Monday, July 16, 2007

Ole MIss Football: Offensive Line Preview

Overview: Propelling a running attack that featured the third 1,000-yard rusher in Ole Miss history in BenJarvus Green-Ellis, the offensive line made significant strides last season which carried over into a very productive spring.

So impressed with the maturation of the front five, head coach Ed Orgeron consistently praised the unit and referred to the group as the strength of the team following the conclusion of spring practice.

Art Kehoe continues to show why he is often considered the best offensive line coach in the country, with his ability to get the most out of his players and put them in the best possible position to succeed. A great motivator, Kehoe has taken this unit from a group of discontinuity before his arrival to the muscle of the team heading into 2007.

Returning four starters from last year’s group, the O line enters the fall with a wealth of experience and quality depth to lead the Rebel offense. Headlining the corps is junior Michael Oher, a preseason All-American who has been a fixture on the line since his freshmen year. Having started 22 consecutive games over the last two seasons, Oher is one of the most athletic players on the team, displaying incredible durability and quickness at left tackle.

A native of Memphis, Oher earned second team All-SEC honors from the leagues coaches as a tackle while playing in that spot for the first time. Gaining knowledge of the position and polishing his physical attributes in the spring, Oher has NFL potential and will look to prove that this season.

An obvious physical specimen at 6-foot-5, 340 pounds, John Jerry exploded onto the scene early, becoming a starter the minute he stepped on campus. The South Panola product started all 12 contests at right guard earning Freshman All-America honors from numerous media outlets. Combined with superior power and size, Jerry led the team with 26 “pancake blocks”.

Brought into the fold early, Jerry was one of the more dominant players last season and worked diligently to improve his consistency along the line of scrimmage in the spring. With the sky being the limit on his potential, Jerry could shine as a principal piece in the trenches this fall.

Establishing himself as a core leader for the squad, Corey Actis started all 12 games at center in his first year with the Rebels and was a consistent performer in the spring. The 6-foot-5, 290 pound senior has provided a vocal presence that has been instrumental in the growth in communication along the front.

A pleasant surprise in 2006, Maurice Miller appeared in 11-of-12 games last season, starting seven at right tackle. Adding bulk to his already large frame, Miller progressed substantially last season and took that momentum into the spring. Improving his mobility and footwork, Miller should continue to progress as a viable option at tackle.

The lone question mark heading into spring drills was the replacement of senior staple Andrew Wicker. With the emergence of Reid Neely at left guard, Orgeron might have found his man.

Appearing in 10 games in 2006, Neely earned his first letter and provided the unit with a potential candidate beside Oher on the left side. Grasping the position early in the spring, the 6-foot-6, 300 pounder never surrendered the starting spot and finds himself atop the depth chart heading into camp. His maturation in the spring contributed to the line picking up were it left off following last season.

Fifth-year Rebel Darryl Harris appeared in and started the first three games of the season at right tackle but missed the final nine contests with a knee injury. With three letters, 13 career starts and experience at guard, center and tackle, Harris provides quality depth, veteran play and valuable versatility along the line.

Fellow senior Thomas Eckers saw action in five games with one start at left guard last season. He has also shown the ability to play center as he battled with Actis last spring before surrendering the spot in the season opener. As with Harris, Eckers brings quality depth in numerous areas.

Returning Starters: Michael Oher, John Jerry, Corey Actis, Maurice Miller

Other Key Returnees: Reid Neely, Darryl Harris, Thomas Eckers, Marcus Cohen

Key Signees: Mark Jean-Louis, Rishaw Johnson, Bradley Sowell, Alex Washington

Key Losses: Andrew Wicker

Quotable: junior Michael Oher

On the progress made this summer:

“In the spring, you are not going to be in as good of shape as you were in the fall, but Coach (Aaron) Ausmus has done a good job of switching up the workouts since last summer which has gotten us in much better shape. I think we are in much better shape this year than we were last year.”

On the development of communication along the offensive line:

“Our communication has gotten a lot better in the spring from the fall. We work on our communication every day, and you could tell we were a better unit in the spring than the fall.”

On the majority of the line returning:

“Having the core group of guys back from last year has helped out a lot. Last year we went into the season with different guys than the year before, so having the same guys has helped us grow together and communicate better.”

On the depth being built:

“Our second group is performing well and the freshmen coming in are pretty good. They’re athletic. We have pretty good depth behind us which will help us this season.”

On what he hopes to improve on this season:

“I need to improve on my finishing. I have to get better at finishing plays, which comes with being in better shape and going hard every play.”

On the expectations for the line this season:

“I think we are pretty good across the board. Coach Kehoe is a tremendous coach and has helped out a lot. With the depth we have, I think we can be really good this year.”

Final Analysis: The strength of the Rebels entering the 2007 season, the offensive line returns four starters and a variety of players that have either started or gained valuable playing time throughout their careers.

Michael Oher has received an abundance of accolades during his tenure, and those accomplishments should continue in his junior campaign. A gifted athlete, Oher could have a remarkable season, making him a household name for coaches across the nation.

John Jerry is poised for a break-out year at right guard following his tremendous freshman season in 2007. Stocked with great physical strength and passion, Jerry should be a fixture along the offensive line for years to come.

Corey Actis is a blue-collar veteran that provides much needed leadership in the middle of the offensive line. His growth as a leader over the past year has helped tremendously with the continuity of the line through last fall and spring.

Coupled with youth and experience, offensive coordinator Dan Werner and line coach Art Kehoe have plenty of ammunition to place a heady group of lineman on the field in 2007. The incoming bodies will provide the Rebels with even more depth in one of the strongest units in recent years.

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