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Can the Rebels Offensive Line Be a Difference Maker in 2024?

Lane Kiffin rebuilt the Ole Miss offensive line through the transfer portal. Can the unit become a difference-maker in 2024?

We’ve made it to the middle of February, which for college football fans means the offseason is in full swing.  Programs have made it past the second and final Signing Day, and most are turning focus toward Spring practice. They’re also looking for signs of what could be difference-makers on rosters for the upcoming season. Ole Miss is no different in this aspect, and one key difference maker in Oxford should be the Rebels offensive line.

Last year, and in plenty of years before that, the Ole Miss offensive line has been a bit of a problem. In fact, for much of the last decade, the unit has essentially objectively been the worst offensive unit on the field for the program.

For the 2024 season, there’s a strong likelihood that could finally change.

Micah Pettus Returning

The good news surrounding the offensive line for Rebel fans started before last year’s season-ending. 6’7″, 360-pound lineman Micah Pettus announced he was returning to Oxford in an announcement made on his social media pages on December 11th. Widely considered as the best offensive lineman on the team, this was a welcome relief for Ole Miss fans everywhere.

Before the Georgia matchup from last season, Pettus saw his season come to an early end due to an injury. For the following few weeks, the offensive line seemed to begin what can only be described as a downward spiral. This can, at least partially, show the type of impact he has on the unit when he’s on the field. Little did anyone know at the time this would be the first step to rebuilding the Rebel offensive line.

New Additions

Not long after Pettus made the statement announcing his return, Lane Kiffin landed another big-time commit from another offensive lineman. This time it was Southern Miss’ Gerquan Scott, who transferred to Ole Miss following a short stint in the transfer portal. At 6’4″, 330 pounds, Scott was ranked as the 10th best interior offensive lineman in the transfer portal, according to 247Sports. As a Golden Eagle, Scott made 37 career starts over four seasons while in Hattiesburg. With his transfer to Ole Miss, he’ll have one year of eligibility remaining.

Nearly a month after the Scott commitment, the rebuilding of the offensive line continued. This time, it came in the form of 6’5″, 330-pound Diego Pounds. After spending three seasons at North Carolina, including eight starts in 2023, Pounds decided to join Kiffin in Oxford. He’s likely to be a day-one starter at Ole Miss and will have two years of eligibility remaining.

Landing Two Washington Transfers

While Pettus returning, and the addition of Scott and Pounds was all good news, there was a bigger announcement on the horizon. On January 24th, former Washington offensive linemen Nate Kalepo and Julius Buelow made their commitment to the Rebels official. With Washington making a run to the national championship game this season, they both bring plenty of needed experience to the Rebel offensive line. It’s also worth noting that the Huskies offensive line won the Joe Moore Award. That award is given annually to the best offensive line unit in the country.

The 6’6″, 327-pound Kalepo started all 15 games for Washington this season, primarily at left guard. He was also listed as the fifth-best interior offensive lineman in the transfer portal upon entering. For the season, Kalepo allowed only one sack and 16 pressures, on 923 snaps.

On the other side of the line, the 6’8″, 313-pound Buelow started at right guard for the final eight games of the season. This came after he missed two games due to an injury. While not as highly touted as Kalepo coming out of the portal, he’ll have the chance to make an immediate impact for the Rebels in 2024.

Much Needed Depth on the Line

The talent being added to the offensive line is a huge plus for the Rebels. But there’s arguably a bigger advantage the transfers will bring to Oxford. That advantage is the added, much-needed depth. The glaring issue with the offensive line last season was oftentimes getting worn down late in games. This became more obvious following Pettus’ season-ending injury.

By adding these four transfers, and getting Pettus back, depth should no longer be a problem. We’ll have to see how Kiffin decides to utilize the line. But what we know is that guys should no longer need to play virtually every snap. The ability to rotate solid players on the offensive line hasn’t been a commonplace luxury in Oxford. This luxury should be able to keep everyone fresh, even late in games.

Can the New Additions Mesh?

The talent that has been added to the Ole Miss offensive line is without question. However, that won’t matter if they can’t play well together. A huge aspect of success on the line is communication, so there’s always slight hesitation when rebuilding this position group. If they manage to mesh, success isn’t hard to imagine. This could also easily lead to them being the best offensive line unit we’ve seen in Oxford in the past decade. But if they don’t, quarterback Jaxson Dart may find himself running for his life more often than he’d like.

Kiffin has shown a willingness to take chances with the transfer portal before. This season will be no different. If it all works out, especially on the offensive line, he’ll come out looking like a genius. If it doesn’t, many Ole Miss fans will be left questioning where it all went wrong. This is expected to be one of the best teams Ole Miss football has ever seen. With the additions on the offensive line, they’re now a big part of why.

 

 

Photo courtesy: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

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