Ole Miss LT Greg Little learned a lot of lessons last season when he was thrust into a starting role as a true freshman.
Even though he was the No. 1 tackle prospect in the country coming out of high school in 2016, he was still a newbie playing one of the hardest positions on the field against some of the best athletes in the best conference in America.
“It was a great experience, a learning experience, for me,” noted Little. “I was going against guys like Arden Key, Miles Garrett, Carl Lawson. Those guys are beasts, and they all have different skill-sets. It was a challenge.”
Even though Little held his own, he knew he could do better. In the offseason, he identified what he needed to work on and he began his quest to improve prior to spring training.
“The offseason was a big offseason for me,” he said. “I needed to get in better shape. I needed to lose weight. I needed to get stronger. I did all three. I just needed a better body. I was nearly 340 pounds last year. I’m 320 pounds now. I have better wind, I'm stronger and my feet are much better. Last year, I was going five plays and getting winded, looking for a sub. This year, I can go and go and I'm waving off guys wanting to sub for me. My movement is also much better. My teammates tell me all the time I look more athletic out there now. I definitely don’t want to gain that weight back.
“You just don’t know until you go through it the speed of the game on this level every week. In high school, guys are quick, but guys who’ve been in college for three or four years have knowledge of the game and know what to do. Plus, they’re great athletes; they play so fast. To play up to their level is quite an adjustment. I survived, but now I want to thrive. I wasn't really ready last year, but I had a job to do and I wasn't going to let the team down. I did get more comfortable as the season went on, but it was an eye-opener for sure.”
The toughest he faced?
“Marquis (Haynes) is as good as any of them every day in practice, but last season, Carl Lawson was the hardest to me,” Little noted. “He has a non-stop motor. If you beat him on his first move, he had a second move ready for you, so you had to play to the whistle every snap. He was a great one.”
Little liked what he saw from the Ole Miss offensive line this spring.
“We’re all very close,” he said. “We communicate well and we have continuity and experience on our side. We also have a new system that I think is going to help us. Our chemistry is really good, even with the younger guys. We eat together, laugh together, work together. We’re brothers."
One thing Little likes is in Phil Longo's offense, the line splits — some of the time — are wider, creating wider running lanes and a longer distance for rush ends to have to traverse to get to the Rebel QB.
“At first, I was scared about the wider splits, but as I got used to it, I realized it helps the running backs have more space and bigger holes,” Little added. “As linemen, we don't have to widen the holes - they are already naturally wider. We just have to maintain. At first, I was nervous about being out wider with the edge rusher too, but even if I miss with my first punch, he’s so wide he still may not get there before the ball is thrown. So, overall, I like the wide splits when we use them.
"Coach Longo's offense is built on space. We chase space, he likes to say. We want our backs and receivers to be running where there’s space, so the wider splits can help that."
Going against Haynes every day in practice also helped Little's game.
“He’s a monster of an athlete, so fast,” he said. “Going against him every day has upped my game for sure. His speed off the edge, if I can hang with him, I can play with anyone. If I can get my set with him, I can with anyone, I believe. Qaadir (Sheppard) is a handful. He has a different style from Marquis, but he's coming on strong, and Victor Evans is kind of a mixture — he has speed and strength. He can run around you or take you for a ride on a bull rush. I think we’re really talented at defensive end."
Ole Miss closed the spring with the Grove Bowl on Saturday. The Rebel offense bested the defense, 31-29.
"Both sides of the ball have improved,” Little closed. “We've made a bunch of explosive plays, but the defense has done a nice job of getting better and better every day. They’re swarming again, and it's getting tougher for us to make something happen against them as they learn their new system. I like what I see in this team."
As for him, he's a better Little and a little better.