From the get-go Hugh Freeze told us the offensive line would be the last to “get it” regarding an up-tempo offense.
That pace is asking a lot of the big guys.
Last year’s line got better as the season progressed. It developed a personality of effective blocking for a perimeter running game but still ranked No. 97 nationally in sacks allowed. That sacks figure could have been worse if Bo Wallace was a less mobile quarterback. Muscling up and helping running backs in short-yardage situations was problematic.
Emmanuel McCray and Pierce Burton are back at the tackles, Aaron Morris at left guard and Evan Swindall at center. The absence of Morris (shoulder) through the spring allowed much-needed reps for third-year sophomore Justin Bell and program veteran Jared Duke.
McCray missed a lot of spring with class, and that opened up a lot of reps for redshirt freshman Robert Conyers.
In a nutshell, the starters will be better, though I’m not sure how much better in short yardage. There was some success there in the spring, and some of it had to do with Maikhail Miller banging, a 6-2, 240 QB, banging his way across the line. Could be a role there for Miller.
The buzz word for the OL in the spring, as with so many positions, was depth.
The only open spot is right guard, and Patrick Junen figures to move into that starting position.
OL coach Matt Luke never felt comfortable enough last year to expand his playing rotation past June. The Rebels basically went through the year with six linemen. You’ve heard Freeze this year talk about how fortunate the 2012 team was to avoid major injuries. At no position is that more true than up front.
There are four OL signees including the nation’s No. 1 prospect, Laremy Tunsil.
Freeze has been adamant that all four freshmen could play.
There will be a shuffling of positions somewhere. These recruits who played tackle in high school could end up at guard, because that’s where the Rebels have their most immediate need. It’s possible also that McCray or Burton could move inside.
The group is going to have to get better as pass protection.
Overall the starters should be more adapted to the pace, which is a good thing. The rotation needs to expand. That will help pace, and if the group as a whole isn’t going to have a dominating physical presence, pace will be its friend. While Ole Miss linemen are accustomed to up-tempo, opposing defensive linemen may not be.