Mike Markuson -

"Everyone," including Rebel Offensive Line Coach Mike Markuson, is pleased with the progress the Ole Miss OL has made, especially in the past few weeks in the run game, but he can't be coaxed to say the Rebel front men on offense have arrived. Read about it inside.

A few media members gathered around Rebel Offensive Line Coach Mike Markuson, whose group has reached a new, higher level of productivity the past few games, particularly in the run game.

One scribe, who will remain unnamed, tried to throw out a question to get a certain positive response from Markuson.

Has the OL reached a higher plateau?

"Yeah," he said. "We are still working hard at it and these guys are giving it to us. They are working hard and doing what we ask them to do, but we have to keep winning games. Winning is what it's all about."

But have they arrived?

"I will never say that, short of us winning the national championship," Markuson smiled. "And then it will still be a maybe."

There it is. Mike Markuson in a nutshell.

Quick with a compliment, but always dangling the carrot of perfection in front of his troops.

This year with the Reb offensive linemen, Markuson has had two themes - being more physical and gaining flexibility.

"Spring training showed me what we needed to improve in," he stated. "We knew we had to be more physical and more flexible. Being physical is a mindset. Flexibility is something you can work on with your body.

"We really stress flexibility in our strength program. That's not natural for linemen because we bulk them up in the weight room, but they have to maintain their flexibility. I talk to the kids all the time about their bend. If a guy is standing with straight legs, he's not getting under a defender's pads or not achieving the movement he wants or he's getting knocked back. It's all about the bend and flexibility and staying low. I preach it every day and Coach (Don) Decker enforces it every day in the weight room with flexibility training."

Markuson feels the relationship the on-the-field coaching staff has with Decker in the weight room is "crucial."

"Strength training has gone to another level over a period of years and flexibility is a big part of it. Deck has to fit power, speed, agility and flexibility together to create a good athlete, a strong, flexible and fast athlete," Mike continued. "We all believe in it, from Coach (Houston) Nutt on down. It's also important we are all on the same page with it. Coach Decker does a great job and we reinforce what he develops by using those player skills accordingly on the field."

Since, roughly, the second half of the Alabama game, the offensive line has gone to another level of moving defenders out and creating more gaping holes than in the previous games.

There's no question the success in the run game has been one of the big weapons that allowed a close-and-almost comeback against the current number one team in America and two straight victories over Arkansas and Auburn.

And there is no question the improved play of the running backs and the perimeter people, and some new ways of using some personnel (Bradley Sowell at TE and Dexter McCluster at straight I tailback) have been factors in the surge, but it all starts up front.

"Most offensive linemen want to think they can block for a successful run game," Markuson explained. "When they see some success on film, they get excited about it and gain confidence. In the past couple of games, we've done well up front in the run game because we were more consistent.

"We haven't changed anything dramatically. We've just done the same things over and over and over and they are starting to get it now."

Against Auburn, Markuson saw something that pleased him, something that wasn't prevalent earlier in the year. Some of his offensive linemen were yelling from the field "run it!"

"If they feel like they are pushing their guy around and dominating, they will call for the run, no question," he said. "That's good to hear. They let you know when they think they can block the run and they have been doing that lately."

So, to recap, Markuson sees improvement. He will even go as far as to say vast improvement.

But that's as far as he will go with it.

There's always something else to strive for and satisfaction is always temporary.

For now, a national championship is nowhere in sight, but the goals for this season are all right in front of the Rebs to be taken.

The OL asserting themselves and climbing to that next level will be a big part of that equation.


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