I doubt there is anything I can say in this space that hasn’t been said about Louisville’s offensive line by everyone else. They were inconsistent through most of the year and flat out bad to end it. Louisville went out and hired a new offensive line coach in Mike Summers and they also addressed talent issues along the line in recruiting.
Summers comes to Louisville with experience coaching with Bobby Petrino in the past. I think this is the biggest gain for Louisville when it comes to the offense. Last year, the offense never adjusted to what other teams were doing against them as well as the deficiencies of the line. Teams began to blitz Lamar Jackson heavily halfway through the year and it was immediately obvious that the line couldn’t handle heavy pressure. I think Summers and Petrino will have better communication as the offense is designed during the week as well as during the game.
Houston is the game that everyone points to when they highlight the issues with the offensive line. However, Virginia was the first team to really stymie the Louisville offense. They used overload pressure and different start points with their blitzes to confuse the line as well as Lamar Jackson. Louisville failed to adjust and needed a late touchdown throw to get the win. I think Summers will work with Petrino to know what they can and can’t do and he will be vocal in-game to let Petrino know what his line is able to execute.
Louisville’s issues were multiple but the talent level just wasn’t what it needed to be. The tackles got a pass for the most part because most of the obvious problems stemmed from interior pressure. But, they showed at times last year that they have a lot of room to improve themselves. Geron Christian is a really solid player who should continue to improve, but he and Lukayus McNeil struggled against skilled pass rushers off the edge. The ACC is flush with edge guys again this year so Christian has to be on top of his game. Also, freshman Mechi Becton will get tested very early in week three against Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant.
While the tackles weren’t outstanding, they were much better as a duo than the three interior spots. Louisville didn’t do a good enough job recruiting the interior line and it showed last year with three seniors who couldn’t do much right through much of the season. The big question coming into this season for me is how Kenny Thomas will do as he wasn’t able to beat out the players that played so poorly last year? Pair that with a freshman center who will be asked to improve the communication issues that plagued the unit last year. I don’t share the thinking of some that “It can’t be worse”. It definitely can if Robbie Bell can’t get assignments correct and Kenny Thomas shows why he couldn’t win the job last year when given plenty of chances.
The decision to start Becton at tackle and move McNeil back to guard is why I have some positive feelings about the state of the line. McNeil is a big, powerful blocker that fits much better going against size instead of speed. I think he’ll do very well in that spot and will make a preferred running side for the offense. Becton showed some really good pass blocking skills in the limited time we got to see him this fall. He’s tall but he’s long and slender for a guy his size. He’s not carrying a bunch of weight that doesn’t allow him to get depth against speed rushers. His long arms will also help against the long and lean edge guys that you see more and more these days. We won’t know for a few games just how good he is, but Becton looks the part and he’s getting rave reviews from the coaches.
I may not be willing to say that the offensive line will be better this year but I’m comfortable saying that it should be. The coaching should be improved with a guy who has a history with Petrino and a track record of success. The scheme should be more flexible with a summer to learn. The question remains: Are the three new players coming into the group better than the three that left?