Despite the off-season, spring, AND fall camps being affected by COVID-19, college football is back, and the Ole Miss Rebels kick things off September 26th against the Florida Gators. Until then, we are going to dive into the position groups and what we expect from them during this 10-game abbreviated schedule.
Some say that the quarterback is the most important position on the field, but I say that it’s the offensive line. Momentum starts up front and without the Big Uglies paving the way for a running back or setting a pocket for the signal-caller, moving the ball is impossible.
With a lot of curiosity as to who will line up under center, there wasn’t supposed to be too much thought into who would be the starting five on the line. However, with a new coaching staff in charge, things have not laid out quite as planned. Despite being shuffled around, the group is big, sturdy and fairly experienced.
Center — Ben Brown
Let’s start in the middle with the center position. Eli Johnson was the incumbent starter, coming back for his final season at Ole Miss. He chose to opt out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 health concerns and has since entered the portal. Rumor would say that he couldn’t handle a little bit of camp competition, but that’s fine, we wish him the best and mean that genuinely.
Ben Brown, who did not allow a sack, hit or hurry a year ago, has moved inside from guard to fill the hole in the middle. He self-admittedly has some work to do with the consistency of his snaps, but his blocking is no issue and he will play on Sundays.
Ben Brown (Ole Miss, RG) is another IOL to keep an eye on. He’s powerful in the run game and a physical pass blocker.— Dante Collinelli (@DanteCollinelli) June 14, 2020
I love how he looks for work despite being left alone on this play. pic.twitter.com/AxhEDtU32m
Brown is 6-foot-5, 320 pounds and will be a redshirt junior this fall. His ability to get left and right is extremely fluid and his speed to the second level is impressive. That smooth ability to punch and move will be important as he moves to his new position.
Guard — Jalen Cunningham, Jeremy James, Caleb Warren, Bryce Ramsey
To either side of Brown, there are some questions that will only be answered when the Rebels line up for their first play against the Gators on September 26. Both Brown and Royce Newman have moved to different positions, leaving space for inexperienced underclassmen to step up.
Jalen Cunningham returns as the most experienced of the group, having seen action as a reserve lineman in ten games last year. He did not relinquish a sack, QB hit or hurry over career-high 50 snaps against a vicious Alabama defensive front, which is promising.
Jeremy James, Caleb Warren and Bryce Ramsey redshirted and appeared in less than two games in 2019, but will factor heavily into the equation this year. There is nothing that offensive line coach Randy Clements likes more than moldable frames, and all three guys have the size.
James, a consensus three-star prospect, stands 6-foot-5, 330 pounds and brings a powerful first move at the line of scrimmage. He does a good job engaging at the point of attack and loves to drive defenders into the ground. Having him at guard could be fun and would keep him away from the nasty defensive ends of the SEC. It also gives him the safety cushion of Brown or one of his tackles to slide over and help in vulnerable moments.
Ramsey is the ideal size for a guard at 6-foot-1, 340 pounds. He’s a bulldozer.
Cunningham, James and Ramsey are likely to receive the majority of the time at guard, but a rotation throughout the early portion of the season will determine who most deserves to etch his name into the starting role for 2020 and (potentially) beyond.
Tackle — Royce Newman, Nick Broeker
As previously mentioned, Newman has returned to his natural position at right tackle. The 6-foot-5, 305-pound redshirt senior was a four-star recruit at tackle in 2016 and saw time in a reserve role there in 2017 and 2018. When a need opened up at guard, Newman filled in with 768 snaps on the left and 141 on the right. Of his 416 pass sets, he allowed just one sack. He is very good at getting off the ball as the low man, which is very hard at his height, and is even better at locking his arms out and driving his legs. Watch him at left guard here:
At the blindside, Nick Broeker is back for year two. He also allowed just one sack in 213 pass block snaps and was named a True Freshman All-American by 247Sports in 2019, his play earning him the starting role by the Egg Bowl.
At 6-foot-4, 305 pounds, Broeker has a quick first step and gets off the ball with a wide base. He had a few growing pains a year ago but stands firm in protection and is learning to use his full leverage in the run game. Working with Clements, who produced the Big 12’s Offensive Lineman of the Year four straight seasons from 2012-15, will help sure-up his technique and put him on track for the NFL.
Tight Ends — Kenny Yeboah, Chase Rogers
From strictly a blocking standpoint, both tight end options are of solid height and have the weight to match. Rogers ran a lot of 12 personnel (two tight ends and one running back) at Louisiana Lafayette and was working to be more physical on the edge. He may receive the majority of snaps when Ole Miss is running the ball.
Yeboah, who transferred in during the offseason, is far and away the better pass blocker. He did not allow a single sack in pass protection at Temple in 2019 and per Pro Football Focus, was the nation’s top pass-blocking tight end.
He will be a big receiving threat, but also possesses the ability to size up an edge rusher when the ball is not thrown his way.
Reserves — Reece McIntyre, Hamilton Hall, Carter Colquitt, Luke Shouse, Tobias Braun, Eli Acker, Cedric Melton
One thing that is certain about the offensive line group is its depth. While much of the talent is untested, and some promising underclassmen never took on the role that was expected of them as they reached junior and senior seasons, there are plenty of large bodies to go around.
Shouse, Braun, Acker and Melton are all 6-foot-6 or taller and part of a talented 2020 recruiting class, the first under Lane Kiffin and Clements. Reports from camp are saying that Melton and Acker are going to be impact-makers later in their collegiate careers, and by god, look at the size of Acker.
He is 19 years old!!!!!!!!!
Some or all four of the freshman group will likely redshirt, while Reece McIntyre, Hamilton Hall and Carter Colquitt will be in reserve roles or backup spots. All three may not be atop the depth chart, but could make a case for themselves as the season goes on.
The offensive line may be a mix of fresh faces and returning veterans at new positions, but it stands strong and is under the guidance of a guru. Expectations are heightened and there will surely will be some kinks to work through early on after a short, unusual offseason. That being said, if any group on the field is standing on equal ground following this summer’s fall camp format, it would be the Big Uglies.