OXFORD • Statistically, Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin and offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby have put together one of the most dynamic offenses in the country.
The deep throws, the big runs and catches that seem to come easily would have been oddities if the Rebels hadn’t gotten some measure of production up front.
The offensive line was already going to rely on some unproven guys when it lost last year’s starting center, Eli Johnson, who on the eve of training camp announced he would opt out for the season.
What has emerged through seven games under offensive line coach Randy Clements is a group that falls somewhere between pedestrian and dominant, a group that relies heavily on its starting five.
For every game that first unit has been Nick Broeker at left tackle, Jeremy James at right guard, Ben Brown at center and Royce Newman at right tackle.
In recent weeks Caleb Warren has overtaken Reece McIntyre at left guard.
“I think we’re really good in pass protection for the most part. We’re up and down in the run game,” Kiffin said.
In spite of that inconsistency the Rebels this week lead the SEC in rushing at 212.7 yards a game.
Kiffin felt like the run game left yards on the field last week when it finished with 195 on the ground in a 59-42 win over South Carolina.
Kiffin and Lebby have been able to adjust and fall back on the run game when some defenses began to drop eight defenders in pass coverage.
Success at times has been boosted by pre-snap motion and two tight-end sets.
“A lot of those guys played last year, and they ran the ball well, led the SEC in rushing. We’re doing some good things, but we can improve there,” Kiffin said.
Newman, a senior, has made a successful move from left guard to right tackle and has drawn the attention of pro scouts. Last week he received an invitation to play in the Reese’s Senior Bowl where he’ll be evaluated by NFL personnel in a week of workouts leading up to the game.
It’s an opportunity that Broeker, a sophomore, may have one day if he doesn’t declare for the draft early, a decision he may face a year from now.
Kiffin was pleased with how Broeker and Newman played against South Carolina, less so with redshirt freshman guards James and Warren and Brown, a junior.
Broeker believes the group can get better in the run game.
“It starts with communication, making sure we’re blocking the right guys, getting to the right ’backers,” he said. “You have to make sure you’re using your hands right, taking the proper steps and finishing guys.”
The Ole Miss offensive line is giving up 1.86 sacks per game which ties with Kentucky for sixth in the SEC.
Substitution has been rare.
McIntyre, with two starts under his belt, has appeared in six games including the last three.
Hamilton Hall is second on the depth chart at right tackle, Eli Acker second at left. Hall, on special teams, has appeared in every game; Acker has appeared in one.
“We’re trying to develop depth,” Kiffin said. “We’d like to rotate a little bit. We’re just not there.”