Less than 72 hours before National Signing Day, five-star offensive lineman Drew Richmond -- who Hugh Freeze was banking on as the longterm replacement for star left tackle Laremy Tunsil -- flipped to Tennessee, leaving a gaping void in the 2015 Ole Miss recruiting class. Desperate to patch the hole, Freeze announced last month that he plans to help plug it with a 6'3, 296-pound backup tight end who moonlighted as a wildcat quarterback.
"We are moving Jeremy Liggins to offensive tackle, which I think is his future," Freeze told the Clarion-Ledger. "This made me feel better about not just going after a kid. I think that is going to be Jeremy's future as far as where he needs to be."
This isn't necessarily a knee-jerk reaction to the Richmond flip, mind you. Freeze said months ago that he thought Liggins would end up becoming an NFL offensive tackle.
There's not doubt that Liggins has the size for the position (he actually had to lose weight when he showed up in Oxford). Given the fact that he was recruited to LSU as a quarterback and spent time as a defensive end in JUCO, it's also clear that he has the versatility and athleticism you just don't find in a guy of his stature.
Because of the learning curve of the offensive tackle spot and the fact that Tunsil and starting right tackle Fahn Cooper are still around for another year, don't expect to see Big Lig starting anytime soon, if ever. But with Ole Miss beginning spring practice this week, he'll be getting his first taste of the new position.
Will the Rebels miss him as a wildcat QB?
Liggins was a pretty effective short yardage option last season, picking up first downs or touchdowns on 13 of his 22 carries. But he became less effective in SEC play against bigger defenders and against coaches that had caught on to the gimmick. Outside of the sheer entertainment value of seeing a man that large line up behind center, Liggins wasn't adding a whole lot at the quarterback position by season's end.
With all that said, we'll still probably see him taking some snaps next season while he makes the transition. Just please Lord don't let him throw again.
Has this been done before?
Yes, and it worked out pretty damn well. Lane Johnson was an All-District quarterback in high school before switching to tight end and defensive end at Oklahoma. He moved to left tackle as a junior and two years later, the Philadelphia Eagles grabbed him with the No. 4 overall pick of the 2013 draft.
So can Liggins, like, block and stuff?
There's no doubt he can run block, an action that doesn't so much require skill as it does sheer size and strength. Playing at tight end and fullback, Liggins was basically an extra offensive lineman in the Rebs' jumbo package last season and proved he can effectively move defenders the hell out of the way.
Of course, lining up at tight end and fullback -- where you're mostly taking on linebackers -- isn't the same as playing on the line, where you're facing freakishly gifted defensive ends and occasionally blocking down on mammoth defensive tackles. That will certainly take some getting used to, but Liggins should have the size and strength to handle it.
Pass blocking, however, is an entirely different animal, one that requires fancy footwork, advanced technique and an in-depth knowledge of pass protection concepts. This is easily the most challenging transition Liggins faces, and it is the main reason that Freeze will probably have to wait until 2017 before he can realistically think about making Big Lig a regular contributor on the O-line. Unlike tight end, defensive end, or even wildcat quarterback, the offensive tackle position is heavily nuanced, and it' doesn't present a situation in which you can waltz into spring practice and pick up the techniques in just a few weeks.