Kentucky junior Sam Simpson will not continue playing football after a series of back problems, leaving a void at the backup center spot and making a thin offensive line even thinner.
Starting center Matt Smith noted Thursday that there isn't a player with experience filling in on the line, as Jake Lanefski did last year, if he gets injured again. Smith missed the first two games with a sprained ankle before playing the last 10.
Sophomore Max Godby, who didn't appear in a game last year, is listed as the third-string center on the spring depth chart behind Smith and Simpson. Smith said he is taking precautions in his weight-lifting workouts to improve his chances of staying healthy.
"It's going to be a huge burden on my shoulders that I can't get hurt this year," Smith said.
The offensive line is a unit with question marks surrounding it. Smith and senior guard Larry Warford are the only returning starters. Smith has noticed the inexperienced players, especially the incoming freshmen, are ready to learn.
"It's really encouraging that they're so willing to listen to us," Smith said. "Larry and I have been out there working individually with them, working with the basics and talking with [offensive line] coach [Mike] Summers, trying to figure out what we can work on out there with those young guys."
Smith said the offensive line hasn't had a lot of time to work with the offense as a whole, as the Wildcats are mostly going through 7-on-7 drills. He did notice a change in the crispness of those drills, however, a change that starts with quarterbacks Maxwell Smith and Morgan Newton.
"Those guys definitely have it orchestrated better," Smith said. "Last year and in years before, it's just kind of been like, everybody's just out there throwing around randomly. But they've really organized things. They have scripts and play calls they've come up with themselves that they're out there running against our defense."
Counting the days The countdown to the Sept. 1 game against Louisville is on - Smith and La'Rod King noted multiple times on Thursday that they have it marked down to the day - but the team doesn't seem to be gathering bulletin-board material from the Cardinals' side.
Smith said he had heard about a picture, circulated on Twitter, of Louisville having put UK logos on urinals but hadn't seen it.
"If that's what they want to do, that's fine," Smith said. "We're just going to keep working here."
Kentucky will be looking to get back on the winning side of the rivalry game after losing 24-17 last season, which broke a four-game winning streak against Louisville.
"I absolutely hate Louisville. I can't stand them," said King, standing in front of a wall bearing a "Beat Louisville" slogan in the Nutter Training Facility. "So when I come here I get mad and angry and want to work that much harder to beat them."
Smith, a senior who attended St. Xavier High School, is calling on the whole team to help him end his career with another win against the Cardinals.
"A lot of us, especially myself, who are from Louisville, that's a huge game for us," Smith said. "But some of those young guys, when they know they're not going to play or think they're going to redshirt, they don't think anything of it. But we always talk about how we're only as strong as our weakest link, and we need them to give us good looks so we can prepare for that game."
Mentality change Kentucky doesn't want a repeat of last season. The record is one thing: 5-7, ineligible for a bowl. But the team also was "too comfortable," Smith said.
Smith said the comfort was a result of too much familiarity with the daily routine of practices and workouts. To that end, Smith said, strength and conditioning coach Rock Oliver is breaking up the monotony to avoid a "boring mentality" for workouts.
"We're trying to add new things, switch things up a little bit," Smith said, "so nobody's like, 'I know what we're doing today, it's the same thing we did last week.'" Oliver has also altered the composition of workouts to make them more position-specific.
"(They're) things that are going to help us at a position rather than overall conditioning drills," Smith said. "You don't see lineman running 60 yards down the field, so it doesn't make sense for us to go out and do 100-yard sprints when we could be working on our footwork and explosion off the ball. So we've really switched things up this year, and we're hoping that it will show improvement on the field."