Hevesy Kicks Off Lineup Competition Thursday

John Hevesy was amused. Told how his head coach forecast back in spring how starting left tackle would not be named until the night before kicking the season off, the line coach smiled. "I'd say probably the morning of the game. Dan is jumping the gun on me a little bit."

Whether the coaches wait until Wednesday-before or Thursday-of before setting a specific starting lineup for Memphis, the fact is come tomorrow Hevesy must line-up his big Dogs for their opening practice. The first of 29 working days for Mississippi State to get everything in order for the 2011 season.

And, to Hevesy's mind, the first opportunity for all Bulldog linemen to win a place in the pecking order.

"Would I love to be set in concrete with the first five tomorrow? Yeah, I'd love that," Hevesy said. "But to me the biggest thing is competition."

The competition begins at 6:00 Thursday with the entire pre-semester team (the NCAA allows up to 105 players to work prior to start of classes) on the fields together. Much as during his second season at State, Coach Dan Mullen will divide the roster for the next two days. On Friday session are 9:00am and 7:00pm, then at 8:45 and 2:30 on Saturday.

While these split-sessions allow for much, much more intensive work to all players regardless of where they rank by positions, it does present Hevesy with an early-camp challenge. One which will involve him setting a, well, a depth chart of sorts. A lineup, too.

"Obviously I have to put five out there to go with the ones and five to go with the twos," he said. For sure Hevesy isn't going to risk over-working his group in the very first week of training camp, so there won't be overlap of teams on Friday and Saturday. Thus the need to split up the blocking Dogs…and at least imply who heads who by positions.

"But like I tell them, there's a seating chart every day when they walk into that meeting room; that chart might not change for two weeks, and it might change every hour." Hevesy is not exaggerating, either; these are the August days when it is every Dog for himself in the intense competition for status. So observers oughtn't assume anything is settled when the first five takes their individual stances tomorrow.

That said… "Yeah, right now going into it there's four guys that you know, between Quentin Saulsberry, Tobias Smith, Gabe Jackson, and Addison Lawrence," agrees Hevesy. "Because they've played. After that really no one has played. So, who is five-through-ten for me is going to get figured out on a day-by-day basis." With, he adds, the daily reminder that even the proven players can't coast this camp. The second-line line is going get their turns and their chances, for very good reason to this coach.

"To say these are the first five guys, it's done, then the next five guys say ‘well, what do I do, I guess I fight with the threes?'" Hevesy reminds. "But to me competition is what makes us better."

Nowhere is the competition more obvious, and for that matter important, than at the aforementioned left tackle spot. Not that refilling for a graduated three-year center like J.C. Brignone is a trivial matter, of course. Still it is out on the left end, the classic ‘back side' protector, where most attention is likely to turn tomorrow. For good reason, Hevesy agrees.

"You're replacing guys who had a lot of playing time, and your left tackle was pretty good. Obviously other people thought so!" As in the first-round draft selection and sizable contract given to graduated Derek Sherrod.

So…who will get first snap at left tackle Thursday? "Right now James Carmon is in there," Hevesy says. "But to me, he's one and so is Blaine Clausell." Which means nothing has changed since April's spring game when converted defensive tackle Carmon and redshirted freshman Clausell were co-first teamers. For the record, Carmon got more #1 squad snaps the first two weeks of spring, then the balance seemed tilting to Clausell the next two weeks. Now Hevesy indicates fall will start out the same way.

"Then again I can only put one (guy) in there and not two. Right now they're probably going to rotate by practice."

Going into training camp Hevesy is planning on having Carmon's services exclusively. Lack of proven depth at defensive tackle leads to suggestions that coordinator Chris Wilson might want to reclaim the big senior. All Hevesy can say for now is, "We'll cross that bridge when we have to." With the implication he hopes he doesn't have to. In fact, were that probable Hevesy would as soon Carmon go over to defense now and not disrupt anything later in the preparation process.

While this two-way duel develops at left tackle the other four top-slots obviously belong—as of today anyway—to returning starters. That includes Saulsberry who started twice last year at center when Brignone was hurt. Otherwise Saulsberry was the top left guard, meaning he has started at four line spots in three varsity seasons. It is much, much easier moving an all-league guard over of course because junior Jackson is on the same star-track himself. Then there was the injury-free '10 season by Tobias Smith at right guard.

It isn't just that State can put top SEC caliber guards all across the middle (center after all is a guard who hikes the ball first), but that there is depth as well. "Right now it will be Gabe, Damien Robinson, and Tobias. Quentin can always go back there and Templeton Hardy will be there. I'd say we've got four-and-a-half with Quentin at center." Senior and two-year starter Lawrence is the lone tested right tackle but a redshirt year and this second fall ought to get Archie Muniz and Eric Lawson up to backup-speed.

Though, the redshirt of most interest besides Clausell is current second center Dillon Day. After a bout of high-snapping issues in spring Day settled down—and got the ball down too—and showed signs why hopes are so, so high for his future. In fact, Hevesy wouldn't hesitate to put the kid over the ball this fall… "If he's one of our best five," that is. "I'll move guys to get the best five on the field and then I'll find six-seven-eight."

"I guess it's a two-part thing. Depth is a concern because nobody has played; it is not a concern because we have bodies and adequate bodies. They're just going to have to be put through the wringer pretty quickly."

Which brings up the necessary reminder how Hevesy isn't as confined by position titles much more than he is a depth chart on August 3. That's why every lineman must check the posted list daily to see where they are to sit in unit meetings, much less how to line up outdoors. Speaking of shuffling, Hevesy says he made no position moves over the summer, nor any adjustments to the post-spring pecking order. That had Muniz, Robinson, Day, Ben Beckwith, and Clausell as the second unit. Hevesy hopes Sam Watts is healthy and can stay that way to resume competition at center. Jackson had no after-effects from a spring knee ding.

Nor is Hevesy at all worried about what shape his squad will report in. "Me and Matt Balis have been together 12 years so I know everything he does. I know we're going to be in great shape, they're going to be strong and ready to go mentally, toughness-wise." And technically-wise? Coaches can't instruct in summers…but players can. Here Hevesy has counted on veterans, Saulsberry in particular, to be summer coaches to backups and new kids like Justin Malone.

"That's what happens with two, three, four guys who have been around. They should know the drills and know how to coach the younger guys what to do and how to do it. I told them in summer you need to do the drills we do, the technique and fundamentals. I don't care about plays, plays will be taught. Once your foundation is down you should be able to call a play and just go block it."

Or at least that is the hope for Thursday. Hevesy won't cut any slack because it's hot these days, or there might be some rusty technique after off-season. His head coach can joke about having 29 days to settle things, but the line boss can practically hear the clock ticking down to kickoff.

"I'm looking for carry-over from where we left. Like I told them when we left the spring, we can't show up and start back to the basic fundamentals of things. They've got to have had a progressive summer. It's what they had to take over in themselves to come back to camp with. It can't be teaching a base play and here's how we're calling it; we've got to go."

And who knows, maybe in the days ahead Hevesy can figure out a likely lineup…in his mind. Because even in that happy case he'll still probably prefer waiting until the morning of September 1 to post his starters and rotations. "But I guess Joe Galbraith is going to come after us the morning before, wanting a depth chart," Hevesy muses.

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