Sophomore left tackle Bradley Sowell hears the rumbles.
With the arrival of highly-touted frosh Bobby Massie, the guarantee of a starting job is no longer etched in stone, as a lack of depth in spring left little competition for the Hernando native in his attempts to replace departed senior Michael Oher.
"Massie is really good," said Sowell. "He's got a lot to work on, but for a freshman, he's unbelievable. He's strong already, he takes really good steps and he bends well. I'm just going to do the same thing I always do. I've actually been teaching him most of the stuff. He got his first taste of what it was like (Monday). He's got a lot of work to do just like everybody else."
But having committed his time to the weight room over the offseason, the 6-foot-7, 310 pounder is beginning to show his capabilities early in fall practice.
It's a relieving sight for offensive line coach Mike Marksuon, as the lack of bodies within the rotation have made Sowell's maturation a necessity.
"I feel good about Bradley, based on spring training and his summer workouts," Markuson said. "He has a great attitude and has worked hard. He's done all the things to indicate to us he will be able to fill that position this year with effectiveness.
"He's like any young kid who has waited in line and waited for his turn. He's going to have to learn some things on the run, but it's time to go. He earned it and I think he will capitalize on the opportunity. Brad has to go through a process like any young player who has not played. Oher was not as good as a sophomore as he was as a senior. But Bradley is ready to tackle the process. He will continue to get better and better and get stronger and stronger."
While few have doubted his potential, a key struggle for Sowell during spring was his grasp of proper technique and the desired physicality as an everyday lineman in the SEC.
Even more, left tackle leaves little room for error, as Sowell is matched up with the toughest defenders the conference has to offer on any given Saturday. Protecting the blindside of junior quarterback Jevan Snead only adds to the pressure.
However, as the next in line, Sowell is trying to do his part to make his spot worry free.
"I'm feeling good," he said. "It's just the same stuff we did in the spring. We've just picked it up a little bit. I feel more confident than I felt in the spring."
Making the jump to a starting job is never easy.
Ask any veteran, and they'll speak of the many bumps and bruises gained in the maturation process once moved up the depth chart.
But for Sowell, the time is now. Markuson can live with the mistakes if the talented sophomore gives maximum effort.
"He'll make mistakes and we'll correct them as we go. Again, it's a process," Markuson said. "But if he'll make his mistakes using good fundamentals and playing fast, he'll be just fine. I always tell them, when you make a decision, right or wrong, make it full speed. Don't guess. Make a decision and hit somebody."
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