Rebs rely on Tennesseans

Two native Tennesseans could play pivotal roles in Ed Orgeron's first season as head football coach at Ole Miss.

Patrick Willis (Bruceton) is a 6-2, 230-pound junior who has made several preseason All-SEC teams at linebacker. Michael Oher (Memphis) is a 6-4, 320-pound offensive lineman who was one of the South's premier prospects last winter and a player the Tennessee Vols desperately wanted.

Speaking at the recent SEC Media Days in Birmingham, Orgeron said he has been "really pleased with the play of Patrick Willis, especially in spring practice -- the way he took command of the defense and made plays from sideline to sideline. Next he has to prove it in a game. That's the true test of a player."

Actually, Willis proved it in games last year. He recorded 70 tackles in 2004, including a team-high 11 minus-yardage stops.

Oher, meanwhile, has a good chance to start as a true freshman.

Orgeron called the massive Memphian "an outstanding football player," adding that he expects him "to contribute early."

Toward that end, Orgeron has put Oher at guard because "it's a little bit easier to learn."

Oddly enough, Oher's college debut will be played in his hometown against the Memphis Tigers. Whether he's in the opening lineup that day or not, he likely will be starting at some point this season as the Rebels seek to get their best players on the field.

Orgeron put it best: "Our depth chart," he said, "is etched in sand."

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