Big men lead the way: Rebels’ offensive success begins up front
OXFORD, Miss. — There is an old football saying that an offensive line is doing well if no one knows who they are. That means they are getting their job done and the skill players are getting their names in the newspapers as the team wins.
But Ole Miss fans should get to know the names of right tackle Jeremy James, right guard Ben Brown, center Orlando Umana, left guard Caleb Warren, and left tackle Nick Broecker. Those are the main men in the trenches for Ole Miss who will make the Rebels’ high-energy hit on all cylinders.
Fans should also keep an eye out on returning offensive linemen Bryce Ramsey, Eli Acker, Reece McIntyre, Jalen Cunningham and Hamilton Hall who will all see time this season.
There are no official statistics for offensive linemen, but for the guys who do the dirty work, they have their own way of charting their success.
“It’s everything,” James, the starting right tackle, said.
“(It’s) leading the SEC in rushing, scoring a bunch of points, having your quarterback or running back on the watch lists, I think that’s more important than anything having those guys succeed.”
Jeremy James on measuring the success of the O-line
Rebels on Watch Lists
If the watch lists are a sign of success, the offensive line already has some great credentials.
Quarterback Matt Corral has been named to the watch lists for the Manning, Walter Camp and Davey O’Brien awards. Jerrion Ealy has been placed on the watch list for the Maxwell Award, Doak Walker Award, which goes to the best running back in the nation, and the Paul Hornung Award which is annually presented to the most versatile player in the country. Left tackle Nick Boecker is also on the watch list for the Outland Trophy.
Those are just the offensive players on the various watch lists for Ole Miss.
The Rebels’ offensive line knows they have some special players behind them starting with their quarterback.
“We know all we got to do is do our jobs and something special is going to happen. Anytime the ball is in (Corral’s) hands, there’s a chance for anything to happen.”
Ole Miss has talented running backs room
When Corral hands the ball off, there is an impressive stable of running backs for him to hand it to. “It’s not like it’s Ealy and everyone else.” Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin said earlier this week.
“It’s an open competition. There are five scholarship guys there that have all done really good things in the first week (of fall camp).“
Head coach Lane Kiffin on the Ole Miss RBs
Ealy, who ran for a team-high 745 yards last season is joined by Snoop Conner (421 yards), Henry Parrish, Jr., (263), along with Kentrel Bullock and Isaiah Woullard. Those backs are also explosive. Ealy, Conner and Parrish, Jr., each had a run of over 27 yards last season.
For James and his buddies up front, it does not matter who lines up in the backfield because often they don’t know until they see the number on the back of his jersey running down the field.
“I feel like we have a good idea, (which back is in the game), but they rotate a lot,” James said. “They’re all as equally talented so it really doesn’t matter who’s back there.”
Young offensive linemen stepping up
The depth in the backfield is a luxury for Ole Miss, but that good fortune is also evident up front. Several young offensive line players are making their marks in training camp.
“There’s a few of them that have really stepped up. Cedric Melton, he’s looked really good, Reece (McIntyre) is looking really good, Tobias (Braun) has really stepped up. I mean they’re all coming along.”
The depth is something Ole Miss lacked last season on the offensive line. Fortunes dictated the Rebels had to shift linemen to various positions, but this year, the line is settling into more-familiar spots, including James who will be starting at right tackle.
“It took me a second in the spring (to get comfortable at right tackle), James said. “It was a little awkward going back out, but I feel really good back there because that was my natural position before moving to guard.”
Although James feels more comfortable in his familiar position, there is one aspect of the 2021 season that will be new to him.
“It’s going to be my first time playing in front of a full crowd so that’s going to be something new for me,” James said. “But I’m excited for it, I’m ready for it but it’s something I haven’t done yet.”
James and the Rebels get their first opportunity to excel in front of a large crowd Sept. 6 when Ole Miss takes on Louisville in Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
(Feature image credit: Josh McCoy, Ole Miss)
Steve Barnes joins The Rebel Walk staff as a senior writer and brings a trifecta of journalistic experience. As a writer, he has covered college sports for Rivals.com, Football.com and SaturdayDownSouth.com as well as served as a beat writer for various traditional newspapers.
He has been a broadcaster for arena football and several national tournament events for the National Junior College Athletic Association as well as hosting various shows on radio.
A former sports information director at Albany (Ga.) State University and an assistant at Troy and West Florida, he has helped host many NCAA conference, regional and national events, including serving five years on the media committee of the NCAA Division II World Series.
Barnes, a native of Pensacola, Fla., attended Ole Miss in 1983-84, where his first journalism teacher was David Kellum. The duo has come a long way since that time.
He will bring a proven journalistic track record, along with a knack for finding the out-of-the-ordinary story angles to The Rebel Walk.
Barnes continues to reside in Pensacola a mere ten minutes from the beach because he does have taste and a brain.