By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – One of the most celebrated recruits in the “Natural” state a few years back, Matt Hall is trying to break into the starting lineup at Ole Miss in an unnatural position.
He’s got a tackle’s body at 6-foot-9, 340 pounds, but those spots with the Rebels are filled with size and experience in senior Bradley Sowell on the left side and junior Bobby Massie on the right.
Hall has learned the playbook at tackle and in the past several practices has been spending more time at guard.
“We’re experimenting with our guards trying to find the best five (linemen), and he’s certainly one of those candidates,” Ole Miss offensive line coach Mike Markuson said.
Hall has been a tackle all of his football life.
A consensus top 10 recruit in the state of Arkansas, Hall was rated the No. 28 offensive lineman in the nation by Rivals.com coming out of Russellville (Ark.) High School following the 2007 season.
Through the recruiting process he had developed a strong relationship with Houston Nutt and Markuson, a stronger one with the University of Arkansas, it appears. He did not follow Nutt to Ole Miss but signed with new Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino.
“I was at Arkansas, and it really wasn’t working out for different reasons,” Hall said.
Those reasons were strong enough for Hall to give up a season of eligibility even though he saw substantial playing time for the Razorbacks as a redshirt freshman. In 2009, Hall played in 11 games, six of them in the SEC including time against Florida and Alabama. He also saw action in the Liberty Bowl.
“I always had that relationship with coach Nutt and coach Markuson. They recruited me since I was in seventh grade. I figure I’d come over here and give this a shot,” Hall said.
Since he redshirted at Arkansas in 2008, the year he sat out at Ole Miss last season, after transferring to Oxford in January of 2010, has been lost.
He’s classified as a junior and knows the clock is ticking on his college career.
Hall thinks he has a good chance to crack the starting lineup at guard.
“I think it’s a big possibility. You just work, and everyday you get more comfortable with it, and you’re working harder and harder. I feel like I’ve been on the sideline for three years, and I’m just ready to get back on the playing field again,” he said.
Markuson routinely looks for linemen who can play more than one position, current Miami Dolphins lineman John Jerry is a recent example of such versatility.
Hall downplays the complications that go along with a massive frame such as his playing down at guard.
“When you’re going against defensive tackles who are 6-1, it’s gets challenging sometimes. You just stay in there and give it all you’ve got. You have to keep it in the back of your head that you have to stay low,” he said.
Seniors Alex Washington and Logan Clair and sophomores Patrick Junen and Jared Duke are also competing at the guard spots.
In a 2010 season marred by injuries and the early dismissal of right-side starter Rishaw Johnson, Ole Miss had eight different players start at either of the guard positions.
Markuson believes Hall has the quickness and strength to off-set his height and make the transition.
“He’s going to have to really keep his pads down and bend to get under some of those guys,” Markuson said. “But I tell you, when he gets his hands on you, runs his feet and extends his body, he can press some people. It’s exciting.”
Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600