Offensive Line Coach Mike Markuson said it first. Houston Nutt repeated the line a few days later.
Both emphasized "it" in post-spring training interviews and to each offensive lineman individually.
The Rebel offensive line has to get more physical. Period. Bottom line. End of story.
Some clarification is probably needed here because that statement may lead one to believe the Ole Miss OL is soft or not up to the standards we have been used to in recent years. That's not the case.
The 2008 OL – if things fall in place the way they should in the offseason and next August – will be a good one, so get your hackles down.
The point being made is "good" does not match their talent level and potential and in order to reach the next level the unit has to be more physical, collectively, than they were in spring.
Physical translates into dominant when you reside in the trenches in the Southeastern Conference.
What they are being told is exactly that. "If you want to become a force, the only way to do it is to become more physical individually and as a group."
Markuson, to put it bluntly, is looking for nasty. He saw flashes of that in spring training, but he's not a coach who deals in hit-or-miss.
"Nasty," in football parlance, doesn't mean illegal or dirty. It means relentless. It means having a football mean streak based on a desire to bury your opponent and never let up.
That's waht Markuson and Nutt are seeking and what will be the focal point of the offseason and August.
One "problem" in any reputable, factual spring evaluation from an OL standpoint is that one of the more physical players in the trenches – John Jerry – did not participate due to health issues that should be cleared up with offseason surgery. Baby J has a mean streak on the field. As passive and quiet as he is off the field, his personality flips when he puts the pads on. Markuson already knew that from watching film of last year's games. His mental and physical presence was missed in spring training.
Jerry was moved in the offseason to right tackle from right guard. Markuson feels he's a "natural" there with long arms, good feet and a big body for defensive ends to have to try to run around. His presence would have made a difference in the spring evals, but he wasn't participating.
With John out, Markuson went, basically, with last year's RT Maurice Miller at that position even though the thought pattern for 2008 is to move Mo inside to RG. Mo dropped a lot of weight heading into spring after letting himself go a bit after the 2007 season. He was still in the 340 range and not in top shape, he said, so there is still work to be done in the offseason. Markuson would like Miller to settle in at 325-330. He's already one of the strongest players on the team. Mo is on target to have a productive senior season.
Darryl Harris took control of the right guard slot since Mo slid out to RT, but his future is still uncertain. He's applying for a sixth year due to a season-ending injury last year, but the word we are getting is that process and the subsequent ruling could go deep into the summer before he gets word on whether or not he'll get an additional year of eligibility.
The center slot was certainly one to watch closely. "New" was the key word. Daverin Geralds, who had never played center before and was a converted defensive lineman, emerged as the leader at that position and had what Markuson called a good spring, all things considered, but there's still a lot of polishing and fine-tuning to do for him to fall under the heading of SEC-ready. Markuson believes in Daverin, but readily admits he's a work in progress.
On the left side, Reid Neely is now a veteran and that should make all the difference in the world. In talking to him a couple of times, he recognized what he had to do to improve based on his 2007 performance and attacked those areas. Again, he knows he has to become more physical, i.e., dominant. He's got everything else in good working order – size, strength, movement, technique, knowledge of the system – Markuson says. Reid is following the same theme as most of the Rebel OL – get nasty.
At LT, Michael Oher flirted – actually declared – with going pro before having a change of heart. It says here that will end up being the best decision he ever made and will earn him a lot of money in the long run. Mike – he said – needed to work on his strength numbers and becoming – here it is again – more physical. Everyone involved says the same thing – perfect body, great feet, excellent work ethic, solid techniques. Now it's time for Big Mike to shift to another gear from a demeanor standpoint. Dominance has to be his goal. Nasty has to be his demeanor. If so, the first round is the easy prediction for next year's NFL draft and the Rebels will be the beneficiary of a great year out of him.
Markuson's biggest challenge, outside of developing a center, was who will be the next guy at center, guard and tackle? He's not thinking – yet – in terms of two units – 10-deep. He's thinking of 7 or 8 ready to go. The most likely candidates for being in his rotation are – depending on Harris' situation – Bradley Sowell and Rishaw Johnson, based on their spring advancement and the impressions they made on their mentor.
From our cheap seat, Markuson pushed them hard in spring out of necessity. He has to know their status as August approaches and if he can count on them to be in that top group. From conversations with Mike, they reached another level and put themselves in position to be those ready-to-go backups in case someone needs a rest or is injured on the front line. Both showed Mike they have the necessary tools, but – yet again – demeanor is their key.
That did not take place for OG Mark Jean-Louis, who needs a heavy dose of body/conditioning work in the offseason, and JUCO C Brandon Green, who was still adjusting to a higher level of play and the speed of the game. Those two need to see the light in August. OG Don Mosley, surprisingly, and RS frosh OT Alex Washington made good strides but they may be on the outside looking in. Their status depends on more development.
Based on potential and what they accomplished in spring as they adjusted to a new coach, the 2008 offensive line should be productive, at least, and very good if they develop the mentality and Markuson and Nutt are pushing. I look for that to happen.
In talking to current and former Rebel defensive linemen who faced the Razorbacks when Markuson was there, no OL in the SEC challenged them more play-in and play-out. It will be no different here in time, hopefully in a short time.
Offensive Line -
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