Offensive Line -

Part I of an 11-part series discussing spring training with the assistant coaches. These stories ran in the Grove Bowl issue of The Ole Miss Spirit, which acted as the game program. First up, the offensive line.

Ole Miss Offensive Line Coach has been through it many, many times.

There's not much he hasn't seen or experienced in his career as an OL mentor. This spring training was no different.

"Truthfully, this spring has been about like every spring. We've been working diligently to replace the lost starters from a year ago and to build some quality depth. We feel like we have identified our starters, but we're not sure about where we are going if someone goes down to injury. We're not totally sure who is next," Markuson noted. "At this point, some guys have stepped up and done a good job while others need to have a get offseason and get stronger.

"Overall, we are OK and we still have time. The one glaring thing is that we need another tackle desperately. We need another big body out there we can use in different situations. We have a couple of guards who can play tackle if they had to, but we'd like another tackle to develop. Either one or two coming in or one or two already here have to emerge at tackle."

At left tackle, sophomore Bradley Sowell started off slowly, but picked up the pace at the end of spring training.

"Brad could be really good. He has to get a little stronger, but he's a tremendous athlete. He can run. He started spring slowly, but I really like what he has done the past couple of weeks. I think he grasps the intensity and focus it takes to be a starter on this level now," Markuson said.

Behind Sowell is Alex Washington, another sophomore.

"Tank has worked hard and changed his body, but he still has a long way to go. He has to continue maturing in the weight room and get better movement," Mike allowed. "He needs to drop a little more weight too. It remains to be seen if he can help us in 2009, but he's a good kid who will give it his all. We'll see."

JUCO transfer Taylor Quick is behind Washington.

"Taylor is in the learning process. He's done a decent job. He needs to hit that weight room too in the offseason," Mike assessed.

At left guard, senior Reid Neely began on the right side and even played some tackle early on, but has since settled on the left side on the inside.

"Reid fits better with Bradley on the left side. He's strong and a big, physical guy out there. I want to see him continue to work on his explosion, but when he latches on, he stays on. He's going to have a good year for us, I believe," Mike added.

Senior Brandon Green backs up Neely, but is probably the next one at all three inside positions.

"Brandon is out bullpen guy right now until some of these others develop. He's got a great motor and his assignments have been better this year. He needs to work more on his fundamentals, but I'm pleased with his effort. He's the next guy at center and either guard slots right now," said Markuson. "He's a utility guy who is valuable to us."

Sophomore Zack Brent is next up and the only thing holding him back is a lack of size in this day and age of 300-pounders being the norm.

"Zack gives it everything he's got. He's a great team guy and an effort kid who I love having out there," Mike noted.

At center, senior Daverin Geralds is the boss.

"Daverin has gotten better. He's stronger and leaner and it's showing in his movement," Mike stated. "We expect a big year from Daverin."

Backing up Geralds is a senior who is new to the position – Mark Jean-Louis.

"He's been a pleasant surprise. He's strong and he's a good fundamental football player. He has to get in better shape and keep working on his weight. I know Coach (Don) Decker will get him going this offseason, but he's done a nice job for us overall," Markuson said.

At right guard, sophomore Rishaw Johnson started on the left side but has moved to the right side.

"I thought it would be beneficial to Bradley and Rishaw if I split them up and put them next to veterans and it has worked. The right guard slot is Rishaw's natural position. He does some really good things. He's fast and powerful and could be a really special player if he can stay focused and consistent," Mike said. "He's an exceptional athlete and is more comfortable on the right side."

Freshman A.J. Hawkins and junior Don Mosley are battling for the next spot.

"A.J. is going to have a good career here. He's just young now and needs to learn the speed of the game. He's real smart and puts himself in the right positions to produce," said Mike. "Don has been rotating back and forth and has had a good spring. I can see why he was recruited here. He's just got to get more consistent and more physical. He certainly has the athletic ability to do it, he just has to decide how much he wants it. He's got the athletic part."

At right tackle, senior John Jerry has wowed the Reb line coach.

"John could go win the trophy as outstanding college lineman this year. He's exceptionally strong and he can run. He can do it all and he loves football. He's eaten up with it. He knows what to do. Not many are as big and can bend like him. All he has to do is take care of himself and lose a little more weight," Markuson said. "He's a Shawn Andrews type. Not many as big as him are as athletic as John is. He tries to crush you when he blocks you. I expect a big year from him."

JUCO Logan Clair is next.

"Logan is kind of feeling his way around right now. We need him to get stronger and develop fundamentally, but he has a chance," Markuson added.

RS frosh Josh Tatum has made some strides, but he has more work to do.

"Josh has tried to be more physical and has a strong upper body. I stay on him hard to get him going, but he struggles sometimes with his assignments," Markuson closed. "I'm expecting him to make a step forward after the offseason and in two-a-days, but he may still be a year off."

Overview: After a slow start trying to get the personnel situated just right, the OL made some solid advancement the remainder of spring. A terrific coaching move helped solidify things when Sowell and Johnson were separated and placed next to veterans who helped guide them through the rough spots. Sowell needs to get his upper body stronger, but he's got time to do that. Johnson still needs to work on his concentration level, but his focus was much better at the end of spring than it was at the beginning. There's little doubt about the effectiveness of Jerry, Geralds and Neely, seniors and returning starters. The biggest question mark on the OL remains quality depth. Besides Brandon Green, where will the Rebs turn in August? That question remains to be answered, but it's vital to the success of the guys up front on offense.

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