Spring Position Battles: Offensive Line

If there’s one position on either side of the ball that Ole Miss needs to improve it’s the offensive line. The Rebels were 10th in the SEC last year (73rd nationally) in rushing yards, 12th in sacks allowed (85th nationally).

It’s hard to think about a unit with five returning starters as having “battles” for jobs.

However, sketchy production plus off-season knee surgery for one of those starters – left guard Aaron Morris – may make this a bit of a different case.

Not to mention the fact that Hugh Freeze has recruited well to this position.

He didn’t recruit as well as he would have hoped this time around since Drew Richmond flipped to Tennessee.

But in the big scheme of things Freeze got the elite player he had to have in Javon Patterson. Richmond is a tackle, Patterson a guard. The Ole Miss line needs its most help on the interior. It’s not a stretch to see a big role for Patterson next year if he acclimates and finds his way quickly. Being an early enrollee and going through spring drills – which begin Tuesday – should really help with that.

Patterson was rated a four-star prospect by most recruiting services and was listed in the top six at his position – including No. 1 by 247Sports – by 247, ESPN and Scout.

If Patterson plays to his recruiting coverage and if rising sophomore Rod Taylor – the highest-rated recruit in last year’s class – makes the Year 1 to Year 2 step forward, both of them will compete for playing time.

The plot thickens as Morris’ health comes into play. Center could be a question mark as well. Ben Still started 12 games last year, but there was a lengthy competition with Robert Conyers, his primary backup.

The question comes from a comment from Justin Bell, the starter at right guard. He has experimented at center some in practices through the years. I asked him in November if we’d seen the last of him at center. Frankly, I thought we had. He answered that it was a very real possibility that he would work at that position some in the spring.

Sounds to me like there’s been a conversation with Bell about the possibility of time at center in some capacity.

Maybe Still grows into the position. Whatever the case Patterson and Taylor create more competition for both he and Bell.

And that’s before you ever get into Sean Rawlings and Jordan Sims, guys who will be redshirt freshmen.

Freeze, unprompted last November, spoke in glowing terms about the physical transformation he was seeing in Rawlings during a redshirt year.

There are more scholarship numbers from end to end than this group has seen in a while. How they contribute remains to be seen, but that’s a good starting point.

I’m interested to see what tackle Christian Morris gets done in the spring. He was rated almost as highly in the 2013 class as Austin Golson who transferred abruptly for Auburn, giving up a starting spot at right tackle in the process.

Morris transferred from UCLA without having ever played a game there, but an Achilles injury slowed his development last season. He appeared in three games. I don’t seem him unseating Fahn Cooper as a starter, but he’s one to keep an eye on. If he gets into the rotation and gets some experience that’s a good thing. Cooper is a senior, and Laremy Tunsil is Laremy Tunsil, meaning there are likely to be two openings at tackle next year.

Conyers will be a junior this season and will be a candidate for one of those spots next year if he continues to progress.

Daronte Bouldin appeared in eight games last year, but the offense struggled without Tunsil when Bouldin was thrust into a different spot at LSU.

Davion Johnson appeared in two games at tackle. Both will be third-year sophomores.

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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