Patchwork O-Line Protects Heisman-Contending QB Woodson

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) -- Andre Woodson's improbable run to become one of the top quarterbacks in America has been made possible by an even more improbable group of offensive linemen who surround him.

Kentucky's line -- entering the season the only real unknown about its high-powered offense -- is a patchwork unit that includes four former defensive players and two former tight ends.

Still, tackles Garry Williams and Justin Jeffries, guards Zipp Duncan and Jason Leger and center Eric Scott have started all five games for the No. 8 Wildcats (5-0), who face No. 11 South Carolina Thursday night. They've allowed nine sacks, but Woodson says they have earned his trust.

"We try to keep him as clean as possible every game," Jeffries said. "We don't like to see a lot of green, a lot of dirt on him."

Williams, the only member of the line who has pretty much stayed put at his left tackle position throughout his three-year Kentucky career, was named the Southeastern Conference's offensive lineman of the week for his performance against Florida Atlantic. It was the third time in four weeks a Wildcat had won the honor, with Leger scooping up the other two.

"It shows we're coming together," Williams said. "We're finally clicking."

There were plenty of doubters, but don't count coach Rich Brooks among them. As Brooks made the luncheon circuit in the preseason, he kept getting questions about whether a bunch of out-of-position linemen would be able to hold up their end of the bargain alongside offensive playmakers like Woodson, Keenan Burton and Rafael Little.

Brooks kept responding the line wouldn't only be good, but the best in his Kentucky tenure.

"So far, it looks like I've been halfway intelligent," he said.

When Brooks inherited this team, the scholarship count was low as a result of probation. He went after the playmakers and the defensive stars, but for the offensive line, he simply sought good athletes.

Injuries last year forced him to move Leger, one of the team's most explosive defensive players to offense, and activate Jeffries rather than redshirt him. It worked, particularly in the passing game, as Woodson had a breakout season. But at times, the running game that powered Kentucky's 2005 squad seemed to lose a step.

Now both phases of the offense are working, and it all starts up front. The linemen say they just needed some seasoning.

"The less scholarships you have, probably the less big guys you're going to get," Leger said. "Offensive linemen -- good ones -- are hard to find, but you can usually get a decent one."

Perhaps no Kentucky lineman has tried as many positions as Duncan in his brief career. As a freshman, he redshirted as a defensive end, then served as a backup tight end last year. Now he's the starting left guard.

"I've been around the block," Duncan said.

Even center Scott, the graybeard as the unit's lone senior, was a tight end the first two years of his career and was a guard much of last year. Now he has arguably the most critical job on the line, protecting Woodson from the bruising defensive tackles of the SEC.

"I take pride every time Andre gets under me that it's my job to protect him," Scott said. "For us to be successful, we're going to have to keep the defenders away from him."

Duncan calls Woodson the "cream of the crop," but the quarterback insists the unheralded linemen are the ones that make the offense tick.

"If we get time, if we get holes, it's got to come from them," Woodson said. "The special players make plays, but unless you have an offensive line that really gives you the opportunity to make those plays, nothing happens."

Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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