"Because without him I can't do my job," says Lawrence. Or more accurately, without them. Certainly Coach Dan Mullen is counting on the give guys up front to literally lead Mississippi State's offensive charge into 2011. All the more so because with the one obvious exception this is an experienced, cohesive unit.
"We've got four guys that have all played a lot of football between us," Lawrence says. "There's a lot of snaps, and with us being so solid it helps the left tackle out."
Understand, Lawrence is not making light of refilling the position played so well for three years by Derek Sherrod. But neither is he or any Bulldog blocker showing preseason concerns about the ultimate success in getting either converted defensive tackle James Carmon, or redshirt freshman Blaine Clausell, or even better both, up to State standards. Take it from the veteran lining up directly beside the new left tackle.
"Yeah, we're trying to help each other out," says left guard Gabe Jackson. With good results, he adds, as senior Carmon keeps adjusting daily. "And he's caught on real quick, he's doing a whole lot better than he was at first. He's catching on a whole lot."
Or perhaps Jackson, just a sophomore in age but with a full season starting in his account already, is just glad having Carmon on his side…of the line. Butting heads last preseason wasn't fun, admits the blocker. "Yeah, he can be a load!" For that matter Jackson can still see hints of ‘defensive' footwork in Carmon on offense. "More on run plays, he will sometimes. But he's adjusting to the left tackle spot. And he listens to us."
Lawrence is naturally worth listening to as he has even more SEC experience. His State tenure dates back to redshirting through 2007 while another bunch of veteran blockers were integral to a winning season and bowl berth. Things didn't go nearly so well a year later when Lawrence was a backup tackle and special-teams regular.
In fact that '08 season serves as a reminder how much has changed since…and how success can never be taken for granted. And while the Egg Bowl blowout remains one of the worst days of his life, even it was the start of something good. "We came back and that' the only time I've lost to them, since I've been here," the native Mississippian reminds.
"We thought we could win. But there's an attitude now that we really believe we can do stuff. That's the main difference, I think." Besides, adds Lawrence, "I think we're way better than we were back then, we have a different mindset, different players, different style."
For his part Jackson (who has never had to watch an Egg Bowl go the wrong way) sees the progress as well. Most of all up on the line where it all gets started.
"To me, I feel we're bigger than we were last year and stronger. And we know more about football and different protections, different schemes, and the reason why we do things."
Why they do everything, actually. Lawrence and Jackson suddenly find themselves as elder State-smen with the added duties of, well, of coaching up some kids. Good kids, too. Archie Muniz, Dillon Day, Damien Robinson, Nick Redmond, et.al. are the future of Bulldog blocking and by extension of Bulldog football. Lawrence's case this preseason is particularly telling: the senior is backed up right now at right tackle by no less than three freshmen, two redshirt and one brand-new.
Sure, he'd love to play every snap available, but…wisdom demands getting the youngsters ready ASAP.
"Right. We've got some young guys, and we've got a lot of depth with getting them ready. And they're definitely getting better in camp. They're learning their stuff." Lawrence relates another, more personal reason for giving so much of his time to prepping new tackles.
"Of course you want to leave a legacy. You always want to leave your alma mater a winning program, so the more you help recruiting and preparing players, the better it is."
Meanwhile third-fall soph Jackson is still honing his own game and giving redshirted guards tips on making the varsity transition this fall. "Last year helped me a lot, from trusting my teammates and working together and just learning football period. And just learning from the older guys, taking what they and the coaches taught me and carrying it over to this year."
A year of greater expectations and higher hopes, that is. The Bulldogs will kick off 2011 with a national ranking…and a bulls-eye on their backs. It's a fair trade. Lawrence has no problems being either the target of an upset bid, or a highlighted matchup for SEC rivals. The time for Mississippi State anonymity is over, you know.
"With Coach Mullen and the staff he's brought in and the things we've done, it's really given us a sense of we can do this and we know what is possible. Because the teams we play and hang close with, they're in the national championship spotlight. And we know that can be us with a few minor adjustments."
Two-a-day drills ended Monday evening. Mullen was to next meet with media at noon following Tuesday's morning practice.