By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
Little gets done in a football game without decent play from the offensive line.
Decent, average or mediocre would have been high praise for the Ole Miss offensive line in the spring, but things have changed.
How much improvement there’s been remains to be seen, but you can see forward progress through plays in the run game specifically.
“We’re a more cohesive group right now. We’ve learned. I think we’re going to be fine,” left tackle Emmanuel McCray said.
If Hugh Freeze’s up-tempo offense is going to be successful, the line – where one breakdown spells disaster – has to become comfortable with a different pace.
“The biggest improvement has been the offensive line, those guys playing up there on the same page at the pace we ask them to go,” Freeze said. “It’s not like a traditional offense that identifies the fronts and who’s working with who. We don’t have time to do that.”
Freeze has always said the the offensive line is the last position group to “get it” with this system. Clearly, in the spring the new system was not gotten, something that left serious questions heading into camp.
The best players had been identified. This would not be a case of new bodies in August. The only option was to keep pushing.
In a sense, that’s what McCray has done. A highly recruited player out of Jackson, he’s a fourth-year junior who is just now getting his first chance to contribute as an every-down player.
An experienced upperclassman, Bradley Sowell, and McCray’s own knees have worked against him until this season.
“Coaches have their different philosophies and trust things. Maybe they didn’t trust me because of my health. I understand. They’ve got a job. I just maintained, tried to be patient,” McCray said. “If you continue to work hard good things will happen.”
McCray says strength and conditioning coach Paul Jackson this summer helped get the line in shape to keep up with the up-tempo pace. That was missing in the spring.
Better conditioning has led to more confidence.
“Toward the end of camp, we were feeling just fine. You’ve got to realize, you feel tired when you’re out there, but when you get to the sideline you’re like, ‘Man, I’m really not that tired.’ That just gives you more confidence ,” McCray said.
The Freeze system is labeled as a spread, but it’s more about pushing the snap than where players line up. People will see that in the power runs. Some of the blocking schemes are similar to what linemen have done in the past.
They’ll be asked at times execute those schemes at a much quicker pace, but how much up-tempo Freeze runs will be dictated to some degree by depth, which is suspect at some spots.
Improvement on the line has included building depth, a rotation of about eight players.
McCray, eager to contribute, hasn’t spent the month of August wondering about his role.
“I just want to become a leader, practice hard, stay healthy, solidify myself in my position and get my mind set for the season to start. I haven’t played a (real) game in three years solid, so just get my mind ready to get back into that mode.”
Parrish Alford (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily at djournal.com.