Junior offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil’s absence has left a considerable hole in the Ole Miss offensive line. The pre-season All-American’s inability to play because of an ongoing NCAA investigation is significant to an offensive line that is already lacking depth.
The Rebels needed some young players to step up and take a lot of meaningful snaps on Saturday, and that is exactly what they got from freshmen Javon Patterson and Sean Rawlings.
Patterson, a true freshman, started his first game as a Rebel and impressed many, including Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze and offensive line coach Matt Luke. Freeze said on Monday that Patterson graded out higher than freshmen he has seen, and Luke reiterated that point after practice on Tuesday.
“To be a true freshman, that was as good of a performance in the first game as I have ever been around. He played like a veteran,” Luke said. “He was good on his assignments. He was calm and cool.”
Luke said Patterson’s decision to early-enroll at Ole Miss last December in order to participate in spring practice may have helped the young guard in his first game.
“It helped a lot,” Patterson said on starting last Saturday. “I felt like I physically and mentally prepared to face guys on the first team and get the jitters out of the way.”
Patterson was thrust into a starting role after left guard Aaron Morris was unable to participate in spring practice due to a partially torn ACL from the end of last season.
Rawlings’ performance was another positive sign in regards to the offensive line depth. Originally a center, Rawlings started at right tackle in place of senior Fahn Cooper, who had to fill in at left tackle in Tunsil’s absence. Rawlings played more snaps than any other lineman against UT-Martin and said he learned a lot from his first start.
“There were a lot of things that I could have done better, but I felt like I went out there and competed and gave great effort. That will never be a question,” Rawlings said.
As far as replacing Tunsil goes, the Rebels are prepared in a couple of different ways. Cooper played left tackle on Saturday, and sophomore Rod Taylor got reps at left tackle in practice on Tuesday.
“It was a lot of learning,” Luke said. “It was more of an experiment than anything to see how he would do, because we feel like he is athletic enough.”
Taylor has been dealing with a right shoulder injury, and Luke felt he could be more effective on the left side of the line. Luke also said that senior center Robert Conyers could see reps at either tackle position if needed.
The Rebel offensive line is still working to get everyone healthy and on the field in 2015, but, in the mean time, team members are stepping up and playing well out of position to get the job done.
“You’ve got to prepare for every situation. Having a little bit more depth helps,” Luke said. “We’re still not really deep at the tackle position where we want to be, but you have to prepare no different than an injury.”