Position Preview: Offensive Line

You would think everything would be fine at a position that returns four starters.

That’s good news, obviously, but the question here is depth.

Tackle Emmanuel McCray and guard Aaron Morris on the left side, joined by center Evan Swindall plus guard A.J. Hawkins and tackle Pierce Burton on the right, started every game last year.

The only reserve to play a serious amount of snaps was Patrick Junen who is battling Justin Bell to start in Hawkins’ place.

Bell would have played more last year if not for a back injury.

The depth already in place was lessened this summer with the tragic death of walk-on tackle Park Stevens.

The Rebels avoided disaster by staying healthy along the line last year. Odds are an injury happens sometime.

Ole Miss signed four offensive linemen, but all four are tackles. There’s a lot of excitement for Laremy Tunsil and Austin Golson, two of the top three tackles in the country last year according to ESPN.

If you’re looking for early contributors from the freshmen remember that the Rebels don’t have an opening at tackle.

This creates the possibility of an OL shuffle if one of the freshmen are deemed ready to start by line coach Matt Luke.

In that scenario maybe one of the freshmen starts off with the guards from Day 1, or perhaps McCray or Burton move inside.

Luke says he wants to get his best five players on the field.

Junen is a fifth-year senior. Bell is entering his third-year in the program. They could be the answer at guard, and if so, the freshmen could remain in their natural positions.

Also in the mix at tackle is talented redshirt freshman Robert Conyers.

There are a handful of guys who have been around the program a while but haven’t gotten much playing time. That’s one reason for the amount of interest in the newcomers.

Freeze has said from the beginning that the line is the last group to “get it” in terms of the tempo offense. That’s another reason depth is so important.

While this group was playing better at the end of the season there’s a lot of room for improvement.

The Rebels were fifth in the SEC in rushing at 173.85 yards a game, but they were No. 97 in the nation in sacks allowed giving up 2.62 per game.

I’ve spoken often about the decision-making process for Bo Wallace, the need to improve there for the Rebels’ quarterback to reduce his interception total. Too often Wallace was making decisions under duress.

Keeping rushers away from Wallace is always important, even more this year with Wallace playing after shoulder surgery.

Denham Springs, La., native, Mississippian since 1989 with a stop in Meridian before arriving in Tupelo. Daily Journal beat writer since 1996, covering Ole Miss since 2002. Proud Northeast Louisiana alum. Follow me on Twitter @parrishalford and listen to John Davis and myself daily with The Ole Miss Beat on Rebel Sports Radio.

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