The competitive nature of preseason camp drives the Knights to improve in the trenches
Published: Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 15:08
UCF is having to make an enemy of itself to improve this year.
That involves using preseason competition to get the most out of the team’s talented linemen.
With preseason All-Conference selections on both sides of the ball, the offensive line may be seeing its strongest test of the year in fall camp.
“Something we hang our hats on here is being able to run the football and stop the run,” assistant head coach Brent Key said. “With the program that coach [George] O’Leary runs, priding himself on toughness and being tough on the point of attack, it breeds strong offensive and defensive lines.”
Key says competition can be the best motivation during the dog days of summer.
“The competition drives anyone. No matter what aspect of life you’re in, whether it’s athletics, business or your personal life, having competition, something that drives you there, is an added bonus at any time,” Key said. “The competition of going against [the defensive line] can only make the offense better and vice versa.”
Redshirt senior Phil Smith joined the Knights’ offensive line after playing for four years at Georgia Tech. Smith’s welcome to the team included daily battles against UCF’s best defensive linemen, something he says is improving his skill set.
“I think the [defensive linemen] all bring something to the table that I need to work on,” Smith said. “Cam [Henderson] has really long arms and is a really good pass rusher, Victor [Gray] is really strong, likes to bull rush and likes to give you strong moves and Troy [Davis] also likes to bull rush and is a really good speed-rush guy.
“They do a good job of preparing me and helping me get ready to play games. It’s been tough working against them, but I’m trying to get better,” Smith said.
Smith, a graduate student who was able to transfer to UCF and play immediately, is in the thick of a position battle at right tackle with junior teammate Justin McCray.
Key knows that the instant addition of an experienced lineman can do wonders for his line competitively and says that it has shown so far.
“The addition of Phil Smith into the offensive line has added that competition at not only [right tackle], but at spots all around and we’ve had the luxury to move Justin [McCray] in to guard and get some flexibility within the offensive line,” Key said.
While the competition both between the offensive and defensive lines and among teammates for starting positions is helping some players flourish, others are working to solidify their leadership roles.
Offensive linemen Jordan Rae and Theo Goins are two examples of such players.
“We have a real special group of seniors across the board right now and they’re real dear to us as a coaching staff,” Key said. “However Jordan [Rae] ends up finishing his career, that’s one of those guys I’m going to end up looking back on five, 10 or 15 years from now, when he’s out being successful in life, and I’ll say that he was a tough guy.”
Goins, who has been recovering from an apparent knee injury, is considered by Key as one of the anchors of the offensive line.
“[Goins’] leadership, like Jordan, has been outstanding on and off the field,” Key said. “[Goins] is a guy that is going to play through little nicks and bumps and when younger guys see him do that, it really pushes them along to push through those rough days in August.”
The Knights are finishing up preseason practice as they begin to prepare for the season opener this week. UCF will head to Akron to take on the Zips Aug. 30 at 7 p.m.