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UM football position breakdown: Offensive line

Nick Toce

 

If you’re looking for the best all-around unit on the Ole Miss team for 2011, the answer is the Rebels’ offensive line.

Last season, Ole Miss ranked first in the Southeastern Conference and 19th nationally with only 19 sacks allowed last season. Certainly, last year’s quarterback, the mobile Jeremiah Masoli, had something to do with that, but Ole Miss should be near the top of the conference and country again no matter who is taking the snaps under center this season. Ole Miss was also third in rushing yards last year, another credit to the offensive line.

At left tackle, Ole Miss returns senior Bradley Sowell, who has transformed into one of the best in the conference. He has continued to improve his pass protection and has become much more consistent overall. Over the last two seasons, he has started 24 of 25 games at left tackle and was named first-team All-SEC by the conference’s football media contacts. Behind Sowell on the post spring depth chart is sophomore Emmanuel McCray, who is working on improving his consistency and technique. Sophomore Patrick Junen also took some snaps at tackle during the spring.

After settling in and starting eight games at left guard last season, senior Alex Washington is the front runner for the position coming out of spring practice. Washington has improved his game and his consistency, but must keep improving as Junen and McCray are pushing him as well. Junen was forced into duty as a freshman last year and impressed, and while he is still learning, he continued to impress in the spring. 2011 signee Aaron Morris, one of the top linemen in the southeast, will also be given a chance to come in and work himself into the rotation this season.

Junior A.J. Hawkins is the starter at center, having started eight games at the position last season. He was also named to the 2011 Spring Watch List for the Rimington Trophy, which honors college football’s top center. The Rebels have depth at the position in Evan Swindall, a sophomore who started two games and played in six games total last season. Chase Hughes redshirted as a freshman last season and is hoping to stay healthy and continue to improve this season.

Junior Matt Hall, an Arkansas transfer, sits atop the post-spring depth chart at right guard after the spring. He had to sit out last season due to transfer rules. At 6-foot-10, 350-pounds, he makes for one of the biggest interior lineman in college football and uses his size to his advantage as he’s an incredibly physical player. Senior Logan Clair and sophomore Jared Duke are also options at the guard positions. Clair continues to battle inconsistency, while Duke is working on his conditioning and improving his technique.

At the right tackle position sits Bobby Massie, who has become the stalwart of the Rebels offensive line, having played in every game of his career and started all 12 games last season at right tackle. The loser of the right guard battle will most likely be the primary backup at right tackle. Behind them is Terrell Brown, a 6-foot-10 junior, who has gotten his weight under control and is hoping to be known for more than just his massive size. He’s still very raw, but could help the Rebels in jumbo sets and goal-line situations this season.

Ole Miss battled injuries all across the line last season, which forced younger players into more playing time. The dividends of that will be seen this season, as the Rebels have depth throughout the offensive line and should be one of, if not the best units in the conference.