Aug 12, 2013
LOUISVILLE, Ky.- It's difficult to replace players who had 73 starts on the offensive line, but that's what the University of Louisville is looking at during this fall camp as they try to substitute for mainstays Mario Benavides and Alex Kupper.
Benavides started 47 games during his career and was one of the toughest guys in the country at his position and Alex Kupper was a versatile player who started at every position along the offensive line.
Those are things that has kept offensive line coach Dave Borbely up at night, trying to find the right combinations to build the chemistry and security that Benavides and Kupper provided on the line.
"The progress is a little slow to be honest with you," Borbely said after Monday's practice. "We are a long way a way to where we need to be. We are working some new guys in there so there is a little of a building process that has to go on. We are coming along, but the process is a little slower than I would like."
Juniors Jake Smith, John Miller and Jamon Brown are three returning starters and gives Borbely a good foundation to build on, but trying to find the right spots for everyone has been very concerning for the fourth-year offensive line mentor. Smith has started the last two years at guard, but has transitioned to the center spot during camp. Borbely likes what his see from Smith at his new position, but is still trying to work things around.
"I think Jake is doing a nice job," Borbely said. "I am taking a look at Mike Romano and T.C. Klusman back there. Both kids are doing a nice job. Jake has been a two-year starter so it's just a matter of him learning to play the position. Alex Kupper had a big impact on this team last year and we need some guys to step into the role he played last year in terms of understanding the whole picture of things and leadership."
Smith is that tough, heady player that can be the entire key to this unit's success. Smith will either be the center of move back to guard, but all indication is that he will be under center for the opener, but he understands where this group is after the first seven practices.
"There is always that transition to try and re-establish the continuity on the offensive line," Smith said. "With Mario and Kupper gone we lose a lot of communication, and a lot of experience in there, but also lose a lot of intelligence."
One battle to watch this camp is at right tackle where sophomore Abraham Garcia and Ryan Mack continue to have an exciting battle in the trenches. Both players saw their initial action last season and showed glimpses. Borbely said after practice on Monday that no one has taken the reins of the position.
"That one is a dead heat right now," Borbely said. "Both kids are working extremely hard. They both played some last year and it will go into the scrimmage and next week before I can make a decision."
With two people battling for the same position, you would think there would be a contentious relationship, but not the case with the Cardinals. Both players want to start, but the duo understands that they could rotate like they did a year ago.
"It's very fun," Mack said of his battle with Garcia. "If you're not a competitor, you don't like to play football. This is very good for us. If I win the position, that is great. If Nacho (Garcia) wins the position, that's great for him. We will both be in. We will be the swing tackles. I bring experience and I know the offense."
If the Cardinals are going to reach their goals, the Cardinals must be consistent on the offensive line, but Borbely is still searching for answers. Hopefully, for the offense's sake, those answers will come sooner than later.