Step Up Time

Losing starting Left Guard Aaron Morris, a guy who started every game last season, for the year is a big blow to the Rebel offensive line, said OL Coach Matt Luke, but it just means others have to "step up."

In 2012, the Rebels, from an offensive line standpoint, may have been the most fortunate group in college football.

The same starting five went through the whole year without any major injuries and very little loss of time.

The result was a unit with a great deal of chemistry and an offense that averaged over 30 points a game. They weren't a dominant OL, by any means, but they did work into being effective and cohesive, important ingredients for success.

Apparently, that good fortune had a shelf life.

Right out of the chute, against Vandy in the season opener, stalwart Left Guard Aaron Morris was lost for the season with a knee injury.

OL Coach Matt Luke was admittedly "sick" about it, but he's also a realist, a football realist for sure.

"Aaron started camp out of shape because he could not run much in the summer due to rehabbing from spring shoulder surgery, but he was starting to come into his own and was definitely one of our best five OL," stated Luke. "Injuries are a part of football and we were very fortunate last year to have none.

"I got a little used to, and a little spoiled, with having those same five in there all year, but now we have to close ranks and move forward. It's part of the game and a lot of teams go through this, so we have to get it done without him this year."

Matt Luke
Chuck Rounsaville

The silver lining is that four returning starters are still healthy - knock on wood - and Luke has four guys he thinks can fill in for Morris.

"We have four guys who have played some - Jared Duke, Patrick Junen, Justin Bell, Austin Golson and we will also try Emmanuel (McCray) in there some if we have an emergency," Luke continued. "Aaron will be missed, but these guys have to step up and get the job done.

"We may do it by committee, but we will do it effectively."

This was the first opportunity to talk to Luke since he got to grade out the Vandy film, specifically the job done by freshman LT Laremy Tunsil, who had 46 snaps in the opener, and RG Austin Golson, who had 50 snaps.

"It's hard for a true freshman to go into that situation. Vandy's defense was loaded with juniors and seniors, we are on the road, our offense goes fast - it's not an ideal situation for a first-game freshman," Luke stated. "They don't have a lot of time to process much - things are moving very fast for them.

"But I was very impressed with their effort. To win with them after having to throw them in the fire was excellent. It was trial by fire, but those guys held their own. They made mistakes that we need to clean up, but overall I was pleased and they were able to get the job done."

Luke said he saw the confidence level of Tunsil and Golson go up as the game progressed.

"Everyone has doubts as a true freshman about whether or not they are ready for the SEC, but after the first couple of drives you could see in their eyes that they were gaining confidence by the snap," noted Luke. "At halftime, there was no panic on their part. We were down a couple of scores down and they just stayed the course and did their jobs to the best of their ability."

Luke said he was also pleased with the performance of Center Evan Swindall, the only OL who played every offensive snap (84 plays).

"Evan does a great job of getting everyone on the same page and making sure they know all the calls and checks. He had no snap issues and he did a nice job blocking for the most part," noted Luke.

A big question mark right now is the shape of Junen, who could be a big key to replacing Morris and who went through toe and wrist surgeries in the offseason.

"He's not 100%, but he is making progress," Luke closed. "I probably put him in there too soon when I played him some against Vandy, but he's played a lot of football and I thought experience might carry him through.

"His health, however, just didn't allow him to be very effective, but as I said, he's getting better. He knows that and is working hard to get back right."

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