Who will be the center?
There are literally tens of issues to resolve when spring football training starts on March 27 and culminates with the Grove Bowl on April 17th.
You all know the missing ingredients - QB, DE, WR, CB, FS, RG, LG, TE, OLB, etc. - from the 2009 team, and they have all been discussed and discussed again, but one of the most important replacement efforts has not drawn a lot of fan attention - the center position.
And it should. . .
The past two seasons, Daverin Geralds has been a somewhat unsung stalwart in manning the center slot, but now the word is that he is gone. His appeal for a fifth year has been denied, leaving the Rebels with inexperienced, rookie snappers.
One such candidate is sophomore A.J. Hawkins, who worked almost primarily at center during the Cotton Bowl practices, but had never snapped before then.
Needless to say, he's in a proving ground now along with true frosh Evan Swindall, redshirt freshman Chris Gill and possibly even, according to Hawkins, junior Rishaw Johnson.
"All of the linemen have been kind of playing musical chairs. It seems we are all working at more than one position," said Hawkins, a 6-3, 300-pounder. "I am working at both guard positions and at center.
"I'm going to do whatever the team needs, wherever I can help the team."
While it's been commonly thought A.J. is Geralds' heir apparent, it doesn't sound like that's a given by any means.
The center, in this and most offensive systems, is about as important as it gets, not only for the extra physical strain of snapping the ball to the quarterback cleanly and being able to get out of that snap quickly in order to make an effective block almost simultaneously, but of being able to come to the line of scrimmage and make the line calls that the rest of the offensive line reacts and adjusts to.
"There are three things that are important. Making the line call to get everyone on the same page. The center is like the quarterback of the offensive line. The center has to know your position and everyone else's to make the play work right and to make the right calls," Hawkins explained. "We have to recognize where the Mike Linebacker is and make our calls based on that to make things go more smoothly.
"The recognition part has been kind of easy for me because I have been watching Daverin for a while and have caught on OK. The snapping and blocking part has gone pretty well too. I haven't had too many bad exchanges and I've kind of let the steps come naturally. I try not to think about it too much because when I do I tend to mess up. It's easier if I just let it happen naturally. Daverin always said to make sure the quarterback gets the ball, pick someone out and lock on. He kept things simple."
This year will be a bit unusual in that all three of the interior offensive linemen will be "new" with Geralds, RG John Jerry and LG Reid Neely having to be replaced.
"Like I said, we are all playing more than one position. We have a lot of guys who don't have much game experience, but some have been here a while and have raw talent that we are going to try to put to use and develop," Hawkins noted. "Josh Tatum, Emmanuel McCray, Rishaw Johnson, Alex Washington, Logan Clair and I could all be inside.
"All of us could end up just about anywhere. I was recruited to be a player and that's what I want to be. I want to be someone my coaches and teammates can trust."
Hawkins has been impressed with everyone, but he mentioned Johnson, who was suspended for part of last season, the most.
"Rishaw is giving it 100% now. He's ready to go," stated A.J. "He was my host on my visit here and we feel real good having him back out there. He's got a lot of ability and will help this team a lot."
Hawkins reported his rookie year at 325 pounds. He's honed that down some out of necessity.
"I needed to get rid of the bady fat," he smiled. "I'm 300 now and would like to play around 305.
"I've also gained a lot of strength since I have been here. I did not have SEC strength when I got here, but I believe I'm ready to go in this league now."
A.J. Hawkins may or may not be the top center next year - a lot of that result will be up to him and his efforts, but he's in the discussion, a discussion that is critical to the success of the 2010 Rebels.
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