By Larry Vaught
One plus that new UK offensive coordinator Eddie Gran will have that is probably a lot more important than many realize is veteran center Jon Toth, a two-year starter who could again be UK’s best offensive player.
Gran says it is “huge” to have player of Toth’s ability to anchor the offensive line.
“You have a quarterback and then a quarterback of the offensive line making all the calls and getting everybody going. I think that first (offensive line) group is a really sharp group. They did not have a lot of missed assignments in the spring. Now it is about being physical, coming off the ball and doing everything right,” Gran said.
“John knows where to go and when to go. I think he anticipates well. He studies and understands the defense. That is huge for a center. He is really good at pass protecting.
“He is a really good run blocker, too, but being matched up sometimes in a 3-4 defense where he is one one one with a nose guard, I think he matches up well.”
Toth is just as happy to have Gran and quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw running the UK offense even if it is fourth offensive coordinator in his five years at UK.
“They are great human beings and even greater coaches,” Toth said. “You can tell by the way they go about themselves in the football building that they love the game of football.
“Really there hasn’t been too big of changes, a few terminology and some scheme changes. All in all, it’s been a pretty easy transition.”
Toth did not make any of the preseason all-SEC teams selected by the media at the SEC Media Days, a slight that irritated former UK quarterback Freddie Maggard.
“He’s the best center in the SEC,” Maggard said. “That was ridiculous.”
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Former Kentucky coach Rich Brooks has not been surprised by the success two of his former players — Jacob Tamme and Wesley Woodyard — have had in the NFL. Both will be starting their ninth NFL seasons when they report to training camp.
“Coach Brooks was a huge part of my career,” Tamme said. “It’s amazing the things he said to me. One thing I try to keep in mind is that small words of encouragement go a long way. I remember coach Brooks always saying things to spur me on.”
Tamme says Joker Phillips, who jump started his career when he moved Tamme from receiver to tight end, did the same as UK’s offensive coordinator.
He remembers being at the CATSPY Awards after his senior season and looking forward to seeing if he could make a NFL roster when Phillips stopped him.
“He said, ‘Jake, you will play as long as you want,’” Tamme said. “That was a nice thing to say. People say negative things but a word of encouragement like that means a lot and I try to do that for younger players now.”
Neither Tamme or Woodyard were seen as huge stars when they came to Kentucky. Not many expected them both to last so long in the NFL, either.
“I knew they were good enough. My question was whether they would be able to stay healthy enough with their size,” Brooks said. “They are both a little undersized at their positions obviously, but they are great people and great individuals and they know how to take care of themselves.
“And they are very smart. They get what they need to do and go out and do it. Tremendous athletes and tremendous people. I still talk to both of them all I can.”