The Middle Of The OL

One of the question marks from spring centered around the development of the middle of the Ole Miss offensive line. Read their thoughts inside.

Ole Miss Left Guard Alex "Tank" Washington and Center A.J. Hawkins have heard the talk.

They are very aware that some Rebel fans are doubting them and are mentioning them with that old adage "the weak link."

While they don't agree, they certainly understand.

"I get it. I've been around a while, but I haven't played much. A.J. is playing a new position - he's always been a guard," Alex stated, "but we know what we are doing and where we are in the process.

A.J. Hawkins

"The bottom line is that we believe in ourselves, our teammates believe in us, and our coaches know we are working hard and have faith we will get everything down. We know we are not where we need to be yet, and that we lack experience, but we are preparing and working hard to overcome those things."

For A.J., it's not a physical thing with him.

"I know how I matched up in spring against our DL when I got something down. I did fine when I got adjusted to snapping and stepping and when I was mentally in tune," Hawkins added. "Snapping and stepping is just something I had never done.

"I had been a guard my whole career. You just go out there and do your thing without having to worry about the ball and ball security. Now, what I have to do is more athletic and more mental, but I'm getting it."

Both feel they are in a growth period, but both realize they have to get it in a hurry.

"Coach (Mike) Markuson does a great job of making sure we have seen everything we are going to face. We know it in the film room. Now it's just a matter of recognizing it and reacting to it quickly in practices and in the games until it becomes second nature to us," Washington explained. "It's all about recognition and reaction time with us right now and I think we are getting better with every rep."

A.J. is in a position where he has to make some line calls as well. He is not only the center, he's the director of the OL.

"I have to understand fronts and looks. I have to be able to detect different looks and different moves, like stunts, blitzes, twists," Hawkins said. "It's coming more naturally to me now. I can still get confused sometimes, but not as often as when I first started, and that's a good sign."

From a physical standpoint, both had offseason goals they felt they went a long way in accomplishing.

Mike Markuson

"I needed to work on my lower body strength and stepping quicker," said A.J., who Markuson belives is an "excellent" athlete capable of all center duties. "I have always been pretty strong in my upper body, but I needed more leg strength. I gained a lot in that area over the summer."

Tank has battled a career-long weight issue, one he continues to battle with.

"After spring, I knew I needed to lose weight. I was over 360 and it hurt my movement. I'm around 340-345 now and I can tell a difference," said Washington. "I think August will take about 10 more pounds off me and that will benefit my movement as well."

Based on those conversations with two of the focal points of fall practice, where does it all stand right now after the first day of fall camp?

"We feel we are much further along than we were in spring, but we understand we have a lot more work to do to be where we want to be," closed Tank. "Right now, we are storing information and repping everything time after time.

"We'll get it down. We have to. We understand what's at stake and how we have to perform to live up to the standards of Ole Miss football."

A good start to accomplishing anything is having a realistic view of where you are when you start the journey.

A.J. Hawkins and Alex Washington are well aware of that.

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