The next prediction we are going to tackle in this year’s series is the state of the offensive line. The 2018 edition was solid and part of a record-breaking offense despite the less-than-stellar record in the win-loss column. They also saw starters Greg Little and Javon Patterson get drafted and lost long-time starter and switchblade Sean Rawlings to graduation.
Fast-forward to 2019 and coach Jack Bicknell and his unit are reeling a bit as fall camp starts due to the loss of Alex Givens to a lower back injury. Despite a quick surgery earlier this summer, he is still working out the kinks and will be limited in fall camp and will most likely miss the opener against Memphis.
On top of that, there are four new starters joining returning starter and Freshman All-SEC guard Ben Brown to boot.
So panic should set in, right? Nah.
This staff has been there done that.
Bicknell and head coach Matt Luke have seen this movie before and have gracefully handled it. Before Luke was a head coach, he was the offensive line coach at Ole Miss and was part of a staff that started true freshmen Laremy Tunsil and Greg Little at left tackle, threw redshirt freshman Rawlings into the fire on the road against Alabama, and helped mold guys like Rod Taylor and Javon Patterson into All-SEC performers as teenagers.
One thing that should give everyone solace is that both Bicknell and Luke have experience working with true freshmen in the Southeastern Conference and, despite it being a rigorous test and the toughest conference in college football, they have seen great success. Both Tunsil and Little were book-end guys on the blind side and Taylor and Patterson followed suit on the interior. And just last year, Brown came in as an unheralded three-star and is now a battle-tested redshirt sophomore after starting every game last year at right guard.
Ole Miss tackle Gregg Little knows how to slow down a stunt... pic.twitter.com/FUjj1XjxSJ— Cole Cubelic (@colecubelic) June 27, 2018
It will take a village.
The depth is there, but it is unproven. The Rebels signed seven offensive linemen in 2019 and will most likely count on true freshmen Nick Broeker, Jeremy James, and Caleb Warren among others to help shoulder the load this season. Returning contributors like Michael Howard, Bryce Mathews, Royce Newman, and Eli Johnson will most likely be the first unit to trot out on August 31st, joining Brown as the Rebs take on Memphis.
But, there are several pieces who Bicknell and Luke will be looking to get ready other than the aforementioned names. Redshirt freshmen like Jalen Cunningham and Hamilton Hall will be counted on in the interior to flex their beef and junior Chandler Tuitt will be there as well if Brown or Newman need a breather.
Not sure Ive ever seen 540 move this fast pic.twitter.com/KIoXA5pUKk— Paul Jackson (@CoachPJackson) July 20, 2019
Then there are the freshmen. Outside of the three names mentioned above, Reece McIntyre, Darius Thomas, and Bryce Ramsey will have to be up to the challenge if their name is called.
Shades of 2012 are here again.
This season shares a ton of similarities with Hugh Freeze’s first season in Oxford. Trying to pick itself up off the mat after a 2-10 season, proving to recruits that this is a place that can win big again, and competing with effort instead of laying down against the elite.
And most importantly, the trend of an injury-free campaign seven years ago needs to repeat itself. It’s a lot to ask, I know, but that is key for this unit and the success of the Ole Miss offense. That year, guys like Evan Swindall, Jared Duke, A.J. Hawkins, Patrick Junen, Aaron Morris, Justin Bell, Emmanuel McCray, and Pierce Burton all stayed relatively healthy and were there every Saturday, paving the way for what was to come in the next few years.
This unit has to do the same. The offense has potential with an unproven yet talented signal caller, an All-SEC caliber back, the nWo, and a five-star talent behind Phillips in Jerrion Ealy. If the offensive line can get it together in the early goings of the first four games, this team can look to build on something as it does its best to tread water in conference games and shoot for six wins and a bowl game.