For four straight seasons the offensive line unit at Kentucky, charmingly known as the “Big Blue Wall” was a hassle for opposing defenses to scheme against.
The unit was consistently recognized for the Joe Moore Award, given to the nation's top offensive line and no man played a bigger role on that unit than current Jags rookie Luke Fortner. Fortner played right guard and center, serving as the anchor of a dominant front and valuable chess piece for Head Coach Mark Stoops and former offensive coordinator Liam Coen.
Coen, now serving as offensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Rams, was a vital component for Fortner’s development and usage at multiple positions on the offensive line. Coen’s schemes at Kentucky served as important preparation for Fortner’s journey as he enters the NFL.
“Liam Coen is a freaking genius,” Fortner said. “I sit in the meeting room, and he says things and I just scratch my head a little bit. I’m like, ‘What?’ But obviously he knows what he’s doing. [My] fifth year I didn’t have a pro-style offense and wasn’t a super highly touted prospect. [In my] sixth year, [I] had a pro-offense and here I am, so it definitely helps a lot.”
With rookie minicamp in the rearview mirror, we saw glimpses of what made Fortner so highly valued in the NFL Draft. His leadership skills and football intelligence were on full display as is his unrelenting determination to learn the playbook. For Fortner, understanding plays for more than one position on the offensive line makes the learning curve manageable.
“I think the minute you can understand the plays for more than one position, it becomes easier all around,” Fortner said. “Just being able to be on the line at any position either helping guys or being helped at a different position, it goes miles for learning the playbook and being ready to be in on game day.”
The similarites in the Jags playbook and the one employed at Kentucky has helped Fortner grasp key concepts that are important to his development as a pro. Fortner’s ability to dissect these similarities has been important for him in his quest to be an NFL level chess piece.
“I see plays and I’m like, ‘Oh, I’ve done that,” Fortner said. “I know what it is, just a different name’ and just getting the terminology down. Obviously, it’s way more complex than anything we did at Kentucky, but at the core, it’s very similar. It’s nice to fall back on.”
Fortner’s professional journey to date has been guided by these principles. Fortner made it clear that he is still adjusting to his brief time as a professional athlete but has the right mindset to achieve his lofty ambitions.
“It’s different for sure,” Fortner said. “No homework to do on the weekends that’s for sure, so it’s nice in that sense. But it’s your job and everything you do, everything you put in your body, every time you walk outside it’s about being the best you can be on the football field. It’s a little different, something I’m still adjusting to, but I’m excited.”