By Conner Farrell–
The TLC’s position breakdown rolls on after taking a look at the tight end position last week.
The o-line made major strides under o-line coach and co-offensive coordinator Mike Summers, who took the reins in 2017.
The Cards’ o-line starters last season consisted of two upperclassmen and featured two true freshmen. This gave way for growth as a unit as the season progressed.
The offensive ranked third in total offense and 11th in scoring offense and allowed 27.5 sacks. A higher mark in comparison to last season’s 47, which ranked two most in the nation.
Louisville’s starting o-line opens one spot after Geron Christian was selected in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft. The young Cardinal line will see if the growth in 2017 will carry over into the 2018 season.
Expected starters (left to right): Mekhi Becton, Cole Bentley, Robbie Bell, Kenny Thomas, Lukayus McNeil
Sophomore Mekhi Becton started 10 games at left tackle in 2017. A true freshman at the time, Becton stepped in and provided stability on the left side of the line. At a towering 6-foot-7, Becton is an athletic tackle for his size that has NFL scouts already intrigued for the 2020 NFL Draft. Securing a full-time starter role shores up the edge for new starting quarterback Redshirt sophomore Jawon Pass.
Sophomore Cole Bentley made three starts and played in 10 games for the Cards last season. Bentley is a bruiser at the guard position, who helped revitalize the o-line late last season. Bentley had a hand in the commitment to the run game, which ranked 15th nationally in rushing at 245.1 yards per game.
Redshirt sophomore Robbie Bell started all 13 games for the Cards last season. Bell stepped in and started right away to be the “quarterback” of the offensive line. Giving 2017 starting quarterback Lamar Jackson stability as shot-caller of the line, Bell carries over that experience into another season where he will be asked to do the same thing.
Senior Kenny Thomas made all 13 starts. Thomas made the shift from tackle to guard this past season and provided consistency to a young o-line. Thomas has powerful hands and a 6-foot-6, 333 lbs. frame which made him a great fit for the interior.
Redshirt senior Lukayus McNeil started all 13 games for the Cardinals last season. Upon receiving his degree from the university last December there was speculation whether McNeil would return for his final year of eligibility. However, once McNeil announced his intent of returning, the offensive line has another piece for them to excel in 2018. With McNeil book-ending the right side of the line, the Cards will have a line-up of athletic and experience linemen.
Key backups: Ronald Rudd, Toryque Bateman
Redshirt junior Ronald Rudd was a junior college transfer in 2017 and redshirted this past season. Rudd will get playing time at both guard spots. Rudd excels in pass protection and is right in the mix in that skill as the starting spots.
Redshirt freshman Toryque Bateman was a highly touted offensive tackle coming out of high school in Alabama. Bateman is now eligible in 2018 after redshirting last season and will have an opportunity to play this season.
Photo by Laurel Slaughter / The Louisville Cardinal