Battle to be UK quarterback’s top protector could be as fun as QB competition

The University of Kentucky this month added offensive tackle Dare Rosenthal, a transfer from LSU, to its roster, setting up quite a battle for an open starting job on the offensive line.

Rosenthal was the seventh player to transfer into Kentucky’s program this offseason, and is expected to start for the Wildcats. Where on the offensive line that will be remains to be determined; he was LSU’s starting left tackle, a position whose availability in part influenced Darian Kinnard’s decision to forego the NFL Draft and return to UK for his senior season.

Kinnard, who has started 25 straight games at right tackle for Kentucky, told reporters that he hasn’t yet had an opportunity to get to know Rosenthal but looks forward to the competition at left tackle. Both players have been talked about as first-round level talents.

“If everyone is planning to go to the NFL — that’s why they come to college, besides getting a degree — you’re going to have somebody come for your spot every year,” Kinnard said during the Southeastern Conference Media Days event. “So I feel like you’ve got to get used to it now or later. But at the end of the day, it’s good competition. He’s a teammate. It’s healthy competition.”

Disciplinary issues led to Rosenthal’s departure from LSU following his third year in the program, but Tigers head coach Ed Orgeron spoke highly of him during his turn on the podium Monday.

“He’s a tremendous player. I hate to lose him,” Orgeron said. “… He didn’t want to leave. It was hard on him. I think they’ve got a potential first-round draft choice there. And Dare knows he’s got some stuff he needs to get better at, and I’m sure Kentucky’s going to see that. He’s a great young man, a great team player. He’s going to be wearing another helmet. He’s going to be trying his best. I’m going to expect his best against us, and he’s going to get our best. He expects that, and that’s just the way it is.”

LSU offensive tackle Austin Deculus was also complimentary of his former teammate, who could have up to three years of eligibility remaining at Kentucky.

“Dare Rosenthal is like my brother,” Deculus said. “I can honestly say this with no hesitation, there’s a dog. You know, big athletic freak, big. He’s about 6-7, 6-8, dunks the ball, he can hoop, overall athlete, plays to the end of the whistle. So they’re getting a very dependable and very great player.”

Both Kinnard and Rosenthal figure to start this year, but left tackle is often considered the more coveted of the two tackle spots due to its role in protecting a quarterback’s “blind side.” The highest-paid left tackles in the NFL, on average, make about $4 million more per year than the highest-paid right tackles.

Kinnard has been honored with multiple preseason awards, most recently receiving a First Team All-America selection from Athlon Sports.

“It’s always motivation, to finally see your hard work pay off, but you can’t really focus on it,” Kinnard said. “You gotta keep your nose to the grindstone, keep working, keep going, ‘cause at the end of the day I’m not at my goal. Neither is the team.”

Darian Kinnard, left, and Dare Rosenthal, right.

Darian Kinnard, left, and Dare Rosenthal, right.

Center

Another critical starting job on the offensive line — center — is up for grabs this fall. Quintin Wilson, who has tutored under Drake Jackson the last three years, was the presumptive starter going into the spring but it’s starting to sound like a competition is brewing there, too.

Luke Fortner, a senior who opted into an additional year of eligibility under the NCAA’s COVID-19 waiver, spent time at the position in the spring and impressed first-year offensive coordinator Liam Coen. Fortner, who has started 23 games at right guard, has also impressed his long-time head coach.

“He’s so experienced, so bright,” Mark Stoops said. “He’s a lot like Drake (Jackson). He has that experience, the leadership that you know he has. He’s given us a big spark there. We always have a lot of confidence in Quintin as well. We’ll see where it goes, but we have some options.”

Jacquez Jones

The addition of Jacquez Jones, a transfer from Mississippi, in June was a perceived boost to a thin UK linebacking corps. Perception has become reality, at least in terms of offseason work.

Defensive end Josh Paschal has liked what he’s seen from the late-arriving senior.

“He has a great work ethic and I feel like that will be able to help him,” Paschal said. “No matter how camp goes I feel like he’ll be able to fall back on his work ethic, and that’s what he’s been doing this whole summer.”

Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin was asked Tuesday about the timing of Jones’ departure. He had started 18 of 22 games he’d play in a Rebels uniform.

“It’s just the world we live in, that free agency just happens,” Kiffin said. “At least now there’s somewhat of a calendar being put around it, but still, it happens. We wish him the best of luck.

“Everybody has their reasons, and fans, and I don’t know if media does too, they all want to get mad at the kids. Or assistant coaches (say), ‘How can this kid leave?’ And I look at the assistant coach and say, ‘You’re the same guy who’s going to leave when you get a deal somewhere else.’ So I wish him the best of luck.”

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