same this year. Kamron Joyner started in the Marshall game last year but he's listed as a third stringer at two different positions on the offensive line. There are also other examples of this at a handful of other position groups. Some might say that this could be a bad sign but I highly doubt that these guys have regressed. In reality, the talent that coach Strong has brought in has finally reached the point that it has overtaken some of the experience on the roster. Strong says that the best players will play but sometimes injuries and fatigue cause a coach to go to his bench. Strong's best players being backed up by guys with game experience should allow him to take this program to the next level this season.
What makes depth such a big factor in this game really has more to do with options than necessity. Vance Bedford and Shawn Watson will be able to package players to fit situations. As drhustle pointed out in the coaching post, Bedford really didn't have many options when we went up against T.Y. Hilton last year. There wasn't a lot of depth at in the defensive backfield and there was a lack of experience also. We shouldn't have those issues on defense this year. Outside of the freshmen at linebacker, there are proven guys or just flat out extremely talented guys littered all over the depth chart. If any freshman plays this year, they're just flat out good. Although we've seen a lot of talent over the last few years, we've seen it because the coaches had to get better players out there. Now we will see guys with talent as well as experience. With the coaching staff we have, I'm really looking forward to seeing what types of packages we throw at UK.
Joker Phillips has tried very hard to show support for the players that will be stepping into larger roles this season. If I were a UK fan I would be excited about guys like Miles Simpson, Zach West, and Daryll Collins. But what if one of these guys gets injured? What if Louisville's trio of running backs wear down Kentucky's front seven? What happens then? When you have to replace starters at multiple positions, depth becomes a four letter word. Randy Sanders has let it be known that there is no depth on the offensive line. Joker has stated that there's not much behind his starters in the secondary. Coach Strong repeatedly saying "we have enough" in reference to the depth that he now has is vastly different than the Kentucky coaches being able to point out two positions where they are lacking bodies. To me depth is all about whether or not a coach can bring in a backup player and not have a major drop off in production. Outside of a quarterback and wide receiver, I don't see that being much of a possibility on Kentucky's depth chart. I see a lot of new faces and not a lot of game experience.
Louisville should really be able to take advantage of Kentucky's inexperienced and shallow defensive backfield Sunday. Kentucky has already lost two players that were slated to either start or contribute heavily. If they are forced to play backups on defense, Shawn Watson might feel like he's playing a video game. The difference between option vs. necessity with these two teams is very telling. The starters for both teams might not have the biggest impact on the game. The play of guys that will be asked to step in to spell the starters or to take over due to an injury might just tell the story at the end of the day.