The Offensive Line

The Rebel offensive line had what Coach Mike Markuson called "a productive spring." Read Part V of a series with the football assistant coaches on how spring training fared inside.

Even though he's been playing musical chairs a bit with his personnel -- trying to find the right first five and different combinations -- Offensive Line Coach Mike Markuson has been impressed with his group this spring.

"Overall, we've been very productive, even though we have moved some guys around, we've put in some new protections and we've put in some new runs," said Markuson. "We put a lot in at a fast pace, but we've gotten better and done some good things."

The effectiveness of the guys up front in the run game has been "pretty good," said the OL boss, but the protections are a work in progress.

"Pass protections are the hardest part of being an offensive linemen to perfect This year, we are using more QB under the center rather than shotgun, which means you have to pick up your keys quicker," he explained "The defense has done a good job of throwing a lot of different things at us to learn from We've been exposed to a lot Now it's just a matter of reps and retaining what we learn.

"The run game has been pretty good. We need to get our pad level a little lower, but by and large, we have made improvements. Like all coaches, I think we have a long way to go, but we are getting there. We have a lot of competition, which is good. If you have a pulse at all, you want to get in there and fight for a job, and we have a lot of guys competing. As a result, they have gotten better."

At left tackle, senior veteran Bradley Sowell led the way followed by, at the end of spring, Patrick Junen, who has played LT and LG (Emmanuel McCray has also been playing both slots).

Bradley Sowell
Chuck Rounsaville
"Bradley has had a really good spring. Great effort. His pass protection is better and he's more physical," Markuson said. "He's what you expect from a senior. He's bigger and stronger and he's performing.

"Patrick has the physical tools, he just has to learn what to do every snap. He's doing some freshman things that he has to cut down on. He'll get the mental things right. When he does, he looks good – he's very athletic and his body is maturing. He's 310 pounds right now and he may push Tank (Alex Washington) at the left guard slot."

At left guard, Washington is holding down the fort with McCray (and Junen) nipping at his heels.

"Tank doesn't make too many mistakes. He's a solid guy in there. He works hard and cares about what he's doing. He does everything he can with what he has. He gives his all," said Markuson. "He's a try-hard guy and I appreciate that.

"Emmanuel has had good days and bad days. He needs to continue to mature in our offense and, as a player, to be a guy we can count on every snap. He's not there yet, but he will get there. Chris Gill is also working in there, but he's going to have to get stronger to help us in the middle. Great kid who just needs to keep pounding the rock in the weight room. Josh Tatum is a kid we wanted to see more of this spring, but he's been out most of the session with a concussion."

At center, both A.J. Hawkins and Evan Swindall have had good springs, but A.J. currently holds the lead coming out of spring training.

"A.J. has shown signs of getting better. He needs to get more consistent with his shotgun snaps, but he is a good fundamental player," said Markuson. "He gets his hands inside and plays with good leverage. He's getting better with the line calls. We've done a lot of mixing and matching which has caused some confusion, but he's handling it well.

"Evan has had a good spring and has really gotten better. He's played quite a bit with the first group and is a solid, solid guy. I feel we have two good centers going into the fall. Chase Hughes is a good leverage, but he's got to learn to play every snap like it's his last – the same thing that A.J. went through early last year. He's had some quality snaps and done some good things, he just needs to keep coming."

At right guard, the situation has been more jumbled, but as of this interview, the pecking order was Matt Hall, Logan Clair and Jared Duke.

"Matt has been the most productive guy. He's big, strong, gets after it and has a lot of nasty in him," Markuson said. "We're proud of his transition inside. He's a physical guy and will mix it up. He did a great job in the weight room and he wants to play. I'm pleased with his progress.

"Logan has been hot and cold. He's strong enough and does some things well, but he's got to keep working to get his body in a good football position every play. Jared is not as far along as I thought he would be.

Matt Hall
Chuck Rounsaville
"Right now, he's a little too big and needs to get in a little better shape to be as effective as he can be. He's strong. When he gets his feet on you, he's good, but when he gets out of position or doesn't play with a bend, he gets beaten. I have to remind myself at times that Junen, Duke and Swindall are still freshmen. Time is on our side with them. They all need to attack the summer offseason."

At right guard, Markuson used the word "exceptional" to describe Bobby Massie and his spring efforts.

"Like Brad, Bobby has been exceptional. He has improved all areas of his game. He's a more flexible athlete now and has worked hard in the weight room. He cares and wants to be good," Mike noted. "I love coaching him, because he works at it every day in practice. He goes out there with a mission every day.

"Terrell Brown has been getting some second team snaps. Is he ready to play? That remains to be seen, but he has improved 10-fold from when we first got him back in the summer. He's lost a lot of weight. He needs to get stronger in his lower body and learn to play faster, but he can wall people off with his massive size, and has done a real good job this spring.

"If we had to play tomorrow, though, I would probably roll Clair or Hall out there behind Massie. Whoever is the starting right guard, the other one can be the backup right tackle. We have some choices."

Bottom Line: The Rebs are starting to stack up some number on the OL and it's paying dividends in terms of healthy competition and more able performers . If the pass protections come around as anticipated, this could be the OL we've all been waiting on.

Next Up: The Tight Ends.

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