Corey Actis, Ole Miss' starting center in 2006, learned on the fly about the trials and tribulations of being an SEC offensive lineman.
As a mid-semester signee in 2006, he floundered in spring trying to make the adjustment from JUCO ball to Division I, but he took note of what he had to do to succeed and went about the task of doing it in the offseason and the summer months.
"I had to get in better shape and get my body right. I had to change my body and get stronger. I also had a lot to learn about the offense and the way Coach (Art) Kehoe wants us to play on the OL," Actis recalled.
The hard work paid off. Before August drills were over, Corey had taken over the starting center slot and kept it the whole season.
There were ups and downs during the year, but the Rebel coaches and fans noticed one thing about Actis - he'd get after a defensive lineman relentlessly.
He might not win every battle, but he was going to be in someone's face and wasn't going to stop until the whistle blew. That demeanor endeared him to Rebel fans, who like "hard-nosed" as much as flash.
After what most would consider a successful junior campaign, Corey has become one of the leaders of the OL. That comes with being a senior somewhat automatically, but it also comes from peer respect.
"You are expected to lead when you are a senior and my position - being in the middle of the OL and making the line calls - is conducive to leadership," he explained modestly. "I know the system and I can help the other guys on the OL. As far as being 'the leader,' I don't think I cam, I'm just trying to do my part.
"All the guys up front have their own leadership qualities. (RG) John Jerry is starting to assert himself more vocally, for instance. Everyone is stepping up, not just me."
Corey said the spring goals for 2007 are simple, but important.
"In evaluating last year, our communication level has to pick up a lot on the OL. Also, we obviously have to find a left guard and identify our best five OL," he stated.
The 6-5, 295-pounder continues to work on his body and it's paid dividends.
"When I came in here, I was benching 365 pounds. Now, I'm at 405. I have jumped up my power clean by 68 pounds. If you are determined and will follow the lead of the strength coaches, you can't help but get stronger if you use proper lift techniques," Actis said.
The Rebels have four returning starters on the OL and a fifth - senior Darryl Harris - who is considered a "starter" due to his experience at several positions. Right now, Michael Oher is at LT, Harris/Reid Neely/Mark-Jean Louis at LG, Actis at center, Jerry at RG and Mo Miller at RT.
With that much experience returning, does Corey anticipate Kehoe incorporating some new schemes/techniques/methods up front?
"I think Coach Kehoe will add some more stuff now that we know the basics of his system. We only ran certain plays last year, but now I think we can dig deeper into the playbook because we know the basics," he added. "It helps we are all back and have a working knowledge of the offense and the OL system.
"Having the whole offense back is going to help a lot. Our timing, our familiarity, our chemistry, our continuity, our knowledge - all those factors are important and things we didn't have a whole lot of last year."
Corey agrees with the general assessment of last year's OL productivity - the run game was fair-to-good and the passing game was not so spiffy.
"There are things we can do to make the running game even better - a lot of things," he stated. "The passing game? We need a lot of improvement. I have to do a better job of recognizing defenses and making better checks for the OL on passing downs. That's my responsibility and what I will work hard on this year.
"I think we can execute better, but better communication in recognizing how to change our fronts against certain defenses will help with the execution. It's hard to execute when you are out of position to attack a defensive set or a blitz. That's my job."
Coach Ed Orgeron and OC Dan Werner have both stressed that the running game has to produce more "big" plays. How does Corey believe that can be accomplished?
"We have to finish plays. We made good initial contact last year, but we didn't finish blocks the way we should have. We would let people slide off and get back into plays that we shouldn't have and there were times we didn't get downfield and get that extra block needed to spring a big play," he stated. "Do the extra little thing and it will translate into bigger plays."
Due to the experience returnin on the OL, and the experience returning throughout the offense, Actis is confident 2007 can be a very productive offensive year.
"I don't think there's any doubt we will be much better than we were in 2006," he closed. "There's no reason not to be."
And Actis, you can bet, will be in the middle of the fray.
Corey Actis update -
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