Aug. 24, 2012
At this time last season, the University of Louisville didn't know what it had on the offensive line. There was just one starter back and a couple of freshmen who earned their way into the starting lineup in fall camp.
John Miller and Jake Smith were just freshmen and Alex Kupper and Ryan Kessling didn't have much playing time.
Furthermore, the stalwart on the line, Mario Benavides, came down with an infection that sidelined him for the first three games of the season, and no one had a clue how successful this group would be starting the season.
When the Cardinals took the field against Murray State, Louisville had just one career start on the offensive line among the five starters.
"Last year, we had four new faces around me," said senior Mario Benavides. "There were a lot of guys new to the position. Even though, you build relationships off the field, it takes a while to build that cohesion. It takes time. We all know how we play together and we have a feel for each other. We are now closer as a unit and as a team."
The man in charge of putting it all together was offensive line coach Dave Borbely. He had a plan in place starting in 2010 to build the line to where it is at this point, which is probably at its strongest point in the three-year building process.
The Cardinals played a number of players to gain valuable experience. Yes, they took their lumps, but it looks like it has all paid off.
"The buzz at this time last year was that we had to replace four starters," said Borbely."We actually played a lot of guys in 2010. We basically have five starters back, which is good. It's hard to beat that experience. We are trying to find some backups now. I have a lot of bodies, but trying to sort out who the sixth, seventh and eighth guys are."
The Cardinals started to gel as an offensive line about five games into last season, as the freshmen began to get some experience and everyone started to get accustomed to playing with one another.
"We started to gel versus North Carolina," said Borbely. "I thought we had a chance to be pretty decent. UNC had a lot of athleticism and experience upfront. We played very well with a bunch of inexperienced players. From that point on, I thought we had a chance to be pretty decent."
Smith, who played right guard, also agreed that this group began to become a cohesive unit around the North Carolina game and gradually got better as the season progressed.
"I surprised how quickly we developed," said Smith, who was one of two players to start all 13 games. "We got to play as a unit together from the beginning of the season, and the unit just worked hard to become one of the corps groups on the team.
Heading into the 2012 season just nine days away, the Cardinals appear to be ready to explode as an offense, and the offensive line is going to play a major role in the offense's development. Louisville plans on being a ball control offense that has depth at running back and wide receiver, and one of the best young quarterbacks in the nation.
"Our goal is to control the clock, move the chains and score points," said Borberly. "If we are hitting on all cylinders, we can be explosive on offense. We have some great skilled players. I love our running backs, and our quarterback is very accurate. We are going to have some three-and-outs, but we want to finesse the ball and keep our defense of the field and score points."
After 13 games last year and a whole training camp together, the offensive line is beginning to become an all-around unit, but they understand there is a long way to go to be the best.
"I like to think we are good at both, but we have a long way to go," said Benavides. "Last year, our main concern was our pass blocking. We have gotten better, but not where we need to be. I think where we excel at the most is our assignments. We don't make a lot of mental errors, which is our strength. We are good right now, but feel we have a long way to go."
Head coach Charlie Strong always stresses the importance of the offensive line, and the Cardinals have the potential of having a solid group. If they can continue to develop, the Cardinals have a chance to reach all their goals.