Time is Now

Emmanuel McCray is a familiar story. He's a veteran, though he's seldom played over his career, be it because of injury or more accomplished players in front of him.

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But in his final two years at Ole Miss, McCray, a redshirt junior, is being given a chance. A chance to shift course and contribute; to build a future in football that he himself admits seemed like a pipedream in previous seasons.

He opened spring drills with the second team offense at left tackle. He has since been elevated to the first team after seven practices. So far, so good. McCray is simply thankful for the opportunity.

"All in all, it's feels good, man," he said, media gathered around him following the Rebels' early-morning practice Monday. "This is probably the only shot I'm ever going to get. I'm just working to push myself harder at practice. I always question myself of how good I was in previous years because I didn't get my shot. I want to prove it to myself."

Rarely, if ever, has McCray been requested by media following a practice. Monday, that changed. Here he was, standing amongst reporters with recorders in his face. He's a player of interest.

He handled himself as he has the last week and a half. He was controlled, confident. There are many more weeks and months ahead until Ole Miss opens its season against Central Arkansas. He's fighting for a job.

But, at least for now, it's his job. He's the left tackle. He aims to keep it that way.

"I've been playing it since I've been here," he said. "I've been behind Brad (Sowell). I got to watch a lot of greats come through here, John Jerry and all those guys. I've been kind of picking up as the years have gone on. That's pretty much where I'm getting it all from."

Emmanuel McCray
Chuck Rounsaville

Ole Miss is replacing three starters along the offensive line. Sowell graduated. Right tackle Bobby Massie opted to forgo his final year of eligibility for the upcoming NFL Draft later this month. The playing status of guard Matt Hall is unclear.

McCray and sophomore Aaron Morris anchor the left side of the line, with Evan Swindall at center and A.J. Hawkins and junior college transfer Pierce Burton rounding out the front. Of course, no starting job is etched in stone, according to offensive line coach Matt Luke.

"I've got a couple different combinations working in my mind," Luke said. "But right now, those are the guys that are my best five. That was my initial goal, was to find the best five. It's obviously still an open competition. There's some guys that have a chance that are coming on. There is some competition going on, but at this point, those are my best five."

And one of those five is McCray, who said he is as healthy as he's been in a while. McCray has had year-by-year troubles with both of his knees. He wears braces on both for practices and games for support.

However, this spring, he's had no real issues, outside of the usual soreness from regular practices.

"That's the biggest difference this year. I've been taking care of them a lot better, I feel like, and taking the medicine I'm required to take," he said. "I'm definitely happy about that. That's one of my hindrances. But they've been holding up pretty good."

"I was worried about his health and him staying healthy with his knees, but he's done that. He's pulled himself out," Luke said. "He's been in every rep and every team period and he's performed well at left tackle."

Ole Miss is installing a new offense under first-year head coach Hugh Freeze, moving from the traditional run-first offense of Houston Nutt to the wide-open, run-like-hell spread.

McCray said adjusting to the change in style is an ongoing process, "simply because it's a new offense, different speed, different terminology." It'll take time, especially for the offensive line. But the chemistry is there.

"We've always been close-knit, regardless of who's been in and who's been out," McCray said. "There's not much of a difference. We all hang out outside of football. I guess you could say the offensive line is always the jolliest guys. It always works. We've just got to keep meshing, keep bonding, keep coaching each other up. It's as simple as that."

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