"Of course, (senior-to-be) Michael Brown (6-5, 300) is the left tackle. He had a tremendous year, really played well.
"But there are some things that Mike has to get better at. Number 1, Mike has to get stronger, and he is working hard. I think yesterday he benched 350 pounds, which for him is a big bench. But he's got to play stronger. Mike has been more of a finesse player where he gets on people and finessing them, but there comes a time in the Southeastern Conference where you have to have technique and brute strength. And Mike doesn't have that right now.
"For him to be as good as he can be - and believe me he can be very, very good - he has to get in that weight room everyday. For every day he doesn't get in that weight room, he has to feel like he is suffering from an iron deficiency. He has to not only get in that weight room for his team, but for him personally because there is no doubt in my mind that Mike Brown has an NFL body and has NFL talent. And if he can get a lot stronger, then he is going to go a long way with his career if he can stay healthy."
Where do you think he is strength-wise at this moment to what you feel he needs to be?
"There is an old saying in football that you want them 3, 4 and 5. What that means is you want them to power clean 300 pounds, which he can do, you want them to bench 400 pounds and you would like for them to squat 500 pounds. Mike can do the 300 power clean, but he can't bench 400 and I'm not sure he can squat 500. The 400 pound bench is not easy to do and there aren't a lot of guys who can bench 400 pounds. But of those three lifts, the bench is the least important from an athletic standpoint. But it also comes into play because you can use your hands so much in the offensive line now. You can bench people off, so it becomes more of a factor."
What is the leading candidate for the other starting tackle spot?
"We lose J.D. Hamilton at right tackle, but we really have a guy who is battle-tested in (sophomore-to-be) Derek Sherrod (6-5, 298). What I mean by battle-tested is if by the end of the season you have played a true freshman 80 to 100 snaps, that is not good. When we made the decision to play Derek Sherrod, we were in and had to make him play despite knowing there were going to be mistakes made by a true freshmen in the Southeastern Conference. As a result of this decision, we split time in the last 8 or 9 ballgames. J.D. would start the game, but Derek would come in in the next series. The next series J.D. Hamilton played, then the next series Derek Sherrod played. As a result, Derek came out of the season with 266 snaps. And he didn't play early. We didn't play him at all against LSU, and, to be honest with you, didn't play him enough against some of those early opponents such as Tulane because we didn't think he was quite there. But, as the season went on, he split snaps and had a tremendous freshman year. For him to have 266 snaps and grade somewhere around 79% is a heck of a year for a true freshman.
"Derek has to get stronger. He is one of those guys that during his high school career he was on the basketball court. And he also ran track, so he didn't spend a lot of time in the weight room in high school. But he is doing that now, and he is getting stronger.
"I just love this kid. We really think this kid has a great upside, a great upside."
Who are your backups at the two positions?
"Going into the spring, Quentin Saulsberry (6-3, 286), who is an unproven but talented guy, would back up Mike Brown with Addison Lawrence (6-4, 265) behind him. Those are two true freshmen that we redshirted last year that we think have a great upside.
"Obviously, with Quentin's height (6-3), you would think he is more suited for guard or center, but he has great feet and great strength. He is already close to a 400 pound bench, if he's not there already. He's a tremendously strong guy. He has natural strength. He has a chance to be a really good player, but we have to get him fundamentally there. But based on the twelve bowl practices that we had, I saw a lot of things that I really like about this kid.
"I like Addison's athleticism. He's quick enough, smart enough, balanced enough, and he's got character. And he's already tough enough. Basically, the thing we have to do with Addison, because he came out of high school playing tight end, is put some yeast on him, put him in the oven and watch him rise. He's got to get bigger and stronger and learn the play the position. He's never really played the position before, so he's in the developmental mode. But I really think he has a tremendous upside."
Who are the backups at right tackle?
"We moved (sophomore-to-be) Mark Melichar (6-5, 290), who backed up Mike Brown last year, to right tackle. I think it will help him to play on the right side. Mark is another one of those developmental guys who has really come a long way. He lettered this past year and played well as a backup. He's got a great work ethic, and all the things you look for from a character standpoint. He's just got to get stronger, but he will because he works hard. We really like Mark and think he's going to be a great football player for us."
I know you haven't had a chance to see juco transfer Phillip Freeman play D-I ball, but where does he fit in the picture?
"We really like his body. He's a 6-6, 290-pound guy who we will play at right tackle. I would put him behind Sherrod and Melichar. We've seen him in the early morning workouts and there's no doubt in my mind that he has the toughness that you want. One of the things that you notice about the early morning workouts - and they are extremely difficult - is when you have all those eyes watching them and they don't stand out negatively, that is a positive. Phillip has a great upside. And we would love to redshirt him, but we don't know right now. He may be too good right now where we aren't able to redshirt him. But how great it would be if we could get a guy in here in January, then have a spring, summer, fall, another spring and summer, then have him play two years."