OXFORD, Miss. — With the departure of starting left tackle Greg Little, left guard Javon Patterson, center Sean Rawlings and swingman Jordan Sims, one of the questions circulating around Oxford is who will step up this coming fall to fill the shoes of the departed offensive linemen?
Returnees keep the right side strong
The right side of the line returns two starters in senior right tackle Alex Givens and sophomore right guard Ben Brown.
Givens brings the most experience to the table with 34 games under his belt, and the 6’6,” 303-pound tackle out of Nashville will be a steady anchor along the right side of the offensive line. Many in Oxford were relieved when the talented right tackle opted to forgo the NFL draft and return for his final season at Ole Miss.
Brown started all 12 games at right guard and earned a spot on the SEC All-Freshman team. The 6’5” 315 pound guard is a force in the middle of the offensive line. He has become a very effective lineman at being able to move guys off the block, pulling to create running lanes, and providing good pass protection when necessary.
Center and left side will feature new starters
While the right side of the line will have experience, the middle and left side of the line will feature new starters in 2019.
Eli Johnson is set to take over Rawlings’ spot at center, and the junior — who has already graduated and is working on his master’s degree — is fully recovered from injuries that marred his opportunity to play sooner. The 6-foot-1, 300-pound Johnson was lost to a season-ending ACL injury in the second game of the 2017 season and also tore his medial meniscus and lateral meniscus. He later needed another surgery after a small broken bone was discovered in his wrist.
“He’s very, very smart. He’s paid his dues,” Coach Luke said of Johnson in June.
“He knows exactly what he’s doing. He’s a student of the game. A lot of people don’t give him the credit for how really strong he is. He’s very, very strong…probably the strongest upper body out of any offensive lineman.”
Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke on center Eli Johnson
During the spring, juniors Bryce Mathews and Royce Newman took the majority of the snaps at left tackle and left guard, respectively.
Mathews at 6’6,” 302 pounds and Newman at 6’5,” 300 pounds have appeared in a combined 33 games, playing mostly rotational minutes thus far during their careers. However, the two will be asked to take on a much bigger role this fall.
“Bryce is more of a true tackle,” Luke told Ole Miss Spirit earlier this month.
“He’s very, very technically sound, and he knows exactly what to do. He’s a great kid. You just want to see him develop that confidence to really keep coming. He had a really good spring, and I think they’ve paid their dues and it’s their time to step up.”
Coach Luke on Bryce Mathews
Coach Luke also discussed Newman and what his versatility brings to the team. “Royce is probably the most athletic of all the linemen. Him and Mike Howard are very, very athletic, but Royce has really put the weight on and he looks really good,” Luke said.
“Royce gives us a lot of flexibility, because he can play guard and tackle both. He’s athletic enough to play tackle, but he’s got the size to go in there and play guard. He really gives us a lot of flexibility.”
Coach Luke on Royce Newman
Guards Chandler Tuitt, Jalen Cunningham, and Hamilton Hall, along with tackle Mike Howard, will all push Mathews and Newman for playing time during fall camp.
Seven incoming freshmen add much-needed depth
In order to help replenish the depth that was lost with the departure of three starters and a key swingman, the Rebels signed seven offensive lineman in the class of 2019: Caleb Warren, Reece McIntyre, Carter Colquitt, Bryce Ramsey, Darius Thomas, Nick Broeker, and Jeremy James.
None of the seven signees were able to early enroll and go through spring practices. So while many freshmen offensive linemen are redshirted to give them time to grow and shape their bodies into SEC linemen, the Rebels hope a couple will be able to make an immediate impact and provide some depth this fall. They don’t necessarily need to produce starting minutes, but it would be a huge plus for Ole Miss if they could play some rotational minutes.
Three of the true freshmen to watch this fall camp are Thomas, Broeker, and Warren. At 6’6,” 340 pounds, Thomas has a long wingspan and a great frame for the tackle spot. The Arkansas native out of Jonesboro is fully aware the coaching staff needs him to come in and provide some meaningful snaps early on.
Broeker, at 6’6,” 288 pounds, is an athletic big man who will move very well on the edge against the smaller, quick-twitch pass rushers. The Springfield, Illinois native was heavily pursued by Ohio State, but he never faltered in his commitment to the Rebels.
Warren at 6’4” 305 pounds is probably the most overlooked offensive lineman signee in this class. He reminds us a lot of the recruitment of Ben Brown. Both committed to the Rebels early and didn’t listen to any of the other schools coming after them. Both attended smaller schools, so they weren’t necessarily thought of as SEC ready upon arrival. However, just as Brown turned out to be an incredible starter at right guard for the Rebels, we wouldn’t be at all shocked if Warren, too, ended up becoming a multi-year starter down the road. The people with whom we have discussed Warren share the enthusiasm that he’s going to be able to come in and compete early.
These youngsters have all arrived on campus this summer, and offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez and offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr. are likely assessing which of the newcomers could be looked to for depth this fall. It would not be surprising to see Thomas, Broeker, and Warren all end up providing meaningful snaps early on in their careers.
Here are the Rebels’ offensive linemen for 2019:
|OG||Jalen Cunningham||RS Freshman|
|OL||Hamilton Hall||RS Freshman|
|OL||Nic Cantu||RS Freshman|