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Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Haubert: Rebels keep their focus up front

By Craig Haubert

Wednesday, Ole Miss picked up a commitment from guard Rod Taylor (Jackson, Miss./Callaway).  Read below to see how our scouts feel the Under Armour All-American will perform in the SEC:

What he brings: This is a big, strong and agile offensive line prospect. The No. 2 rated guard in the ESPN 300 has the tools to be a very good and well-rounded college lineman. He needs to watch his pad level and work on the use of his hands, as well as watch how he adds size, but from an ability standpoint, he has the tools to get the job done in the trenches and at a high level. He can be a strong pass protector with the ability to set quickly and possesses nimble feet to mirror rushers. He is a physical kid who in the run game has the size and strength to knock blockers off the ball, but he also can play well on his feet in space and demonstrates good pull/trap ability.

How he fits: With his size, strength and athleticism, Taylor should fit just fine in the trenches in Oxford. He has the ability, with development, to make all the required run blocks for a team that was improved a year ago but still was near the bottom of the SEC in sacks allowed. Taylor's ability to grow into a good pass protector should help to improve in that area, as well, in time. In a conference known for developing very good D-lineman, the ESPN 300 prospect has the physical tools to compete and succeed against what will be a steady dose of good competition in the trenches from week-to-week when he hits the field.

History at position: One would think all eyes are squarely on the future in Oxford as the Rebels look to follow up on the top-five 2013 class they signed. In his first season, Hugh Freeze helped the Rebels elevate their win total by five, and it appears he and his staff are working to be strong in the trenches in an effort to try and keep things moving upward.

Ole Miss has made some strong recent additions to its D-line, with players like ESPN 300 prospects Issac Gross and Channing Ward in 2012 and top-rated player Robert Nkemdiche and top-rated junior college prospect Lavon Hooks in this past class.

The Rebels are adding the pieces to build a good D-line in a conference known for strong defensive line play, but they’re also bringing in players that could help them build a strong O-line as well. Their highly rated 2013 class featured the No. 1 and No. 3 rated offensive tackles, and they’re following that up with a 2014 class that now features the No. 2-rated guard as well two top 20 tackles, led by No. 6 Andy Bauer (St. Louis, Mo./De Smet Jesuit).

There is some Rebel history in the offensive trenches. With former player and assistant Matt Luke working with the O-line, though, the focus will be on the future, as expectations will rise with the recruiting success that is bringing in some talented big men for Luke to develop.

Prediction for performance: The Rebels look to be headed into 2013 with an O-line with good experience that should allow them an opportunity to develop some of the talented OLs they have brought in. Things could change by the time Taylor hits campus, but as talented as he is, a year to develop would be valuable once he arrives to allow him to adjust and polish technique. But he is a big, strong kid and has the ability to develop into a very good multi-year starter once called upon and could be a key piece to what has the potential to be a very good O-line down the road.

How the class is shaping up: It will be tough to follow up the class the Rebels just signed, but Coach Freeze and his staff don’t appear to be fading away, either. The addition of the talented in-state offensive lineman helped Ole Miss move up a spot to No. 16 in the class ranks, and currently three of the Rebels' top four verbals are O-linemen and four of their top five verbals overall are from in-state, and all of them are four-star prospects.