OXFORD, Miss. – At the Rebels’ first press conference of the spring earlier this week, Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke was asked what concerned him most as his team enters camp. Without hesitation, Luke mentioned his offensive line, as the Rebels will have three players out or on limited duty due to injury.
Players out/limited during spring
Sophomore offensive lineman Eli Johnson, who’s recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament and a broken wrist, is out for the entirety of spring camp. Junior Alex Givens and senior Sean Rawlings will see limited action, also due to injury, so the offensive line will not be at full strength for the upcoming 15 practices.
“We have some guys out on the offensive line, so depth on the O-line is a concern just with the injuries. When everyone comes back, I think we’ll be fine, but getting through spring practice with some guys out makes it tough.“
Coach Matt Luke on offensive line injuries
Younger players have chance to compete
While not having Givens and Rawlings available for spring–two guys who helped anchor the offensive line last season–puts the Rebels at a disadvantage, their absence will offer offensive line coach Jack Bicknell, Jr. an opportunity to look at some the younger players.
Redshirt freshmen Ben Brown, Tony Gray, and Samuel Plash; sophomores Bryce Mathews and Chandler Tuitt; and redshirt sophomore Royce Newman, will all likely take a lot of reps with the first and second teams during spring camp.
Incoming freshmen Jalen Cunningham (a lineman who can play both sides of the ball) and Hamilton Hall will arrive in Oxford this summer and could also factor in to the rotations this fall.
Key o-line returnees
Ole Miss should be in good shape this fall as the Rebels return five of the seven linemen from last season–a group who helped Ole Miss lead the league in passing and scoring. The Rebels lose only one starter, right tackle Rod Taylor, from that group.
Behind the Ole Miss offensive line, running back Jordan Wilkins was able to become the first 1,000-yard rusher for Ole Miss since 2009, finishing last season with 1,011 yards on the ground.
The offensive line also helped Jordan Ta’amu go 3-2 as the team’s starting quarterback in the Rebels’ final five games last season. Ta’amu completed 115 of 173 passes for 1,682 yards and 11 touchdown in 2017. He threw just four interceptions and ran for four scores.
In the 38-37 home loss to Arkansas, Ta’amu threw for 368 yards, the most passing yards ever by an Ole Miss quarterback making his first career start.
Right guard Alex Givens has played in 23 games over his career, starting 13. Givens, a fourth-year junior, is another of the Rebels’ versatile linemen. He started five games at right tackle in 2016, before starting eight games at right guard last year.
It is not an understatement to say that Sean Rawlings has been the heart and soul of the offense. In three seasons, the Rebels’ center has played in 32 games with 26 starts.
Rawlings, too, can play positions other than his predominant role at center. He started eight games in 2016, with seven of those coming at right tackle and one at center. Last season, Rawlings was on the Remington Trophy Watch List–the award going to the nation’s top center.
Givens and Rawlings are joined by junior left tackle Greg Little, who started every game at the blind side position for the Rebels last season.
Chris Hummer of 247Sports considers Little the top tackle prospect in the 2019 draft class.
“You’ll see a lot of names thrown around as the top tackle prospect in the 2019 draft class…but Little was the best among that group last season, Hummer said.
“PFF College gave Little an 85.3 overall grade in 2017, and his 87.3 pass block grade is well ahead of the other blind side protectors under consideration. And remember, Little, at 6-foot-6, 332 pounds, is a hell of an athlete for his size. Little is the top tackle on our big board for now.”
247Sports’ Chris Hummer on Greg Little
Additionally, the Rebels return seniors Javon Patterson and Jordan Sims. Together with Rawlings, Patterson and Sims give Ole Miss three seniors on the offensive line.
Patterson is the only offensive lineman to have started all 12 games for the Rebels in both 2016 and 2017. He has been an anchor at left guard, starting more games (30) than any of his fellow offensive linemen.
Sims contributed primarily as the third guard in 2017; however, he started 10 games at right guard in 2016. With Givens moving outside to fill the right tackle spot of Rod Taylor who has graduated, Sims will likely spend the spring at guard.
March 3 practice open to fans
Ole Miss will hold its first open practice of spring camp this Saturday, March 3, at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. It’s open to the public, and the starting time is slated for 11 a.m.