Injury is a part of football. It can destroy a season for an entire team, end the career of a player or thrust backups into the limelight. Preparedness for injury is an essential aspect of most any successful season.
After a 27-16 weekend loss to Cal in which Ole Miss lost both star receiver A.J. Brown and starting center Sean Rawlings to injuries, reality struck early for the Rebels this season – a bleak start for a team mired in controversy.
But according to offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr., the Rebels are well-prepared for these circumstances.
“It’s a handy week to have a bye week, to be honest with you. We can really look at some different combinations, look at who’s going to be playing center,” Bicknell said. “Backup center is probably one of the most important positions on the team to make sure you have someone that’s ready to go if a guy goes down.”
Having a quality backup center – one who is familiar with the snap counts and can provide consistent coverage for the quarterback – is paramount. Bicknell and his staff consider themselves lucky to have time to nail down a backup before taking on No. 1 Alabama next Saturday.
There are several players on the roster who are taking their shots at earning Rawlings’ old job.
“We’ve been playing with six guys. Daronte (Bouldin) would be a guy that is ready to go,” Bicknell said. “We have some interchangeable parts there. We’re just trying to get the best five guys in there, and if you deserve to play, we are trying to get you in there. It builds depth, and it encourages the guys to practice harder.”
Position changes are rarely simple or one-dimensional, but they are welcomed by Jordan Sims, a junior guard on the line, as a challenge and compulsory sacrifice for the greater good of the team.
“I’m listening to calls from coach for almost every position because you never know what’s going to happen,” Sims said. “It’s all up to the coaches. Whatever they think is best, I’m good with it. I’m willing to take up that role and play center and do whatever I can to help us be better as a unit.”
The coaching staff is creating a positive environment where competition is friendly, healthy and productive. For those who must watch this competition from the trainer’s room, injury has an entirely different mentality. For Ken Webster, the cornerback who suffered a gruesome leg injury against Florida State last season, injury created a new level of competitiveness and drive.
“I value everything now,” Webster said. “At practice, every day, you have to take full advantage … Anything can be taken from you at any moment.”
Webster went on to say the most difficult aspect of injury was simply being away from his teammates. He spoke of an inescapable feeling of letting down his team. And yet, after returning in excellent form against a red-hot Cal offense, it’s clear Webster made the most of an unfortunate situation and is now collecting the dividends from his investment.