Former Rebel Todd Wade, a second-round pick by the Miami Dolphins in the 2000 NFL draft, knows exactly what sophomore Offensive Tackle Bradley Sowell is going through.
Why? Because he went through the same process at Ole Miss that Bradley trying to conquer now.
"The only difference in my story and his is that I had to put on weight in college and he took a lot off coming out of high school," Wade, an All-SEC selection at Ole Miss, laughed. "We're both tall guys with long arms and we both had to go through the process of learning a very difficult position."
Last season, when Wade would visit a Rebel practice or two, his eyes were, quite naturally, drawn to the Rebel offensive line.
"Linemen always watch the line," Wade continued. "We know the techniques being taught and we know how important that is. To be honest with you, I was a little concerned about Bradley last fall. I didn't think he had come along far enough on his technique at that point.
"When I learned he was probably going to be our starting left tackle in 2009, I have to admit I had some concerns."
Then, the Grove Bowl rolled around and there was Wade on the Blue Team sidelines, again watching Sowell and the OL operate.
What Wade saw was night and day to what he had witnessed last fall.
"Bradley has improved by a lot, a whole lot," Todd continued. "I didn't realize he is as good an athlete as he is. He has very good feet and movement and he's learned to be more aggressive. He's starting to fire out and hit people more consistently and developing a mean streak downfield, which you have to have.
"But what really turned my head was his technique. I can't tell you how much that has improved from last fall. It's a major difference. Bradley actually has good technique now. Coach (Mike) Markuson has done a great job with him and it's obvious Bradely is working hard now and focusing on getting better. He went from a player I was kind of nervous about to one I have a lot of faith in."
There is a caveat or two in Todd's opinion.
"Bradley needs to get in the weight room and stay there over the summer. He's not weak, but his upper body needs more strength," Wade assessed. "His lower body seems fine, but adding strength to his upper body will help him a lot, but I'm sure everyone is aware of that and that will be his offseason goal.
"Also, I have to keep reminding myself he's just going to be a sophomore. I remember where I was as a sophomore and how much better I got in the next three seasons. Developing into a quality SEC OL is a process, but Bradley is well on his way to being a very good one if he will keep working hard and I don't think I would have said that last fall. I still had some doubts then."
Wade is also impressed with the other newcomer to the starting Reb OL - RG Rishaw Johnson.
"Rishaw is a very good athlete. He and John Jerry are probably the best athletes on the OL," said Wade. "From my limited time watching Rishaw, he just has to stay focused and become a machine, doing everything full speed every play. He needs some technique work, but again, he's just a sophomore and will get that."
Wade just shakes his head when discussing Jerry.
"He can be as good as he wants to be. The combination of his athleticism, size and strength is special. He can be dominant, and I like how he likes to dominate defenders," Wade said.
Todd is also impressed with the work being done by Left Guard Reid Neely and Center Daverin Geralds.
"It's easy to see they are veterans. They know what they are doing and don't make many mistakes," he noted. "Both are aggressive players with good technique and enough size and strength to get the job done, but I knew that from watching them last year."
Overall, Wade left the Grove Bowl with a good taste in his mouth about the immediate future of the Ole Miss offensive line.
"With Bradley and Rishaw showing so much improvement from the last time I saw them, things are looking up across the front," he closed. "I know Coach Markuson would like to see some of the backups further along, but the starting five has a lot of potential.
"If they will dedicate themselves in the offseason and have good retention from spring when August comes around, they should be a very good unit."
Todd Wade -
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