A little over two weeks ago, LT Bradley Sowell found himself back where he started.
After beginning the spring as the Rebels' No. 1 left tackle, the sophomore was moved to second team, with senior Reid Neely sliding over from guard to fill his slot.
But considering Sowell had waited in the wings behind the departed Michael Oher for two years, he wasn't going to let a demotion get him down. Instead, Sowell rebounded, cementing his place as starter heading into the fall.
"Right now, he is the guy (at left tackle)," Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt said of Sowell. "He really improved the second half of spring. He needs to get stronger, but he's so athletic. He can move and give you a chance on that edge."
With the graduation of Oher, Sowell was immediately considered the heir apparent at left tackle.
He not only gained valuable experience last season as the team's backup tight end, but had shown flashes of potential with improved footwork and knowledge of the Rebel offensive schemes.
However, there were struggles to start, with Sowell struggling to occupy the massive shoes left by his predecessor.
"It's a lot of pressure, but being my third year, I've waited two years behind him," said Sowell of replacing Big Mike. "I really don't have any excuses. I just need to step up and take over that spot."
Only exacerbating his difficulties, a mild ankle turn early in drills hampered Sowell's progress.
Injuries often provide excuses to sit out, but the 6-foot-7, 310 pounder refused to give in. He knew practice time this spring was of far greater importance.
"I was just trying to grow up," he said. "Guys like Michael Oher wouldn't come out of practice with a little hurt ankle. They wouldn't sit out. I was trying to show some toughness."
Given time and a bit of motivation, Sowell did grow up over the Rebels' 15 practices.
The staff moved Neely back to left guard, with fellow sophomore Rishaw Johnson placed beside another senior leader in John Jerry on the right side.
The shifts apparently paid off, as Sowell said the line began to gel toward spring's end.
"We really did," Sowell said of the group's improvement. "We started running the ball and getting some things. Us switching out, with Rishaw on the right and me on the left, really helped out. Reid (Neely) helped me out a lot and John (Jerry) helped him out a lot. We really came together at the end."
Now with spring over, Sowell can focus on the fall and keeping his spot on the offensive first team.
Competition will be even fiercer with the arrival of Bobby Massie, the top overall player in the prep school ranks, but Sowell has proven to be a fighter.
He'll hit summer workouts looking to build his strength and face the August challenges when the time comes.
"I need to keep working," he said. "I got my legs a lot stronger, but I need to keep working on my upper body, my punch and my hands. Once I get my strength down, I feel I'll have a good shot at being a good SEC lineman."
Left Side Solidified
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