OXFORD • At 6-foot-4 it’s hard for Jalen Cunningham to hide, but there is less of him to see right now … about 50 pounds less.
Cunningham, a sophomore from Odenville, Alabama, is expected to be a big part of a revamped Ole Miss offensive line, provided he can stay on the field.
At 388 pounds that was a challenge. Fatigue set in, and Cunningham was unable to play long enough to finish drives.
Lighter at 339 he says he’s gone from being effective for three or four plays to eight, nine or 10 plays.
As Cunningham and all his teammates settle in for a third offensive coordinator in three years, fatigue is amplified by pace of play.
Jeff Lebby’s offense will seek to push the tempo.
That’s why less weight means more efficiency for Cunningham, who is seeking a starting job at left guard.
“Since my freshman year I’ve been trying to lose a bunch of weight,” Cunningham said. “It’s taken a good little time, but it’s been helpful. I’ve been able to play faster, to use my speed and power. It’s been great.”
Redshirt freshman Reece McIntyre is also in the mix at left guard, as was redshirt freshman Caleb Warren before an injury.
It’s not an inexperienced line, but it’s a line with old starters in new places. Royce Newman moved from left guard to right tackle, and Ben Brown moved from right guard to center.
Left tackle Nick Broeker is in his first season as a starter but played about half the reps last year behind Michael Howard.
The Rebels lost an experienced player when center Eli Johnson, a 12-game starter last year, chose to opt out.
“I’d say we’re on a good path right now. We need to communicate more and play more as a unit. If we do that we can be a good team,” Cunningham said.
Cunningham was a key reserve in 2019. He played a career-high 50 snaps at Alabama and did not allow a sack, hit or QB pressure.
Weight loss has been more about conditioning work than diet.
“I’m not a picky eater,” he said. “I like eating vegetables and fruits and stuff. It wasn’t too bad.”