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SPRING FOOTBALL PRIMER: Ole Miss’ offensive line looks to build depth behind experienced front

Editor’s note: This is the fourth of a seven-part series previewing each position for Ole Miss heading into spring football practice, which begins Tuesday.

Ole Miss had one of the more experienced offensive lines in the SEC a season ago.

Most of that experience is back.

Familiar faces like Sean Rawlings, Javon Patterson, Jordan Sims and Greg Little are still around while Alex Givens also returns. The Rebels return five of the seven linemen in the regular rotation last season that helped Ole Miss lead the league in passing and scoring and lost just one starter in right tackle Rod Taylor.

Ole Miss’ starting five heading into the spring have combined for more than 80 career starts. With more than one of them projected to be taken in the early rounds of next year’s NFL Draft, it’s one of the more quality blends of season, talent and versatility the Rebels have had up front in years.

Patterson and Little are the headliners. A mainstay at left guard since starting four games there as a true freshman, the 6-foot-3, 314-pound Patterson has started more games (30) than anybody up front entering his senior season, including each game the last two seasons. Little, a former five-star signee, has been entrenched at left tackle since replacing former All-American and first-round draft pick Laremy Tunsil midway through his freshman season in 2016.

Barring any significant injuries, Little will likely follow his predecessor’s footsteps to the next level as Ole Miss’ highest-ranked draft-eligible prospect. Some outlets have the 6-6, 325-pound Little pegged as one of the top 10 prospects for next year’s draft should he decide to skip out on his senior season. Patterson could also be an early-round candidate with another strong campaign.

Rawlings and Sims join Patterson to give the Rebels three starting seniors up front. Rawlings is back for his second season as the full-time starter at center after beginning his career at tackle. Serving primarily as the third guard a season ago, Sims got just one start at right guard after starting 10 games there in 2016, but the 6-4, 330-pounder will likely start the spring with the first unit with Givens sliding outside to fill Taylor’s absence at right tackle.

Lining up at different spots isn’t anything new for any of the starting five. Givens, a fourth-year junior, began his career at tackle before starting eight games at guard last season. Patterson and Sims have cross-trained at center and could fill in in a pinch with four combined starts there.

Finding replacements for Taylor and Daronte Bouldin while simultaneously building additional depth will be a focus for offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr. this spring.

Third-year sophomore Royce Newman could push Givens for a starting job after spending last season as the Rebels’ third tackle. Fellow sophomores Bryce Matthews and Chandler Tuitt got their feet wet last season while freshmen Ben Brown and Tony Gray will join the competition for a rotation spot after redshirting last year.

Incoming freshmen Hamilton Hall and Jalen Cunningham, a two-way lineman who could end up on either side of the ball, won’t arrive until the summer, but Bicknell already has an array of options.