Hevesy Lacing Together Another Starting Line

He is casting no aspersions on the fine footwear provided to Bulldog ballplayers. No, John Hevesy is merely reminding young blockers how fine the line is between watching the action…and getting directly involved. "I told Dillon and Blaine when they walked on campus you're a shoelace away from going in," the offensive line coach explained.

Dillon and Blaine as in Day and Clausell, the pair of pups who have indeed found themselves in the games. In SEC competition at that. Early-schedule injuries to older Dogs in front of them have thrust these redshirt freshmen into prime-time roles; Day at center and Clausell left tackle.

"They both stepped up and they've both played," Hevesy said. "They've got to play better than they've played, but as a group we have to play better than they've played. But I think they've done a good job."

A job both had prepared for of course…but that neither expected to win quite so soon, or at all in 2011. But that is life on the line where the biggest bodies are most vulnerable. Clausell now has six full SEC quarters on his resume after taking over for senior LT James Carmon, who sprained a knee just before halftime at Auburn.

Day had to take over at center the fourth quarter of that same game when OC Quentin Saulsberry hurt his own knee. And when starting RG Tobias Smith went down three snaps into the LSU game with season-ending knee injury, Saulsberry perforce moved to guard and Day right back over the ball. There are three days left in preparation for Louisiana Tech but Hevesy is figuring on fielding the revised line of last week for Saturday's non-conference contest.

"Right now that's how we're going into it, with the injuries we have," he said Monday. Smith is out of course, while Carmon has a good chance of activation and Saulsberry will play with pain anyway. "But they're going to go in, and play.

"We're going to put the best five on the field. (If) We get James back, I don't know where the lineup goes. That to me is part of what practice is going to be today and tomorrow."

Now, it wasn't shoelaces that sent Carmon, Saulsberry, or Smith to the sidelines. Knee ligaments and tendons, which are not made by adidas, were the issues. Hevesy's point holds true though, that any time an offensive lineman has his shoe pulled off by a trainer, or his knee tested by a doctor, others must strap themselves up tighter for immediate duty. Especially, the coach said, with this '11 line.

"Anybody who is a two now, a kid unbuckles his shoe you have to go in that game. Unfortunately it hasn't been just a shoe, it's been more than that! But like anything they have to get ready. And the greatest thing is all the stuff we preached to them is coming true. So as you sit there you can get scared, but it's true."

Give Day and Clausell credit for keeping cool under unexpected pressures. Not only did they assume the position(s) in SEC action but against the defending national champion and then the third-ranked team, and quite likely top-ranked defense, in the land. Mistakes? Oh sure, Hevesy said. State's line boss deserves his gruff reputation, but he recognizes rookie reality.

"It's a new guy in the game, the first series or two you've got to make sure they calm down. When Blaine started that game I knew there's butterflies and everything, I told the other guys he's going to screw up early; great, settle him down and let him go. It's no different if (tailback) Nick Griffin comes in and plays, he might miss a hole; don't get on him now. Your job is to help him along. That's the leadership we need."

More available bodies would help, too. Actually Mississippi State is deeper in linemen than, perhaps, ever; in spring football there were four complete offensive fronts to practice with. But naturally more than numbers is involved. Many of these listed linemen are either '10 redshirts, career reserves, or walk-on athletes put on the line out of necessity.

Make no mistake, this bodes very good things for coming seasons. But 2011 was something of a ‘hinge' year where State hoped to get by on the minimal, practical number of players in SEC games and continue developing kids for '12 and beyond. Now? Development is being accelerated out of necessity.

Leave it to Hevesy to see the bright side, too. Much as he wants Carmon and Saulsberry at 100% again, opportunity has a way of bringing out the best in others this time of year.

"It's going to be a competition," he said. "That's the positive thing, there is going to be competition. Just, who is the five best? Like I told James this morning, Blaine and Dillon are not going to play against anybody better than you played last Thursday. Now it's going to be greater competition for who is going to get on the field."

Hevesy had met with Carmon, the converted defensive tackle, Monday morning for an update on the knee. Carmon participated in the late afternoon practice, though he left the field in partial gear meaning contact was restricted. Not that the big senior needs a lot of hitting at this point, Carmon is taking care of any acquired rust from a week's layoff.

"He came in today walking around without any crap on him," said Hevesy, meaning no bracing or protective wraps for getting around campus. "So I feel good that now I'm back to seven (linemen) if he's able to play. Now how much will I need him and can he play we're going to find out this week at practice."

Hevesy has a usual baseline of eight available linemen for the five positions. Remember, this coach is not restricted by ideas of ‘guard' and ‘tackle' and so on. Beyond the obvious fact of a center's snapping duties, a blocker is a blocker is a blocker and the top five will play. The trick this week is setting which five to start. LG Gabe Jackson is one sure selection, and RT Addison Lawrence. And Saulsberry will take a stance somewhere for Saturday's first snap of course.

"Quentin is the first and second center, the first and second guard, and probably the next tackle to me. Because he's played all those position so he knows them all. He can play any of them so he's kind of my trump card to move anywhere I need to move the next-best guy."

Hevesy said if absolutely necessary Lawrence, a three-year fixture at right tackle, could play left where it is Clausell and Carmon for now. He'd rather not make this change, especially with Smith now out at right guard. "Right now I've got to keep some camaraderie with that side instead of one more shuffle." Meanwhile State's preference for a three-guard rotation is benched, at least until somebody earns his place. Hevesy knows who needs to.

"Is Damien Robinson the one who has to come in there?" he said. "Does Blaine go to guard, is Quentin going to go back to center? That's something just to get figured out here, the one who practices the best." Note that the coach is just thinking out loud here; barring a big change mid-week he affirmed Day at center and Clausell at tackle.

"The bigger thing is, as James gets healthy this week is who is the fifth? I guess, who is one out? Is it Blaine, is it Dillon, is it Quentin? Whoever the five best are, are going to go play. That's grading practice every day to see who are the five best and who is six. If I could play six I'd love to be able to play them both." No, he doesn't mean six linemen at one time…as much fun as that would be, not to mention helping out lack of big tight end blocking this season.

"You're going to play your best five. Damien was the eighth guy, now he's moved himself up to sixth when you take two guys out of the equation. When James comes back he's probably number seven. He's gotten better and better each week at practice where he's starting to realize I'm a play away. He's one shoelace away from going in the game, so he has to be ready. I mean he has to be."

There's those shoelaces again. Seriously, though, Hevesy has to lash lots of things together this week to put a cohesive front five on Saturday's field. He isn't worried, the coach stressed. "It just becomes having numbers." Besides, he said, Louisiana Tech and remaining opponents won't cut State any numerical slack.

"They're not going to play with ten because I'm short one! They're not going to play without d-linemen! It's what you coach for and what your kids are here for."


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