Rishaw Johnson -

After a two-year "apprenticeship," rising sophomore OL Rishaw Johnson no longer has a veteran in front of him as spring training approaches. Is it his turn to put a grip on a starting role?

Almost as soon as the clocked ticked away in Ole Miss' impressive win over Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl, the talk turned to the 2009 football season.

The who-will-replace-(fill in the blank) questions popped up repeatedly.

The most common area of concern was on the offensive line, where seniors Michael Oher, Darryl Harris and Maurice "Mo" Miller had successfully played their last downs as Rebels.

Pretty big shoes to fill, to say the least.

The early odds favor a 2009 OL lineup of returning starters C Daverin Geralds, OG Reid Neely (who was injured but still split time with Harris), RT John Jerry, LT Bradley Sowell and OG Rishaw Johnson.

The trio of Geralds, Jerry and Neely have plenty of experience. Sowell got some valuable playing time at tight end beginning with the Arkansas contest, which started the Rebs' six-game win streak to end the season.

But Johnson is a relative newbie, with a redshirt year in 2007 and sparse PT in 2008.

From an objective view, Rishaw is the unknown commodity.

From the time he's stepped on campus, the 6-4, 295-pounder has been touted as "very talented," but he's been buried behind solid veterans and, he admits, has had problems with getting his assignments right.

"I feel I should have done a better job to this point. My downfall to this point has been missing assignments, but now I know my plays and have been in the system a year, so I should be ready to go. I could have done the little things better, but now it's kind of my turn if I take advantage of it so I am working hard to get it right," said Johnson. "Big Mike (Oher) and some others have mentored me well and John (Jerry) will take up that slack in helping me, but it's really all up to me now."

Rishaw anticipated being at right guard, in Miller's spot, this year, but recently he was moved to left guard and Neely, who has played both, is now on the right side.

"Our left guard pulls more than our right guard and I'm more of a pulling guard, so LG is a good position for me," Rishaw explained.

Physically, Johnson is where he wants to be - almost - as spring training rapidly approaches and the Rebels are in the midst of the eight-week offseason workouts.

"Strength-wise, I am where I want to be, but I want to gain about 10 more pounds," he stated. "I am 295 pounds now and I want to be in the 305 range when the season comes around.

"I'm eating more, I'm lifting more and (S & C) Coach (Don) Decker has me on some nutrition shakes that help us gain weight. I also eat late at night to help me gain some weight, but I want to put the weight on the right way. Coach Decker has me on a good plan. The weight should not be an issue. I weighed 320 when I got here, but it wasn't good weight. I want good weight and I'll get it."

Rishaw knows he and the rest of the OL have a lot of weight on their shoulders. The 2008 OL will be a hard act to follow, particularly the way they ended the season in dominant fashion.

"We are motivated to carry on the way they did. They were very good, but we feel we can be as good and our goal is to be even better," Rishaw noted.

Aggressiveness has been Rishaw's calling card throughout his whole career. He doesn't look for that to change.

"I like getting after people. I like the collisions and moving defenders out. I have good footwork too," he assessed. "My deal, as I said earlier, is to make sure I am carrying out my assignments correctly. Aggressiveness is good, but it has to be aimed in the right direction and that is what I am working on."

Offensive Line Coach Mike Markuson got an early jump on developing the 2009 OL unit with a lot of extra reps during the extra Cotton Bowl practices.

One of the players he challenged the most was Rishaw.

"Coach Markuson put it on the line to me during the Cotton Bowl practices. He challenged me and put me in with the ones a lot," Rishaw recalled. "I think I responded well."

From a team standpoint, Rishaw is excited about the upcoming season and the high preseason rankings and attention the Rebels are already getting.

"It's a dream come true to be thought of like that as a team," he closed. "Coming from where we were to where we are is a huge difference. People treat you differently and everyone knows who you are. That is added motivation for us to stay on a high level. We don't want to be known as a Cinderella program - up year and gone the next. We are motivated to keep building, maintain and even get better.

"Last year, nobody knew who we were and we shocked a lot of people. This year, everyone knows who we are and will be gunning for us. We will have to bring as much, or more, intensity to the table to keep building and winning."

The Rebels had a saying last year: "Don't be the weak link."

Despite his lack of experience, Rishaw Johnson is determined not to be that player.

And he should be. It's his turn.

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