Mississippi left tackle Bradley Sowell learned a lot of things in his difficult first game as all-American Michael Oher's replacement.

The most important? Drink more water.

Sowell had a tough second quarter because of cramps and was enduring a dressing down from offensive line coach Mike Markusson, who was ready to yank him.

"I told Coach Markusson and I don't know if he believed me until I pointed down at my legs and said, 'Look at them, coach. They wouldn't look like that if I weren't cramping,'" Sowell said.

It's not as if Sowell was alone in his struggles. Most of the Rebels experienced problems in the season-opening win over Memphis before Ole Miss pulled away for a 45-14 win.

Sowell, though, has been the focus of intense attention since Oher finished up his decorated career and became a first-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens. Few have been questioned as much as Sowell.

At 6-foot-7 and 305 pounds with long arms, he has a left tackle's body, one he worked extremely hard to transform in his first season, when he was Oher's little-used backup. But there remained worries over his toughness, athletic ability and aggressiveness.

It's hard to blame those who might question Sowell. Left tackle is one of the most important positions in the Southeastern Conference because the league harbors some of the nation's best edge pass rushers. If a left tackle fails in the SEC, his team usually does, too.

"When you're out there on the left side, it's a man's job and it's not easy," Nutt said.

Sowell answered some of those questions Sunday, especially about his toughness, by getting back on the field despite the pain of leg cramps, which can be debilitating.

"It affected me some in pass protection, but it's one of those things you've got to play through," Sowell said. "I was able to do that. But you can always get better and I'm working every day to get better. I know I'm not where I want to be yet."

Other questions remain, though. A few miscues led to pocket collapses and Jevan Snead's poor performance through the early part of the game can be attributed to some of that pressure.

With an open date this week, Sowell has time to work on his deficiencies. And Nutt will make sure he works hard.

"A lot of good one-on-one time this week," Nutt said. "We'll put him against the best."

The Rebels lost three offensive line starters from last season, and at times that showed against Memphis. But Nutt and Markusson saw nothing alarming. Markusson called the performance "decent."

Sowell played well enough to keep coveted recruit Bobby Massie on the bench for much of the game. Though the freshman has come "1,000 miles," as Nutt said, he still only played six or seven snaps while Sowell got most of the work.

"I didn't see anything that I don't think we can't correct and that's true for all of them," Markusson said. "I thought there was effort and I think you have to get a feel for it as a unit and as a player. (Sowell) made some steps in the right direction. We're going to keep working to do that."