Rebel Offensive Line Coach knows it's not going to be easy to replace All-American Left Tackle Michael Oher, versatile Darryl Harris, and three-year starter Maurice Miller, who mans the right guard slot, but that's the task ahead.
Here's the breakdown, in a nutshell. Left Tackle Oher is graduating; Left Guard Darryl Harris is graduating but he has been splitting time with junior Reid Neely, junior Center Daverin Geralds returns; Right Guard Miller's eligibility is up; and junior Right Tackle John Jerry has said he is coming back despite the fact that he is exploring his NFL options.
Essentially, the Rebs will be faced with replacing Oher and Miller in the starting lineup because Neely will just slide right in for Harris at LG, most likely.
So, that leaves Markuson looking for two starters for 2009.
The most likely candidates are both rising sophomores and both have been redshirted a year. The heir apparent at LT is Bradley Sowell and the likely choice for right guard is Rishaw Johnson.
"Both those guys have gotten a lot of reps in the bowl practices and they have gotten better because of the extra time," said Markuson. "Both of them need some fine-tuning, but both have shown marked improvement.
"We expect to see some big things from those two guys."
Mike broke down what each needs to do to step to the level he expects them to attain before next September.
"Brad needs to keep getting stronger and become more attentive to detail," said Markuson. "Rishaw is the same way.
"They play like they are second team guys and they have to get out of that frame of mind. They have to start asserting themselves as if they are starters, and they will. They know we are depending on them. They are going through the natural progression of college linemen and have been waiting in the wings for their chance. I think they will be ready to roll after a spring and summer."
Markuson said it's natural for a player who knows he's not going to start to not be as charged up as starters.
"I think what gave Brad a boost is when he actually got some playing time at tight end from the midway point this year," Mike explained. "You could see him getting more pep in his step. You could see the light starting to come on. You could see he understood the speed of the game.
"Rishaw has worked hard too lately to set himself up for a good spring. I've been real happy with his progress in the last month or so. His motivation level has increased as he sees his turn getting closer. He's paid his dues and now he wants to play."
Alex Washington, Don Mosley, Brandon Green, Aaron Hawkins and Mark Jean-Louis are also waiting in the wings for their shots, but they have to make bigger advancements this spring.
"They will all have an opportunity. Nothing is finalized," Mike closed. "All those guys have a chance to help us. It's going to be up to them."
The Rebels are also bringing in JUCO signee Logan Clair and are trying to sign 5-6 OL this recruiting season.
"It's all up in the air right now, but we feel good about the direction we are headed for 2009," Mike closed.
Down the road beyond 2009? That's a story for another day.
Mike Markuson -
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