March 21, 2008

Markuson, Nutt want Oher to take next step

Michael Oher has a chance to be a top-10 pick in the April 2009 NFL draft.

Mike Markuson wants that to happen. If it does, the new Ole Miss offensive line coach believes, it will be because the Rebels' senior All-American left tackle proves he can he can make the jump from very good to great and from great to dominant.

"He's exactly like Tony Ugoh was at Arkansas," Markuson said following Friday's practice at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. "He's got the same body. He's the same athlete. The one thing we told Tony his senior year is he's got to get more physical and that's what he did. He got drafted in the second round and he starts for the (Indianapolis) Colts. Mike's in the same mold. He's got to do it this year. He's got to help us win and by the same token, he's got to become a more physical guy on every snap. But he's so athletic. He can get to the spot and can run. He's everything you want in a left tackle.

"I just know guys who become great players are physical, nasty, athletic guys. He's an athletic guy that can run all day. Now it's just will he put his pads down and run and block guys and be physical on every snap? For any of them, that's the key. If you get five of them doing it the right way like that, that's going to make a big difference."

New Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt, who has seen Oher develop as an opposing coach for the past three seasons, concurs with Markuson. He expects to see Oher take that next step beginning Saturday morning at 8:30 when the Rebels put on full pads for the first time this spring.

"I want to see him now take two perfect days and a perfect winter conditioning drill and do it with the pads," Nutt said. "The only thing he has left to do is be physical. He can do everything else. He's been pass protecting. He's been run-blocking, but now do it with the pads on and have a real demeanor about yourself about dominating. He can dominate. We want him to be a dominating player."

Oher's presence should anchor an offensive line that has been solid _ if not impressive _ in the first two days of spring work. John Jerry, who has missed some work this week due to an illness, will be at right tackle. Former tackle Maurice Miller has moved inside to guard. Reid Neely has been impressive at the other guard slot, leaving center as a bit of hole so far.

Ole Miss has talent at center, but much of it is inexperienced. Daverin Geralds, Rishaw Johnson and Brandon Green are all seeing time at the position.

"Daverin's still coming," Nutt said, as he watched the Rebels' centers and quarterbacks take an extra 100 shotgun snaps after practice. "We've got to get to where that's automatic. It's gotta be like breathing. That's got to be consistent. Hopefully we'll get that corrected."

Markuson is seeing many of the same things. There are depth concerns on the offensive front, just as there are at every position on the roster sans wide receiver and defensive line, but the front-line guys have a chance, Markuson said, to be solid.

"Maurice Miller, I'm really proud of him, has lost some weight," Markuson said. "Reid Neely's looking good. Michael Oher's looking good. These are some good-looking athletes. They can run and they've played in this league. Rishaw Johnson and Daverin Geralds have done some good things. It's just a work in progress. They're learning. It's going fast. We're throwing a lot at them."

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