Most analysts, and Rebel fans, believe the Ole Miss offensive line will be one of the strengths of the 2011 team.
Offensive Line Coach Mike Markuson is not ready to declare that yet and is taking nothing for granted.
"We have some experience that we are leaning on, we have good size and strength, but we are a work in progress," said Markuson, cautiously. "We are not a finished product and we have to keep going, play by play, day by day."
Markuson believes in the process of the grind, starting with getting in what he calls football shape.
"They've been in the weight room since spring ball, which is great, but that's not football. As a group, they had a very good offseason," he stated, "but there's a process of getting back in football shape. Getting their bodies in the right positions, getting used to play after play contact and adjusting to moving with the weight of the pads. Weights don't fight back - defensive linemen do, and you have to get used to that. They'll get it, but it's a process and a grind. We were more physical today (Tuesday)."
So far, so good.
"We're installing every day and the older guys are handling the install well. We are not making a lot of mistakes. You can tell we have some guys who have played and we have gotten a little more physical each day," he summarized. "Most of my guys understand the expectations and are trying to live up to them."
The Rebel OL will be anchored by three returning starters - tackles Bobby Massie and Bradley Sowell and Center A.J. Hawkins. As of right now, Matt Hall will man the right guard slot and Patrick Junen has the edge at left guard.
"It's good to have those new guards flanked on both sides by experienced guys. Those veterans can help them on the fly," Mike noted. "Junen is steady and is learning more daily. Matt has to keep coming and get in the habit of really bending to be able to handle these 6-1, 6-2 320-pound defensive tackles, which are a different animal for him, but he will get there because he cares and he's working on it."
There has been some consternation about Hall playing guard at 6-9 or 6-10, depending on who you listen to, but Markuson says there are benefits to being that big.
"I've talked to a lot of defensive line coaches and they all tell me the same thing - when they are facing big bodies who keep initiating the contact play after play after play, it wears them down. If we can take out big bodies and make first downs and keep striking on those guys, it works. If we are big and delivering the blows, it's effective."
Markuson said he has been very impressed with two newcomers to his group.
"Aaron Morris has done some really good things. I think he has a chance to be special - great feet, great punch. He's already our number two right tackle," Mike commented. "Justin Bell is also doing some real good things."
Markuson's goals from this point forward remain the same as his goals every year during August drills.
"It's always about fundamentals and being physical," he continued. "And it's always about knowing what to do so you can play fast. Players who are thinking instead of reacting can't get it done in this fast league. Those are the three most important things we always stress and will continue to stress.
"My guys get a lot this time of year out of watching tape of themselves for an hour or so a day. That's real big - they learn a lot that way and then apply it on the practice fields until doing it the right way becomes habit."
The Markuson method and message has not changed.
Keep grinding. . . .