Robbie Bell and Kenny Thomas spoke with the media after Tuesday’s practice. They talk about the progress the O line has made since last year, the improved pass and run blocking as well as the learning experience.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Heading into fall camp looking to fill three positions on the offensive line, the University of Louisville football team had few experienced options to occupy those vacancies.
After 19 practices during fall camp, the picture is becoming a little clearer as to who will be the five players that shape that unit in the season opener versus Purdue on Sept. 2.
The Cardinals have two returning starters in junior tackle Geron Christian and guard Lukayus McNeil, with the two combining for 49 starts over the last two seasons. After that, junior Kenny Thomas is the lone player with any starting experience.
“We have some holes to fill,” offensive line coach Mike Summers said. “I love the way the guys have worked. These guys have worked hard for the last seven months and they have brought some excitement to the huddle. I’ve been pleased with what I’ve seen so far.”
Christian, a two-time all-league honoree, has started 26-straight games at tackle since coming into the program two seasons ago and is rapidly becoming the team’s most consistent performer.
A product of Decatur High in Indianapolis, Ind., McNeil has transitioned to guard this season with the emergence of freshman Mekhi Becton.
“I love our offensive line,” senior defensive tackle De’Asian Richardson said. “I think they have come together and have become physical, especially Mekhi Becton. If he gets his hands on you, you aren’t going anywhere.”
Consistency was the key at center the last two seasons with Tobijah Hughley penciled in as the starter. With Hughley gone to graduation, redshirt freshman Robbie Bell looks to have taken over the center position, and continues to jell with his teammates.
“We are pushing each other as hard as we can,” Bell said. “I feel like we are picking up all the blitzes and stunts. We are blowing people off the ball every play, and I feel like we are doing very well.”
Sitting out last year as a redshirt, but having the ability to travel with the team, was beneficial to the Hoschton, Ga., native. This year, he has the opportunity to snap the ball to the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner.
“I think that’s really cool,” Bell said of playing with Jackson, recognized as the 2016 top player in college football. “I traveled to every game last year. I had the opportunity to watch him a lot last season. It’s really cool to know I’m playing with a Heisman Trophy winner.”
Junior Kenny Thomas, who has played significant snaps on the offensive line, has first-hand knowledge of the guard and tackle positions at Louisville and is considered one of the more experienced players.
With only five career starts, the Prattville, Ala., native has dedicated himself to changing his body, which has allowed him to be more effective this fall and get him on the field.
“I made some changes to my eating habits to get in shape,” Thomas said. “I was grinding. I knew it was my time and I needed to step up. I was playing at 330 pounds last year, so I’m down to about 317 pounds, which makes me feel better and it’s allowed me to feel good out there.”
Thomas, who started at tackle versus Kentucky, has moved inside to the guard spot this fall, which has been more beneficial to the former Prattville High graduate.
“I feel more comfortable at guard,” Thomas said. “I feel like I can communicate better inside at guard. If someone doesn’t hear the call, I can relay the call to them so communication is easier. Plus, it’s more physical in there.”
The Cardinals return to the practice field on Wednesday at 3:45 p.m.