Coaches always harp about depth.
It's in their blood. Their DNA never allows them to think they have enough players.
Fans think it's coach speak, for the most part.
That is, until a spring like this spring slaps everyone in the kisser.
With four starters, plus heir apparent Patrick Junen penciled in to take graduate A.J. Hawkins' place, it appeared spring training would be a walk in the park for OL Coach Matt Luke and that his main charge would be to try to find the sixth, seventh, eighth and so on best OL for depth purposes.
The best laid plans. . .
Don't look now, but two weeks into spring training and Luke has had to change directions, which, he will explain, is both good and bad.
"With Aaron Morris (shoulder), D.J. Bailey (knee) and Chase Hughes (shoulder) out for spring with injury and E-Man (Emmanuel McCray) missing the first hour or so with a class conflict, we've had to do a lot of shuffling around," said Luke. "That's hurt our continuity, but it's also allowed some other guys to get a lot of reps and that's a good thing.
"We're mixing and matching a lot and hopefully when the smoke clears we'll have developed a little more depth."
The anchors of the OL during spring have been Tackle Pierce Burton and Center Evan Swindall. Pierce plays right tackle, but has had to work some at LT until Emmanuel gets to practice.
"Pierce is doing fine at both positions. He played a little LT last year, so it's good to get him a little more experience there," noted Luke. "Evan has been solid. He's very smart. From a knowledge and experience standpoint, he gets himself in the right spots. Sometimes we take it for granted, but he does a good job with the shotgun snaps and he gets everyone in the right spots. I'm happy with him and he's been good as long as I have been here."
Redshirt freshman Robert Conyers, even though he is still a little undersized and needs more strength, has caught Luke's attention.
"He's doing some good things. He's playing with the ones when Emmanuel is not here. I expect him to help us out next year and would feel comfortable playing him. Certainly, he needs to get bigger and stronger, but mentally he's catching on," Luke added. "He needs a big offseason this summer."
With Morris out, Justin Bell and Jared Duke are vying for the left guard slot.
"Bell is a little bit ahead right now. He's showing a little more punch and fire, which I like, but Duke is not far behind," he said. "There's a good competition going on there and I think both are lining themselves up to be quality depth next year."
Junen was thought to be the lead guy at right guard and that has held firm thus far.
"Pat is doing fine. He just needs to get back in football shape. We went a couple of tempo drives today and he got kind of winded, but I like what I have seen so far from him," Luke said.
JUCO walk-on Center Austin Douglas has caught Luke's attention as well.
"Today, I used Ben (Still) at some other positions so Austin got the number two snaps at center and I didn't see any bad snaps and for the most part he was in the right spots," said Luke. "For his sixth day of practice, that's pretty good. I'm pleased with him and glad he is here."
The Rebels signed four highly-rated recruits who will be here this summer, but Luke is not going to count them as contributors until they get here and he can see what they can do.
"We think they'll help, but in spring you just don't count on them. I learned that from experience. If they come in and can contribute, it's a bonus, and we think a couple of them will, but again, you don't count on it in spring," he said. "We'll be OK if they do or don't because we have a lot of experience coming back once they get healthy."
For now, Luke is having to play musical chairs, but as he said, there's good and bad in that mode of operation.
When the dust clears, however, the OL will be better for it.