Louisville enters Bobby Petrino’s fifth year of his second stint and fans are very optimistic that the once porous offensive line will continue to trend towards a strength of the team. Mike Summers was brought in last year as the new offensive line coach and the group improved from being one of the worst in the country to being at least solid at points during the year.
This year will be very different just because Lamar Jackson won’t be around to turn small gains into big ones. His absence will also lead to a change in Louisville blocking assignments. Petrino utilized read option plays a lot in the running game and traditional running plays weren’t used nearly as often as they were before Lamar arrived. While Jawon Pass is very mobile and can run the same offense, most expect the offense to rely more on the traditional runs than the option this year.
The line lost their top performer in Geron Christian to the NFL. He decided to forego his final year and was drafted in the third round. The line would have probably absorbed his loss more easily if Robbie Bell was at full strength to start the season. He will be out with an undisclosed injury and Cole Bentley has been tabbed as the guy to take over at center. Bentley likely would have taken over at guard with Lukayus McNeil moving out to tackle, but Bell’s injury changed that. Bentley will be new to the position and provides the biggest question mark with this line.
The guard spots are the veteran spots for Louisville. Lukayus McNeil returns and is a captain and Kenny Thomas will start for his second straight year opposite him. McNeil is the guy that gets the attention but I personally felt that Thomas played better last season. He was at least more consistent. Louisville had some issues with whiffing on blocks or being beaten at the snap. Those things blow up plays very quickly, but Thomas seemed to have less of those plays than the others. One key this year with the interior of the line is short yardage rushing. They’ve been very bad at getting push so they have to improve there this season.
Mekhi Becton has one of the highest ceilings on this team and he enters his second year as the top player in the group. Becton was rated as one of the top freshmen in the country by Pro Football Focus and was named to 247’s Freshmen All-American Team. He has said that he wants to improve his run blocking but he is already very good as a pass blocker. He will be key this year if Louisville reverts back to the offense we saw in 2014 which was more traditional.
The replacement for Christian will end up being Linwood Foy who is coming into his senior year. Foy was a JUCO transfer a few years back and he came to UofL as a lightly recruited player. But, he’s been the first tackle off of the bench for two years and he fits the mold of linemen that Lousiville likes. He was a tight end and basketball player in high school and he bulked up once he got to junior college. Now he’s weighing in at 305 pounds and still has the athleticism that he had as a younger player. That is probably what the staff saw when they were the only power five team to extend an offer. We will learn pretty quickly if what they saw will translate to the field.
Overall, I think Louisville is in a good position to take another step forward from a performance standpoint. The line two years ago was abysmal but they improved in a lot of areas last season. I think that the short yardage running should be better because they should be running more power stuff on a regular basis. Pass protection could improve also if Pass is more decisive with the ball. I also think that there is a possibility that Cole Bentley could end up being a better blocker than Robbie Bell. The calls and leadership might be lacking but I think he can hold his own better than Bell.