Even thought sophomores Jordan Sims, Javon Patterson and Sean Rawlings got quality reps a year ago as freshmen, and senior Center Robert Conyers is in the middle of the scrum to give advice, Rebel Offensive Line Coach Matt Luke is getting his young charges as many reps as possible before the season starts.
"We're young, but I feel we are talented," said Luke at Media Day. "We lost a lot of experience from last year and while we don't have a lot of experience, I think we can be good enough to get the job done. We just need to get some more experience and the only way you get that experience is reps. We are repping the guys hard in fall camp, but the real fire is in games.
"It's a plus for us that Jordan, Javon and Sean got quality reps last year, but I wouldn't call them experienced. Conyers has a lot of experience and it's good to have him out there in the middle of things, that's another plus. The other thing that is a plus is these guys are close. They want to do well and they want to do well for each other."
Right now, but subject to change, Rawlings is the odds-on-favorite to start at right tackle, Sims at right guard, Conyers at center and Patterson at left guard. Veteran Daronte Bouldin is expected to finally come through and provide some quality depth at the guard slots as a junior who has not surfaced much to this point in his career.
"Rod Taylor is battling for the left tackle spot right now, but we can always move him to one of the guards also if we need to," Matt allowed.
Left tackle, where Taylor is currently competing, is where the real battle is with Rod, current frontrunner redshirt freshman Alex Givens and true freshman Greg Little.
"Greg is a big, strong guy who can move, but he's a freshman. He's been compared to Laremy Tunsil, but people forget Laremy didn't start until his fourth game and he's one of the most exceptional OL I've ever seen," Luke assessed. "Plus, Laremy didn't have to compete against a Givens, who is playing at a very high level right now, and a Taylor, who is one of our most athletic OL. That's going to be a battle and the best man wins."
As mentioned, Rawlings is holding down RT, but if something were to happen to Conyers at center, Sean would move to that spot, where he worked in spring a lot.
"If that happened, we would probably move Givens to right tackle and leave Rod and Greg at LT," Luke explained. "If we had any injuries at guard, like I said, Rod could move inside."
Luke is also pleased with the six freshmen OL that were signed in February - Jack DeFoor, Little, Bryce Matthews, Royce Newman, Eli Johnson and Chandler Tuitt.
"We're hoping to get two of those guys ready to be rotation guys. I like them all, but we are currently trying to find out who is ready to play some this year. That's an ongoing goal for August," he stated.
Luke is counting heavily on Conyers and his leadership.
"With him on the field, things are going very smooth so far. We need to take care of him by being smart with how much we practice him with those knees of his," said Luke of his senior, who missed all of spring due to knee surgery and rehab. "He's our glue out there. He's the guy who gets these young guys on the same page. When he is out there, Sean, Javon and Jordan play more like older guys than the young guys they are."
Luke's biggest question mark right now is backup center and left tackle, he said.
"I'd like to get left tackle more solidified and see a center besides Rawlings emerge," he noted. "I feel pretty good about everything else. This group is talented and cohesive.
"I'm impressed with the way they have come together. I'm impressed with our leadership and I'm impressed with the effort they are giving."