Bruce Pearl's staff started its search for a point guard last year in west Tennessee, but fell short…
Spring OL breakdown
You don't have to say much to get Offensive Line Coach Art Kehoe going when the conversation is his Rebel OL.
And once he gets started, you better write quickly.
The passion Kehoe has for his craft simply overwhelms everything, including interviews. One or two questions and he's off to the races, a reporter's dream.
"The offensive line has made steady progress this spring and it's a good sign we are moving forward, but we aren't moving forward fast enough to suit me," he said. "I have high hopes for this group for a lot of reasons. They want it, they are great kids and they have good talent, but doing ‘OK' is not OK with me or them."
Kehoe gets a little wound up when he discusses the next step in the progression.
"We are more talented than a lot of people think we are, but to reap the benefits of that talent we are going to have to do a lot between now and the first game," the intense Kehoe continued. "We need a good summer of studying what we put in this spring. We have to use the muscle between our ears to communicate better. We have to be diligent with our diets, with gaining flexibility, with getting stronger and we have to be in the best shape of our lives when we start August practice.
"I want them studying together, hanging out together, working in the weight room together. I want them to become one entity where they know what the other is thinking before they think it. We need a total commitment to what our goals are and we need to understand everything we are trying to do to the point of it just being second nature.
"In short, we have to take everything we learned this spring to another level. They've had a taste of what we need to do in spring, now they have to run with it. If we will take all those steps, individually and collectively, we can be a good OL. People think I'm crazy when I say this, but other than one All-American we had at Miami last year, this group has as much raw athletic talent as our OL at Miami had, they just haven't developed as far – yet."
Technically, Kehoe has a grocery list of improvements that need to be made. Group-wise, here are a few.
"We need to improve our pulling technique, the use of our hands in pass protection sets, on finishing blocks better, on playing lower and on our conditioning. We also have to work on our flexibility so all our guys can unhinge their hips and get after some people," he stated.
One thing Kehoe is very pleased with is the versatility of the OL group.
"We are a multi-functional unit. We have five or six guys who can play all three positions (center, guard or tackle). When fall rolls around and we start honing in on specific positions for specific players more than we did in spring training, I think there are going to be some terrific battles for the number one spots," he stated.
The following is the OL depth chart with comments from Kehoe on each candidate:
Left Tackle – Michael Oher – Sophomore, 6-5 ½, 320 – "Michael has made steady progress all spring. We need him to be more of a technician and we need him to improve his footwork and hand placement in the running game," Kehoe began. "We also need him to work on his vertical sets in the passing game. I've asked all of our guys, not just Michael, that they need to do 10,000 vertical sets in the summer. That's 100 days, 100 sets a day. Ability is not a factor with Michael. It's the little things done correctly that will make him an All-American. That's my goal for him. We will have some talks in the next few weeks heading into summer because I want that to be his goal too. I am very pleased with what he has done, especially since he is learning a new position."
David Traxler – Sophomore, 6-6, 292 – "David is a very bright guy who is in the developmental stages with his core strength. He has to keep working on his strength and flexibility. He needs to do a million lunges, short shuttles, anything that will unhinge his hips," Kehoe noted. "I think David will make a big jump this summer if he will commit himself to what we ask him to do. David is also versatile and can play both positions (guard and tackle). He's got a good future here."
Left Guard – Andrew Wicker – Senior, 6-5, 290 – "Andrew is another player who is very smart and plays extremely hard," Art noted. "He's very coachable. You don't have to say things over and over and over for him to get it. Like David, he can play a number of positions for us. We may even get Andrew, for backup purposes, to snap some for us for insurance. Like the rest of them, he has to work on his flexibility, but I believe he's bright enough to understand what will put him over the top and get it done."
Reid Neely – Redshirt freshman, 6-6, 295 – "Reid missed all of last year with a torn Achilles tendon. He recovered well, but the missed time hurt his development," Kehoe said. "He's another one who has to keep working on his core strength. He's young, long, smart and what you are looking for. He has good knowledge of what we are doing, but he needs to apply his techniques more consistently and work on that core strength. He's a guy I would expect to improve 15-20% by fall."
Center – Thomas Eckers – Junior, 6-2, 290 – "Thomas has been a pleasant surprise this spring. He's never snapped before and had some problems in that area at first, but that's to be expected," Art noted. "He needs to spend all summer working on handling the ball. We also need him to do 10,000 reps of snapping while setting for back blocks, rach blocks, and kicking back into pass pro sets. Thomas is snart and has good quickness. I think he'll be a good center when he gets those things down pat."
Corey Actis – Junior, 6-5, 300 – "Corey – like Reid and David and a couple of more – will make up a lot of ground this summer in Strength & Conditioning Coach Aaron Ausmus' offseason program. Like them, he needs core development," Kehoe said. "Corey will play a lot for us and may get some snaps at guard too. He's learning the system at a good pace and he's really a tough kid who likes to mix it up. I think center will be a very interesting battle between him and Thomas in the fall."
Maurice Miller – Sophomore, 6-3, 330 – "This is the most even battle for number one we have right now between James and Mo. Like James, Mo needs to lose weight and get committed to his conditioning," Art expressed. "He is gifted – explosive and strong. If he will get in the best shape of his life, and can be a leaner athlete, he can be a terrific player for us."
Right Guard – James McCoy – Senior, 6-3, 312 – "We need James to lose 10-15 pounds and step up his conditioning and effort level a noth or two," Kehoe stated. "He needs to eat better, monitor himself better and get in great shape. He's athletic and strong and should be a player, but he's got work to do."
Right Tackle – Darryl Harris – Junior, 6-3, 285 – "Darryl is a very good athlete, maybe our best pure athlete on the OL," Kehoe assessed. "He's smart, versatile and is our leader. He's very sharp mentally and has performed consistently. He has been the stabilizer among the OL this spring. I'd like to see him gain 5-10 pounds and get stronger, but I think he will do that with Coach Ausmus in the offseason."
Marcus Cohen – Junior, 6-5, 290 – "He's another player I'd like to see gain 10 pounds and keep working on his strength. Marcus has done well, but we need him to do a little better from top to bottom. He's in the same boat as all of them – we need him to reach for that next level," Kehoe commented.
Utility Lineman – Paul Hurd – Sophomore, 6-4, 275 – "We are very fortunate to have Paul. He's a great student of the game and could play all five positions for us," Kehoe closed. "We are lucky to have him."
Our Take: Without knocking anyone, the offensive linemen in 2005 were not a very "happy" bunch. Art Kehoe has changed all that with an infusion of enthusiasm, energy, teaching skills and good communication with the candidates. They would already run through the proverbial brick wall for him. That will make a world of difference when the Rebs go to battle in the fall. Also, the new schemes Kehoe has introduced are more aggressive in nature. There is nothing passive about his style or his schemes, which the players like. The improvement from the first day of spring to the last was perhaps the most dramatic on the team, but, as he said, there is another level to be attained before we can, in good faith, declare this unit competitive in the SEC. Hopefully, they will heed his words of offseason commitment and "git ‘er done."
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