Orlando Umana’s play at center allowing Rebel O-linemen to move back to more natural positions
OXFORD, Miss. — Ole Miss fans might notice a new level of comfort on the Rebels’ offensive line this year.
After center Eli Johnson opted out of the 2020 season, the Ole Miss offensive line was shuffled more than a deck of cards at a Gulf Coast casino’s blackjack table. With Johnson playing this season at New Mexico State, the Rebels got a player in return from the Mountain Time Zone when center Orlando Umana transferred to Oxford from Utah.
We've officially added Utah transfer Orlando Umana.
A 𝘽𝙄𝙂-time addition. 💪
— Ole Miss Football (@OleMissFB) July 16, 2021
The new addition allows some Rebels like Ben Brown, who played center last year, to move back to his more natural position. When Ole Miss lines up against Louisville Sept. 6, in Mercedes Benz Stadium, Brown will be in his familiar right guard role.
“Nano’s (Umana) been a great gift for us because now we have a center who’s actually played center,” Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral said.
“Ben (Brown) can go back to what he was playing. Caleb (Warren) can go back to what he was playing (left guard). They just feel more comfortable there. Playing more comfortable is only a positive.”
QB Matt Corral on the offensive line
As much as the Rebels’ coaches love seeing more continuity along the offensive front, Brown is equally happy with the move back to his original position. “It (right guard) comes more natural to me,” Brown, a senior from Vicksburg, said after practice Monday.
“I have a little more experience at right guard as well. I love right guard and doing whatever the team needs to win. I’m just thankful right guard is an option now.”
Ole Miss right guard Ben Brown on the move back to right guard
That option is only open as a result of the arrival of Umana. While at Utah, the senior earned All-Pac 12 Honorable Mention status in 2019. He started in 26 games and played in 40 for the Utes and will give the Rebels’ an experienced player in the middle of the line.
“He’s (Umana) had two good days; we’ve thrown him in there,” Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin said this week.
“Obviously has good experience, has played a lot. Also, there’s a learning process of playing center in our system, much different than what he came from with the tempo aspect of it. If he plays slow, our whole offense is in trouble so he’s going to have to develop that way and improve on that. If he can do that and play well, I think it allows us to play people at the right spots. For Ben his best spot for the next level is guard and it allows us to do that.“
Head coach Lane Kiffin on Orlando Umana
Brown agrees with Kiffin that Umana’s example sets the tone for the rest of the offense. “Just getting guys lined up all the time, you know, just bringing guys along,” Brown said of Umana’s skills he has seen so far.
“As soon as he sees the ball, Orlando is running to the ball, getting set for the rest of the line to get set. Because as soon as he puts his hand on the football the defense has to already be prepared to call a play in, so that’s a great threat and Orlando recognizing that has been huge for us.”
Ben Brown on Orlando Umana
Umana’s hustle is just the tip of the iceberg in the Ole Miss fast-paced offense. It spreads from the center of the offensive line to the players who line up farthest from the ball.
“I think that just from the efficiency standpoint, I mean how efficient we run our offense and telling wide receivers to give the ball to the field umpire rather than the side judge, that way we can have the offense rolling at a much higher tempo,” Brown said. “As well as emphasizing it every single day, so I think a combination of both of those things has led to our success.”
That kind of tempo allowed Ole Miss to lead the SEC in rushing offense last season, gaining 2,106 yards. The offense could be even more potent with Umana anchoring the line.
“Orlando is a phenomenal player, a highly knowledgeable player as well,” Brown said. “He’s played in some successful offenses in his career and the knowledge that he brings and the skills to our O-line room is very valuable.”
With the familiarity of the Ole Miss linemen’s 2021 roles, opposing defenses may get used to feeling uncomfortable.
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.