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Ole Miss LT Bradley Sowell learning on the job

JACKSON, Miss. -- Bradley Sowell had to take Eric Norwood's best shot, then it was everyone else's turn.

Sowell was criticized for poor play during No. 21 Mississippi's loss to South Carolina last week, raising questions about his worthiness to replace all-American left tackle Michael Oher as the Rebels travel to Vanderbilt. Analysts pointed out Sowell's struggles during the game and Sowell has been answering touch questions since.

Offensive line coach Mike Markuson doesn't think that's right. Only in the Southeastern Conference could the growth of a young left tackle make headlines.

"The guy that played before him was awfully good, and he probably struggled a little too," Markuson said. "The whole world's got its eyes on Bradley. It's really kind of unfair if you ask me. I'm his coach, and I'm going to work for him and I'm going to stick up for him and I'm going to encourage him. And when he's down I'm going to get him back up and we're going to keep working."

Left tackle is one of the hardest position to play in the SEC as defensive coordinators seem to always have a large supply of big men who are fast, mean and aggressive.

Sowell ran into two of the best when he faced off against Norwood and Cliff Matthews. Both players came away with two sacks. Though they were not all Sowell's fault, he seemed to get most of the blame from observers.

Coach Houston Nutt said the game film shows a different story, though.

"It's not all Brad," Nutt said. "I think he is getting a lot of the credit for that. There are some times where we have to get rid of the ball quicker. There are times where we have to run a better route. It's a combination. You are talking about a first-year guy at left tackle. I don't want to give him all of the credit on that deal."

Sowell has been answering these kinds of questions since Oher's departure to the NFL, where he's a rookie starting at right tackle for the Baltimore Ravens. He doesn't shy away from any questions and is confident he will become a quality player given time to mature.

"I did some bad things," Sowell said. "I also did some good things. I graded out at 76 percent, get that out there. Sometimes I was getting out a little too wide on Norwood, just being impatient. Everything I did wrong is correctible. There were a few little mistakes that you all noticed."

Markuson and Nutt believe Sowell is capable of playing the position at a high level and said this week there will be no personnel changes in the unit. There are three new starters on the line this season.

"There was so much about Mike and how his replacement was going to be and this and that," Markuson said. "I told Brad, 'Don't you worry about a thing. You're going to be a very good player here. You are a good player and you're going to get better.' It's a process, man. It's not easy, especially at that position."

Turns out there are a lot of people involved in that process. Not only is Sowell being tutored by Markuson, Nutt and the staff, but he's getting lessons from Ole Miss' array of pass rushers and run stuffers.

Each time he squares off with Greg Hardy, Kentrell Lockett or Marcus Tillman in one-on-one drills, he's learning by doing. Lockett said the sessions become heated at times and Sowell is learning at a quick pace.

"You watch him grow, you watch him get better," Lockett said. "You watch him go from holding to shooting his hands to him punching instead of grabbing your facemask. And you watch him change from stuttering his feet to actual kick stepping. So everything's changed."