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Shannon: Horn "the key" to o-line's success

When they met as part of coach Randy Shannon's first recruiting class four years ago, Tyler Horn and Allen Bailey discovered they shared a common bond:

They both were in love with Popeye's fried chicken.

Tyler Horn "We used to do these runs down to Popeye's -- it was about 30 minutes down south from campus," Bailey said. "We'd go there, Tyler would have an eight piece, biscuits, all that. I'd have a two piece.

"Since he moved off campus, we really don't it too much anymore. He's got a girlfriend now. No time for us anymore."

Bailey, a 6-4, 285-pound senior from Sapelo Island, Ga., and Horn, a 6-4, 295-pound junior from Memphis were both selected as the Atlantic Coast Conference's linemen of the week Monday. While Bailey -- a three-year starter who had a career-high 3.5 sacks last Saturday against North Carolina -- has long been drawing attention, Horn is really only beginning to get noticed now.

Saturday, the first-year starting center had the best game of his career, grading out at 97 percent with six pancake blocks against the Tar Heels. But it's been his work helping glue together a young, inexperienced offensive line that UM coach Randy Shannon says deserves praise.

“I had a pretty good game, but the thing about the offensive line is that if one guy wins it, then all the guys should win it,” said Horn, who is the eldest of six children and has five younger sisters.

“No one offensive lineman is going to make that big of a difference. It is when they all work together, that is when we are good. It is when I get my combo blocks with Brandon and Harland. It is a product of everybody working together.”

At the start of the season, the Hurricanes had only two returning veterans with double-digit starts -- seniors Orlando Franklin (who had 27, but only two at right tackle) and Joel Figueroa (13 all at guard). The plan was to start Franklin and Figueroa at tackle with junior Harland Gunn (five starts at right guard), sophomore Brandon Washington (two starts at left guard) and Horn in the middle. But Figueroa, hampered by shoulder injuries, struggled and was switched back to guard last month before sustaining an undisclosed injury. He hasn't returned and likely won't.

Over the last four games, freshman Seantrel Henderson and redshirt freshman Jermaine Johnson have taken the bulk of the snaps at right tackle while freshman Brandon Linder, a standout from Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, has worked his way into the rotation, particularly in jumbo packages.

But now, with Franklin's status uncertain for Saturday's game at Virginia (3-4, 0-3 ACC), more changes could be looming. If Franklin (knee, ankle) can't go Saturday, Henderson will slide in at left tackle. If that move ends up working out the same way the last big shakeup did, the 22nd-ranked Hurricanes (5-2, 3-1) shouldn't worry.

Not only are the Canes averaging 4.5 yards a carry (up from 3.8 last season), but they've averaged 202 yards rushing over their last four games. The pass protection has also improved. After giving up 35 sacks last season, UM has surrendered only nine sacks this season -- including only three in their last four games.

Shannon credits a lot of the improvement to the time his young players have spent breaking down film. But he also said Horn has been "the key."

"He's the guy that has to call out the run blocking," Shannon said. "He's the guy that has to call out the protections and notice when the free safety is coming, the linebacker is coming and how to set the front. He's done a phenomenal job."

Horn, who came in as a little known Rivals two-star recruit, prefers to defer the praise and focuses instead on the improvements that could be made.

“We feel like we should have more than 450 yards over the last two week or whatever it is," said Horn, who said he speaks to former UM centers A.J. Trump and Xavier Shannon frequently.

“We've left a lot of yards out there after penalties. The biggest thing we can't do is get complacent. We have to keep fighting, keep improving."