Luke heads a unit that could be considered the strength of the Rebel offense entering 2017-18. The offensive line returns four of five starters from last season, and seven total started multiple games a year ago.
Back are starting tackles Greg Little and Alex Givens, as well as guards Javon Patterson and Jordan Sims. Sean Rawlings has replaced now-departed center Robert Conyers, though Rawlings appeared in 11 games and 21 over the last two seasons. Rod Taylor has 32 games under his belt, while Daronte Bouldin is experienced, too. And the unit is only made stronger by five redshirt freshmen. Taylor is currently starting over Givens at right tackle.
“I’ve never had seven guys this far along before,” Luke said. “Obviously there was a time when I had one or two. Then you want four. Then when you have four, you want seven. Then when you have seven, you want 10. I’d love to be able to have 10 guys I can roll in and out of there. We’re not quite there yet. But I’ve been very pleased with some of the things the redshirts have been doing. They’ve been getting a lot of reps.”
Luke said, from a physicality standpoint, Royce Newman and Eli Johnson are probably the closest of the redshirt freshmen to contributing in games. DeFoor might not be too far off either, especially if Luke begins giving him reps at center. Newman is up to 300 pounds.
“I’d love to be able to try to get it to eight or nine I’m comfortable with, at least, before the spring’s over,” Luke said. “I’ve been pleased with the redshirt freshmen we’ve been developing. It started with Jordan Sims and Sean Rawlings. Last year, it was Alex Givens. You’d love to see a couple of guys like that step up, be it a Royce Newman or an Eli Johnson. Jack DeFoor’s been working at second left guard, doing some good things. They’re doing well. Bryce Mathews has been rolling in there with Michael Howard some at the tackle spot. We’re just trying to give as many reps to those guys as we can and see how they come along.”
Ole Miss is young a various positions. Quarterback Shea Patterson is a true sophomore, while four of the top six Rebel wide receivers are underclassmen.
In turn, the leadership burden could fall to the offensive line. Taylor and Bouldin are seniors, The junior class is comprised of Sims, Patterson and Rawlings.
“I think that was part of our thing coming into spring,” Luke said. Usually linemen, for the most part, keep to themselves. Our guys have been doing good at pushing each other and pushing themselves. But to try to spread that influence throughout the whole team or throughout the whole offense, I think that’s a huge thing. You have guys like a Javon Patterson, Jordan and Sean. They have the team’s ear, they have the team’s respect, and on top of that, they’re super kids. As much as that positive influence they can spread over the team, the better.”
All in all, Luke is excited about the options at his disposal — an embarrassment of riches of sorts. Of course he is.
He’s never been here before.
“I feel like I’ve got seven starters,” he said. “There’s great competition there at guard and at tackle. Alex had his best day (recently). Really, really played well. He did a great job, and obviously Greg is coming along and has gotten so much better. Rod’s just such a good athlete. It’s kind of like you’ve got to find a place to play him. Daronte’s really come on, so I haven’t needed Rod as much at guard because of the strides Daronte has made. I’m working Rod at right and left — he’s the oldest — and letting Greg and Alex settle in.”