Spring football was a war of attrition for the Ole Miss offensive line.
Ole Miss found a way to get through 15 practices despite having barely enough bodies to field two groups of five up front. Injury struck and struck hard, taking out starters Laremy Tunsil and Aaron Morris well before practices began, and key reserves Robert Conyers, Daronte Bouldin, Sean Rawlings and others not long after.
A constant, however, was sophomore guard Rod Taylor.
Taylor, a former four-star prospect by way of Callaway High School in Jackson, Miss., appeared in almost every game for Ole Miss last season, with his first start coming in November.
“I was expecting it, but I wasn’t expecting it,” Taylor said of the significant playing time in his freshman season. “I feel like it’s something I needed. I got better. Growing up, me learning what the defensive linemen do. It’s a lot of little things I had to learn.”
Ole Miss returns all five of its starting offensive linemen (Tunsil, Morris, Ben Still, Justin Bell and Fahn Cooper) next season, but no job save for Tunsil’s is set in stone, and on pure talent alone, many consider Taylor second only to the aforementioned Tunsil, who will likely be a top-10 pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Suffice to say, the 6-foot-3, 320-pound Taylor is being looked to by the Rebel coaching staff to anchor the interior of the front five. He’s up for the challenge.
“I feel comfortable,” he said. “I’ve slowed the game down with my eyes. That was the biggest part for me – slowing the game down.”
Ole Miss won nine games to four losses last season, concluding with an appearance in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, one of the inaugural New Year’s Six. In February, the Rebels signed their third straight top-15 rated recruiting class.
Expectations are high as spring turns to fall and Ole Miss readies for its season-opening game against Tennessee-Martin Sept. 5. But if the Rebels, who return nine starters on offense and seven on defense, are to build on their recent success and potentially take the next step, their biggest question mark, the offensive line, will have to perform.
The same can be said for Taylor.
“There’s a lot of little things I have to get better at,” he said. “The coaches aren’t as much worried about my body as worried about learning my techniques, getting better at my stance and things like that. Those are the things I’m getting better at.”
The spring was important for Taylor. Because of the lack of capable bodies, he took about every rep at one of the Rebels’ two guard spots opposite true freshman Javon Patterson. Taylor believes Patterson “is going to be a great player. He’s good right now. There’s been a lot of stuff (Ole Miss offensive line) coach (Matt Luke) has told him, and I feel like he’s getting better and better.”
The reps proved invaluable, if for no other reason than Taylor was matched up time and again with junior defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, widely considered one of the top defensive linemen not only in the Southeastern Conference, but in all of college football.
“Going against (the Ole Miss defensive line) every day helped me get better,” he said. “Going against a guy like Robert every day, it’s hard, but it gets me better.”
And that’s all Ole Miss can really ask of Taylor – steady improvement.
“I feel like me getting a lot of reps, I got better,” he said. “I’m getting better every day.”
Music to Ole Miss’ ears.
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