I am a true believer in the football philosophy that a teams ultimate success is measured by how good they are up front. That goes for defense as well as offense. Today we will be breaking down the big uglies.
This year's group will have a new face at the helm. Coach Jack Wright. Wright joins the Eagles after a big time run at NWCC, where he captured a JUCO national title last season going 11-1. Prior to his two years at NWCC coach Wright coached the offensive line at Holmes junior college. He then was the offensive coordinator at NWCC from 08-12. In all, Wright has coached 41 MACJC selections and 13 JUCO all americans. During his playing days. Wright was the starting center for the Arkansas State Indians. Coach wright seemed to mesh well with the Oline group during the Spring. He seemed to quickly ascertain the strengths and weaknesses of his new group. One week into Spring practice coach Wright made some tweaks that I feel will prove positive for the Oline going forward. He moved Drake Dorbeck from left tackle to right tackle. He then moved Tyler Stutzman from left tackle to center. He also moved Jerry Harris from right guard back to right tackle.
This will be a break down of the two deep offensive line going into Fall practice:
At center will be All C-USA selection Cameron Tom 6-4 290. Tom is widely considered one of the smartest players on the team, and is the unquestionable leader of the offensive line. Cam makes all the protection calls up front, freeing up Nick Mullens to spend more time surveying coverage scenarios. Tom was thrown to the wolves as a 265 true freshman, but has grown and matured into one of the premiere centers in college football. Coming out of Baton Rouge Catholic Tom was a two star prospect with La Tech and Southern Miss as his most attractive options for furthering his college football aspirations. Now Tom is a Remington award candidate and considered to be an NFL draft pick next Spring.
Backing up Tom will be Tyler Stutzman 6-4 280 Rjr. Stutzman struggled early with the move with protection calls and getting the ball cleanly to the quarterback. Those issues seemed to work themselves out with more repetition. Granted playing center is a completely different animal from playing tackle. Getting the ball out cleanly and then quickly and effectively getting your hands on your opponent brings many new difficulties. Learning to read defenses, anticipate blitzes, and make all the calls up and down the line. Learning to make those pre snap assessments takes practice and intelligence. Stutzman seemed well on his way to becoming a very competent center last Spring. I believe he will allow Tom some needed relief this Fall as Tom rarely left a game last season.
Right Tackle will be manned by RFr. Ty Pollard 6-6 320. From Pollard's junior season at Oak Grove, to present he has developed into a player to be reckoned with. Pollard graduated from Oak Grove early back in 2014, allowing him to enroll in time for Spring practice. Pollard has mentioned several times that enrolling early was key in his development. Pollard now has two Springs and a Fall under his belt aiding in his develop on the field as well as the weight room. Pollard looks to be mentally and physically ready to anchor the right side of the offensive line. He has all the tools, and like Tom, will just get better and better.
In the event that Pollard falters, enter veteran Jerry Harris 6-3 310 RJR. Harris has played quite a bit at both guard and right tackle. He was pushing for increased time at guard last season until an injury sidelined him for much of the last half of the season. Harris is versatile enough to help out at both right tackle and guard this season. His experience and versatility will go a long way toward the success of the offensive line this Fall. Battling for playing time in the two deep will be RFr. Drake Dorbeck 6-6 330. Dorbeck initially started his USM career at left tackle. Coach Wright quickly moved him over to the right side this Spring. For Dorback, it is just a matter of becoming comfortable with different foot work and his drops and pass sets. He surely has all the tools to become a dominant right tackle. He showed his talent at the 2014 Alabama, Mississippi all star game where he more than held his own all week going against the best Bama had to offer. In fact, he was so impressive that the current staff were concerned that they would lose him late in the recruiting process.
Left tackle is easily the biggest question mark going into Fall camp. Coming out of Spring Jacob Fleming was the man at left tackle. The previous season Fleming was a valuable utility man, playing both guard positions. Last season Fleming played at 305 lbs. In preparation for the move to left tackle, Jacob concentrated on becoming quicker and more athletic dropping down to his current weight of 285 lbs. I know he has worked very hard this Summer on pass protection. Working his quickness and form. This is where things get very interesting for the Fall. Big Will Freeman's move from defensive tackle to left tackle will be one of the most interesting stories of the Fall. Will got about a week to work at left tackle during the Spring. Surprisingly he preformed admirably during the Spring game considering the short time at the position, and the fact that he had a cast on one hand. Freeman has had the Summer to work on his craft, as well as add needed bulk. Will played at around 275 last season. This Fall he comes in 6-7 290. The ability for him to add much needed quality depth at left tackle is crucial. Obviously, the fortunes of the offensive line and Mullen's blind side become vastly improved if Freeman can really put some heat on Fleming for the starting nod at left tackle. This scenario will easily be one of the biggest stories of Fall camp.
Left guard will be manned by three year starter Brandon Farmer 6-3 310. Farmer is very strong and is as steady as they come. Brandon has worked very hard this Summer increasing his strength, while keeping his weight at an optimum number. Backing Farmer will be RSo. Hayden McMahan 6-4 270. Mcmahon has worked mostly at tackle during his short career at USM. This Spring he got some work late at the guard position. It seems Mcmahon's biggest problem has been the inability to put on needed bulk. At 270 he has had an issue handling bigger defensive linemen. Moving inside further exacerbates this situation. This is a spot that one of the true freshman guards might make a serious push for playing time in the two deep.
Right guard will be manned by veteran Devin Farrior 6-4 305 RJr. Farrior has been a main stay at right guard since his red shirt freshman season. I look for Devin to push for all C-USA honors this season. Backing Farrior and pushing for that position will be RSr. Oliver Bates. Bates earned several starts at right guard last Fall before succumbing to a knee injury. Bates had the knee surgically repaired causing him to miss Spring practice. Oliver will be a welcome addition to the Oline group this Fall. These guys will battle it out for the starting spot through Fall camp. Regardless of the victor, the right guard position is in great shape.
Incoming freshmen. I believe that Cru Birdyshaw 6-7 280 will start his career at left tackle. I really feel that he is our left tackle of the future. He has all the attributes that one covets in a left tackle. He obviously has the length needed. He is very athletic and was considered one of top heavy weight wrestlers in the state of Alabama. All Birdyshaw needs is time with coach Woodfin to fill out that huge frame. He has the potential to be a great one. Jacob Johnson 6-5 320 from Spanish Fort Al. is a mauler. He was the starting guard for the Alabama squad during the all star game held at the ROCK. He was dominant all week during the practices. He appears to be physically ready to push for time as a true freshman, but is he mentally ready. So much of offensive line play is cerebral. Wyatt Richthofen 6-4 315 has drawn raves form players and coaches alike this Summer. He is said to be one of the most physically and mentally prepared true freshman offensive linemen that many of the staff has ever seen.
Coach Woodfin described Wyatt as country boy strong with a serious work ethic. It will be interesting to see if coach Wright put Wyatt at tackle or guard. Wyatt played both in high school. Arvin Fletcher was alate signee for the Golden Eagles out of Germantown Ms. At 6-3 315 lbs he moves well enough to have been a dominant defensive tackle in high school. Coach Hopson identified Fletcher's impressive skill set while still coaching at Alcorn. Due to some grade problems Hopson felt they had a huge steel in Fletcher as the big boys stayed away because of the grade issues. When Hopson got to Southern Miss he made sure to stay on Arvin about his grades making sure to get this talented young man to Southern Miss. Fletcher was impressive as the starting left guard for the victorious Mississippi squad last December at the Alabama, Mississippi classic. Hopson and crew have made mention that they thought Fletcher was the best guard prospect in Mississippi last season.