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Evan Swindall earned his first career start against Alabama last season.

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If things stay the way they are, he could be in line to start again against the Crimson Tide Saturday at 5 p.m., the third start of his young career.

"I feel a little better. I've got a little better strength in my hips," Swindall said of where he is now as a player, compared to last season. "I feel like I should be able to pull a little bit better, and not get knocked back like I did last year."

Swindall and A.J. Hawkins, who has started all five games at center this season, have been competing for two weeks for first-team duties. And while offensive line coach Mike Markuson hasn't said Swindall is the leader, the sophomore is preparing as if he is.

"We've always had competition, even since last year," Swindall said. "I guess I get the chance to start now, so I'm going to give it 110 percent and play hard. We're rotating for it, so."

"Got really good competition going on. You know, we're rolling guys in and out," Markuson said. "Swindall's getting more (time) at center. Competition brings out the best in most people."

Markuson praised the work ethic of Swindall, an Alabama native, following practice Tuesday, and said the staff is searching for the "best five" to play for an offensive line that has struggled for most of the season.

Evan Swindall
Chuck Rounsaville

For the year, Ole Miss (2-3, 0-2 SEC) is averaging just 274 yards of total offense. The Rebels rank 114 out of 118 BCS teams in total offense.

"He's got good energy. I like the way he practices," Markuson said of Swindall. "He brings a good level of intensity out here. He works hard. You know, it's something that he deserves to get a real look. Got a lot of snaps last week. Feel great about him. They're both good players. It's good competition right now."

"I really think he's worked hard and his intensity is good," Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt said. "His practice habits are outstanding. Sometimes guys wonder if they're going to play and their practice habits reflect that. He's been the exact opposite. That's what you appreciate. The intensity at that position is hard, especially with snapping the ball each play. This is the game he started last year."

Saturday's game is the 59th all-time between Ole Miss and Alabama (6-0, 3-0 SEC). The Crimson Tide, currently ranked No. 2 in the Associated Press poll, have won the last seven games in the series, and make the trip to Oxford as heavy favorites.

Alabama is No. 3 in the country in total defense, surrendering a meager 191.33 yards of offense to its opponents. Senior linebacker Dont'a Hightower has a team-best 34 tackles, while defensive end Courtney Upshaw is tied for the SEC lead with 8.5 tackles for loss.

"Their linebackers are all 250-plus. They're all huge guys. They're NFL size guys," Swindall said. "Their d-line is just big anchors. They're good at what they do; same thing as last year. They're great players. It's going to be the same thing this year. We've just got to play hard and see what happens."

"If you can't get up for this one, you don't have a heartbeat," Markuson said. "It's unbelievable. We've got a heavy task facing us, but the guys are working hard."

Stopping Richardson a tough task for Ole Miss defense:

Ole Miss faces the unenviable task of slowing the torrid pace of Alabama running back Trent Richardson, a Heisman Trophy candidate. Richardson has 729 rushing yards so far this season, as well as 11 touchdowns.

Bryon Bennett
Chuck Rounsaville

"Everybody's giving him a good talk. He's weighing this much, he did this, he did that," Ole Miss defensive tackle Bryon Bennett said. "We're just planning on rallying around and just flying to the ball and just laying everything down."

"Trent is really hard to bring down," Nutt said. "He does an excellent job of breaking tackles. It helps that they have a good offensive line and they're working well together."

Through five games, Ole Miss has allowed opponents 193 yards on the ground, including at least 207 yards in three games.

The Rebels gave up 163 yards to Fresno State, though they won the game, 38-28, for their second win of the season.

"We're planning on being really physical and cutting all the gaps down and just playing in the backfield," Bennett said of the strategy when taking on Alabama. "We've just got to execute and play the way we know we can play and be physical."

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