When Ole Miss Offensive Line Coach Mike Markuson entered fall camp, he wanted to see two or three things develop on the OL based on his spring evaluations.
First, he wanted to see a more physical approach from his troops. Then, he wanted to see more consistency.
"I think we are getting more physical due to some physical practices we have had," said Markuson. "From a consistency standpoint, we're still looking for more. That's team-wide though. We'll have two good plays and then two bad ones.
"We'll look pretty good in a scrimmage or a team drill for a while, then our production falls off when we get a little tired. We have to perk that up and not give in to fatigue. We've got some individuals who have been consistent, but the issue we are facing is a unit thing. We have to get six guys - counting the tight end - doing the same things in unison every snap. It's always like that with the offensive line this time of the year. We have made some significant strides. By the time we are finished with camp, we'll see where we stand. They are working hard and want to, it's just a matter of putting it all together. We will get there, it's just the nature of the beast right now. We'll keep working and grinding. To be a great line, you have to have five guys who want to run into people full speed every snap. We'll get there."
Markuson expects a different approach starting today, when practice resumes after an off day Monday.
"We'll start focusing on Memphis now and we'll start to narrow down what we are going to do. That will help with the consistency some, I believe," Mike stated. "We are also going to start repping the 8 or 9 guys we think are going to play more and cutting back on the reps of those who won't play right now."
Markuson said he's got a good idea of who the "top" guys will be.
"We are missing Reid Neely right now, but he's one of them when he gets back. Right now, the starters are LT Michael Oher, LG Darryl Harris, C Daverin Geralds, RG Maurice Miller and RT John Jerry," he assessed. "Then we have OT Bradley Sowell and C Brandon Green has had an exceptional camp. He plays with reckless abandon and his fundamentals have gotten a lot better lately. He's a guy who will have to play for us. Tank Washington has also made a move of late.
"I'm still waiting on Rishaw Johnson to surface. He has not been as consistent as we like. He's got to quit making mistakes. He's not doing a good job with his assignments yet and he has to. That's part of the game."
When Neely comes back, where will he fit in? Markuson tried to clear that up.
"Reid's in a tough position right now because he has basically missed all of two-a-days and he's way behind," Mike said. "We just have to take that a day at a time. I know this - we miss him. When he's in there, I have the luxury of some movement with other people.
"We are trying to figure out who the next guy is. If someone goes down, who gets put in that slot and who do we have to move to make it all mesh because we are not a solid two-deep. We can't just plug in the backup and let them roll. We have to get the next center ready, the next tackle and the next guard and adjust from there. In a game, you have to make a decision right now and your kids have to be ready to jump in and play in those situations. We have to prepare them for all those types of situations."
That type of versatility is what makes 6th-year senior Darryl Harris so valuable.
"Darryl is just like a kid we had at the other school, Robert Shelton. They can snap, they can play inside, they can play tackle. Those are valuable kids, very valuable," Markuson noted. "Darryl is that type of kid. At first, we thought about center for Darryl, but Brandon has come on strong lately and is taking coaching well. He has a great motor and has really improved. We love his intensity and his love of the game of football. Consequently, we are able to give Darryl more at the other positions."
In the offseason, one of the goals was for Michael Oher to get stronger and to show that on the field.
"Michael is an exceptional athlete. All we needed was for him to become a physical player every snap. When you grade out on Sunday, make sure every snap you take there is not one time you are not trying to deliver the goods on someone, with your pads low and your knees bent," Mike said. "We need him to finish people off. If he does that, he'll have a great year.
"As far as his conditioning level, he's fine. And I can tell he's stronger, which is what he needed. Now, apply that strength to being more physical."
At the end of spring, Geralds was still a bit on the green side at center. Markuson said that has changed this fall camp.
"He's another kid who takes coaching well. Daverin has really developed. He lost some weight during the offseason and he's moving around well. He's become steadier in learning the position. We are not worried at all about him. He steadily gets better and has done a nice job with the learning curve," Markuson added.
During the summer, John Jerry was suffering from a medical condition and it was not certain if he would be 100% by the time the season began.
"John has done some good things. He has not complained about his condition. The only concern we have is him being in top shape. He's got some catching up to do there," Markuson stated. "When he's fresh, John can move. I mean he can really move for a guy his size.
"When he's running, he's fun to watch. Not many his size can do that. We have encouraged him to get in the best shape of his life, because if he does he's got a chance to be a special player. He's got a good look in his eye right now and is very astute in the football classroom. He has real good common sense about playing the position. He asks real good questions and not every player can do that. He has a very good feel for the game and what he's supposed to do."
So far, 11 days from opening kickoff, Markuson believes some issues are being resolved and some still need vigilance.
The good news is that he sees the needed improvement happening and sees more on the way.
Mike Markuson -
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