Matt Luke

Luke offers no surprises in evaluating OL for season opener

With the Ole Miss offensive line, what we have witnessed in practice is what we will get in the season opener against Florida State in Orlando Monday night, according to OL Coach Matt Luke.

After a week of August practice, junior Rod Taylor moved up to the number one left tackle spot and redshirt freshman Alex Givens, who was the top LT during spring training, was moved to backup right tackle behind sophomore Sean Rawlings.

Since that time, nothing significant has changed, according to Offensive Line Coach Matt Luke in an interview he gave the media on Tuesday.

For the record, the starting five against Florida State will be; LT Rod Taylor, LG Javon Patterson, C Robert Conyers, RG Jordan Sims, RT Sean Rawlings.

No surprise at all.

"I think we have made good progress," Luke noted. "We have a unique group. Each year, you have a little different feel and mix - every team is different, but I like the attitude of my kids. I think we have some really good kids in that room who are good leaders. We may not be better individually, but our goal is to be better collectively. We have to play harder, play faster, whatever we can do to be better overall."

The task will be difficult after Luke lost stalwarts Laremy Tunsil and Fahn Cooper, his starting tackles; Aaron Morris, his starting left guard; Justin Bell, who started a lot of games in his career; and starting Center Ben Still, but Luke likes the challenge.

"We are young and inexperienced in some respects, but most of these guys have been in some battles and they have worked hard to pick up where the last OL left off last year," he explained.

Obviously, Taylor - and the left tackle slot - has to be the biggest question mark. Protecting QB Chad Kelly's blind side will be critical to the Rebs' success, without question.

"I have been pleased with Rod. He has been the surprise of the camp the way he has competed and the knowledge he has of the offense," Luke continued. "He has always been a great athlete. That was why we moved him out there, because he can move his feet so well in space. He took that and ran with it. He also gives us some punch out there. You don't realize how strong those guards are until you put them out there in space and they punch someone. He is very physical.

"There will be a few struggles in space in pass blocking, but we will work through those. I feel good about it in regards to the fact that he has been going against guys like Marquis Haynes in practice and holding his own, but there are still things for him to fine-tune and hone. He has also grown, matured, a lot. From where he came in as a freshman to where he is now, I am pleased with how is growing up, on and off the field."

True freshman Greg Little will back up Taylor and, said Luke, will get some reps against FSU.

"Greg has had a lot of pressure on him with the comparison to Laremy. He has handled it well. He is the only true freshman OL we will play, barring injury and he will get some snaps against Florida State," Luke stated. "He's making good progress."

With Patterson and Sims entrenched as the starting guards, Luke has found his number three guard in junior Daronte Bouldin.

"Daronte would just play right guard. I have been very pleased with him this fall camp. He's so strong and physical. I am expecting big things from him," added Luke. "Javon and Jordan can play either guard, so we will go with three guards right now, but Tyler Putman is definitely coming on and doing a good job. Right now, though, I would go with three guards."

If Conyers needs a rest, Rawlings would move to center and Givens would take over right tackle.

"I am comfortable with that. Givens is playing really good right now. If Rod were not having such a good camp, Givens would be starting at left tackle, so I am excited about him and I'm excited to see him get his first action Monday night," Matt said.

Jeremy Liggins also returned to practice this week and will figure in somewhere eventually.

"He's just got to get his football legs back under him and get in shape. He will help down the road," Luke allowed.

Luke has also been letting redshirt freshman OT Michael Howard work some at tight end in some jumbo packages. He explains his thinking.

"He's a 260-pound tackle, which is too small for that position," Luke assessed, "but he is explosive, fast twitch, hard-nosed and tough, but he's a real small tackle. While we are getting him bigger and stronger, we may as well utilize him where he does fit in. At tight end, he goes from being a small tackle to a good-sized TE and that can help the team in some packages."

Luke said it will help his group to have a veteran quarterback directing traffic.

"Having Chad back there means a lot to us. He knows what to do with the ball, what protections to call, how quickly he needs to get rid of the ball - all of that goes into the protection plan and package, it's not just about us blocking," Matt noted. 

Luke has a world of respect for Florida State's defensive line.

"They are really good," he noted. "They are big, fast and strong and they are multiple. They do not just line up and let you block them. They have multiple packages and on third down, they will bring pressure from all over the field. Also, they are good enough to just line up and play ball too. They are a unique challenge."

Even though it is a neutral site game, the Rebels expect a hostile environment.

"We try to simulate as much noise and chaos as we can. It is hard to create as much as we will have to face, but I think our kids will be OK with the environment," Luke closed. "Also, you have to believe that going against our defensive line every day that they will be prepared for FSU. They will not be unfamiliar with the speed of Florida State based on who we work against every day. Our guys are pretty good too."

Not much has changed in regard to the OL in the last two-three weeks. Really only one thing.

It's now game week.

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