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August 20, 2013
OXFORD, Miss. -- Matt Luke has decisions to make, and that's a great thing compared to last season.
The Rebels played six offensive linemen the majority of 2012, getting lucky to avoid injuries and running tempo when possible but unable to go full on because of the lack of depth up front.
This time the Ole Miss offensive line coach is looking at a full rotation of eight or nine offensive linemen, and there are options at each position. Injuries have hit at times during camp, but as Vanderbilt nears, the Rebels are getting healthy up front.
"I thought we had a physical camp that concluded with a physical scrimmage on Saturday," Luke said. "That was by far the best we've looked as a unit, so I was pleased there. We turned our attention to Vanderbilt and tried to get some game-type looks.
"We're still a little banged up at guard position, but a lot of people are in there getting reps between Aaron Morris and Jared Duke and Justin Bell and (Patrick) Junen and Austin Golson. We're trying to have them all ready and we'll play guys in there to stay fresh."
Patrick Junen has been back full speed at practice for a couple days after missing most of spring and the first two weeks of camp with an injury. Bell has jumped out ahead at the right guard spot, but Junen got reps with the ones on Tuesday due to Bell missing time with a mild back issue and will be worked in as much as his conditioning allows.
"He's rusty," Luke said. "He's missed most of the spring and sat out. That's hard, but he's played a lot of football so I don't think it will take him long to get in the flow of the season, but obviously the conditioning is going to be an issue. He's not ready to play a full game yet, but ultimately sometime third or fourth game he will be By the end of next week I'll see. I've got eight days for him to see how he does."
Evan Swindall is a solid lock at center, but a good competition has emerged to be his reserve. Austin Douglas recently transferred to Northwestern State, leaving Ben Still and Robert Conyers splitting snaps at No. 2 center. Conyers is in his first weeks at the position, and Still played sparingly as a freshman last season.
"I've still got a few days to decide between (Conyers) and Ben," Luke said. "They are going back and forth and splitting those reps. It's a battle and right now they're even. I feel comfortable with either one going in there and fighting and competing. Obviously we want Evan to get the majority of the reps, but he's always one play away so they've got to be ready to go."
TACKLES TO TUTOR TUNSIL: Emmanuel McCray and Pierce Burton are entering their second seasons as starting tackles, and while camp has been about getting themselves better, it's also about helping along true freshman Laremy Tunsil.
The all-everything recruit will play immediately at tackle, and that's something the seniors will need to embrace and also help with.
"I expect (McCray and Burton) to be leaders and role models," Luke said. "Laremy is going to play some, so they have to handle that and help mentor him to be the player he can be."
McCray has been impressed with Tunsil's makeup so far. The kinks are ones any freshman would have.
"Laremy is a class act and talented kid," McCray said. "He's got to keep a level head and learn to practice harder and learn to play hard when he's tired, but as for the fundamentals, it's little things here or there, but for him to be a freshman as talented as he is he'll be just fine."
OL INTENT ON PROTECTING WALLACE: While Bo Wallace's shoulder injury was mostly due to runs outside the pocket, the Ole Miss front is focused on keep its quarterback upright this season.
Wallace seems completely recovered from the ailment but acknowledged he'll need to be smarter when it comes to running the football and knowing when to protect his body. McCray thinks a lot of the responsibility falls on his teammates.
"Him coming off the surgery we're taking it personal already because we feel responsible for last year's injury because you never want to see your quarterback get hurt," McCray said. "With the quarterback situation we have going on we don't know who's next after Bo. We don't know that right now, so we need to keep him healthy as possible."
REBEL RUMBLINGS: Ole Miss spent one period of practice on Vanderbilt Monday and five periods on Tuesday There's an emphasis on improving the return units, and many freshmen will get chances on those teams I'Tavius Mathers is out of the boot and ran inside on Tuesday. Full return scheduled for next week.
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