November 6, 2008

Ole Miss OT likes move to tight end

Are you looking for a sure bet this spring?

If so, take Ole Miss offensive line coach Mike Markuson over tight ends coach James Shibest in the Battle for Bradley Sowell.

It won't be much of a fight, despite the fact that the 6-foot-7, 310-pound Sowell might be cheering for Shibest.

Sowell, a redshirt freshman backup offensive tackle, has been pressed into duty in recent weeks as the second tight end in the Rebels' oft-used two-tight end packages due to a back injury suffered by David Traxler. Sowell, a Hernando, Miss., native, has thrived.

"You can't prepare for that in practice," Sowell said. "Getting game experience was nice and now I know what I have to practice for next year."

Sowell has liked the experience so much that he's been receptive to Shibest overtures to move him to tight end permanently.

"I'd like to," Sowell said with a smile. "Coach Shibest tries to fight to get me over there at tight end, but Coach Markuson is like, 'Uh-uh, you're a tackle.' He's trying to get me to gain weight and Coach Shibest is trying to put me on No. 80-something."

So, where's Sowell's future?

"It's going to be tackle," Sowell said. "I'd like to play tight end. It'd be fun. These last couple of weeks have given me a lot of confidence and it'd be a lot of fun playing but I'm pretty sure Markuson's going to keep me at tackle."

For now, Michael Oher and John Jerry have the tackle spots locked down, leaving room for Sowell to step in as imposing tight end opposite Gerald Harris. Sowell, who normally wears No. 78, hinted that he could be making a temporary jersey number change prior to the Rebels' Nov. 15 home date against Louisiana-Monroe in an attempt to make opposing defenses respect his ability as a potential route-runner.

"They actually said something to me this week about putting 80-something on me to make the defense have to respect me," Sowell said. "In the first game, Arkansas didn't really pay attention to me but in the last game, I could see Auburn (defenders) saying, '78's a tackle,' so they didn't cover me. Against LSU and in the future, I might have a different number on so they'll have to cover me and respect me.

"I can play. My sophomore year of high school, I started at tight end. I'd like to see."

More importantly, of course, Sowell's development is emblematic of the Rebels' newfound running-game success.

"It's unreal," Sowell said. "It's the drills we do out here. Every day, we hit sleds and it seems like it's busy work but when you get in the game, man, we're coming off. It's the most physical I've ever seen this O-line and it's all Coach Markuson and his drills. When we're out here, he's killing us and we get mad but when it comes to the game, he's made us physical. There's no way you should be able to rush for 233 against that front that we played Saturday.

"We have a base running game and we stick with it, week in and week out. We have the same techniques and we don't switch it up. Last year, we switched up techniques. Now we're the same technique and we're running at them. It's the same basic stuff. It's old school, pretty much."

REBELS WRAP UP OPEN-WEEK WORK: Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt put rat traps throughout the Rebels' football complex this week, a subtle reminder that if his team looks past Louisiana-Monroe to LSU and Mississippi State, it could get hurt.

"This is what type of game this is," Nutt said. "All you have to do is go back one year from today and look what happened with Alabama and Monroe (a 21-14 Warhawks' win in Tuscaloosa). It's the same thing. You can't take anybody for granted. They beat a good Troy team and you know how good (a group of) athletes Troy has, so they have enough athletes. If you flop around, don't take care of the ball, anybody can beat anybody."

After three days of work this week, Nutt said he was hopeful that message had gotten across.

"They act like it when they're practicing," Nutt said.

Ole Miss will return to practice on Sunday.

SNEAD'S HAIRSTYLE A GOOD-LUCK CHARM?: It wasn't planned, really, but Ole Miss quarterback Jevan Snead gave himself a modified Mohawk haircut prior to the Rebels' trip to Arkansas. Two weeks later, the Rebels are 2-0 with Snead sporting the new look.

"I think I'm stuck with it for awhile," Snead said. "We'll see how it works out."

Ole Miss offensive coordinator Kent Austin is more concerned with Snead's feet and eyes than he is his hair. The open date, Snead said, has been spent "working on some footwork and stuff like that when it comes to checking it down. I'm always learning and I'm always trying to get better."

For the season, Snead has completed 130 of 242 passes for 1,813 yards, 14 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. The numbers are solid, but there's room for improvement.

"I've never had a quarterback who was where I wanted him to be at any point in any season," Austin said, laughing.

DEFENSE EMPHASIZING COVERAGE: Ole Miss defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix said the open-date week was spent working on pass defense, with emphasis put on zone drops and man coverage. Nix said he expects Louisiana-Monroe to come out throwing against the Rebels.

"I would if I was them," Nix said. "I would try to, anyway. I would try to, because we've been pretty stout against the run. Hopefully, we can continue those things and try to make it a passing game. That's our philosophy, too: try to stop the run first and try to make teams one-dimensional. Hopefully we'll coach better and our kids will play better and me can disguise some things and make things happen. The big thing Saturday (in a 17-7 win over Auburn) was we did get three turnovers."

Nix hinted that senior Dustin Mouzon might have moved ahead of Cassius Vaughn in the cornerback rotation for the ULM game.

"Dustin may be a starter next game," Nix said. "Who knows? I think he may even start."

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