The best way to describe the Ole Miss offensive line right now is a work in progress.
Depth up front was always going to be an issue for the Rebels, who lost three starters from last season's team. But the coaches felt good about the first unit coming out of spring practice. That was until sophomore offensive lineman Austin Golson informed the staff that he planned to transfer so he could be closer to his family.
The former ESPN 300 prospect and Prattville, Ala., native was penciled in as the starter at right tackle, but instead he’ll walk on at Auburn and sit out the 2014 season. He appeared in 12 games last season as a true freshman.
It’s a win-win for Golson and Auburn. He gets to be closer to his family, and the Tigers gets a potential starter on the offensive line. But what about Ole Miss? An already thin offensive line gets even weaker, and the Rebels are now scrambling to try and pick up the pieces before the beginning of fall camp in August.
“That’s the thing,” offensive coordinator Dan Werner told ESPN.com. “We’re still shuffling guys around, trying to get the best five in there. Again, because Aaron [Morris] wasn’t there and we had a young man that was with us and decided to transfer, it sort of [changed]. We’re just going to have to shuffle some guys around and get them in the right position.”
Aaron Morris missed spring practice while recovering from a torn ACL that he suffered in the season opener last season, but Werner believes the veteran left guard is getting close to full speed again and expects he’ll be ready to go for fall camp.
When Morris does make his return, Ole Miss is getting a guy who started every game as a sophomore in 2012 and has the experience that is lacking from the rest of the unit.
“[His attitude] has been really good,” Werner said. “Because we had so many young guys playing, a guy like him who’s started and played a bunch of football for us, it was nice to have him in the meeting rooms and on the sideline for the games to help those guys out.”
The one staple on this Rebels’ offensive line is left tackle Laremy Tunsil. What he lacks in experience he makes up for in ability. He was the top offensive tackle coming out of high school and, as a freshman, he made nine starts and earned All-SEC honors. He has all the tools to be a first-round NFL draft pick one day.
“He’s obviously got to come along, but as a true freshman, to do the things he did, it’s just phenomenal to me,” Werner said. “I’ve coached a lot of guys who were first-round picks, and at that stage of their career, he’s better than any of them that I’ve ever coached.
“He’s got to keep on progressing like I said, but with our strength coach and with [offensive line coach] Matt Luke coaching him, I don’t see why he won’t be [a first-round pick].”
Tunsil and Morris are expected to form an imposing duo on the left side, but the right side remains a concern. The coaches like redshirt sophomore Robert Conyers, but they aren’t sure where he best fits. He played just about every position last season.
There are other younger, more inexperienced players who stepped up and played well this spring, but how will they react when they’re out there against Boise State in the Georgia Dome to open the season?