The backbone of one of the biggest turnaround of the 2015 season, the Southern Miss offensive line really only loses two important pieces in 2016. Those two players lost to graduation just happen to be bookend tackles Rashod Hill and Norman Price.
Hill is a three year starter that started 37 of a possible 38 games with the program. He was named second team All-Conference USA as a senior, one of two offensive linemen for the Golden Eagles to earn a spot on the first or second teams.
Price was not quite the force that Hill was, but started 20 of a possible 26 games with the Golden Eagles. He spent his first two collegiate seasons with Hinds Community College before making the move to Hattiesburg. Price was one of three offensive linemen for Southern Miss to start all 14 games in 2015.
Despite the loss of both offensive tackles to graduation, the Golden Eagles are stacked otherwise on the offensive line. Let's look at the returning starters first.
In the middle at center is 2015 first team All-CUSA honoree Cameron Tom. The Baton Rouge, Louisiana native has been accumulating awards since he stepped foot on campus. He was named to the Conference USA All-Freshman team in 2013, C-USA Honorable Mention as a sophomore, and first team All-CUSA team as a junior. Tom has made 35 starts out of a possible 38 games during his first three seasons with USM. He is the rock that holds the Southern Miss offensive line together.
Redshirt freshman Brandon Farmer made the final 10 starts of the season at left guard and should be the favorite to hold the position this fall. The 6-2, 308 pounder made all 12 starts in 2014 and made 10 of 14 starts in 2015. Farmer was also listed as the backup center throughout the season, giving the Golden Eagles flexibility in case they need to use Tom elsewhere on the line.
Right guard is a bit more complicated as both Oliver Bates and Devin Farrior made starts in 2015. This is could be one of the most interesting position battles as both are starter quality players.
Bates has been a spot starter throughout the last two seasons, making six starts during that span. He opened the season starting at left guard before making the transition to right guard and starting three of the final five games at that position.
Battling Bates will be redshirt junior Devin Farrior. The 6-4, 304 pound guard made seven starts as a redshirt freshman in 2014 and the first nine starts of the 2015 season. He split time down the stretch with Bates, losing out on the start in the Heart of Dallas Bowl to end the season. Keep an eye on this battle in the spring.
Now we move to the two openings, left and right tackles.
Left tackle would seem on paper to be senior Tyler Stutzman's job to lose. The 275 pound tackle was the backup for Hill all season long, but did not earn any playing time all season long according to official team participation statistics. I am not sure that you can make someone that did not play despite being the depth chart backup the favorite to start in 2016.
It would not be a surprise to see someone such as junior Jerry Harris beat out Stutzman for the position. Harris was played as a guard in 2015 and would fit in better there, but with two open tackle spots, it's every man on deck to fill the openings.
On the other side of the line is Jacob Fleming. The JUCO transfer played well enough in spring and summer practice to earn the backup role at left guard last fall. He held that spot for ten games before making the move to backup right tackle. Fleming did see action in ten games last fall, making him the odds on favorite to start at one of the tackle positions.
Basically, both tackles positions are open for anyone wanting a staring job. Stutzman, Fleming, and Harris should get their chances to start, but do not overlook redshirt freshmen Ty Pollard (6-6, 315), Dakota Siniard (6-5, 305), and Drake Dorbeck (6-6, 320). All three have the physical size to step in an earn playing time at a tackle position, but have to prove that they are ready to play at the FBS level after redshirting in 2015.
- Seniors: Cameron Tom (6-4/287), Devin Farrior (6-4/304), Oliver Bates (6-2/295), Jacob Fleming (6-4/302), Tyler Stutzman (6-4/295), Brandon Farmer (6-2/308).
- Juniors: Jerry Harris (6-3/302), Willie Swift (6-3/310).
- Sophomores: Hayden McMahan (6-4/271), Brian Long (6-3/311).
- Redshirt Freshmen: Dakota Siniard (6-5/305), Ty Pollard (6-6/315), Michael Ritter (6-3/240), Drake Dorbeck (6-6/320).
- Incoming Freshmen: Cru Birdyshaw (6-7/397), Jacob Johnson (6-4/312), Wyatt Richthofen (6-4/306).