"Nah, it's not too bad. I still get my fair share, though!"
True enough. Through these first practice dates Lawrence has done his duty with the first-team line in 11-on-11 drills or full-field situations. Coach John Hevesy is not one to allow any rust to develop on his starting squad after all.
At the same time the line coach, and for that matter the whole offensive staff, are already thinking ahead to a new season. And a rebuilt front that will miss Lawrence, right guard Quentin Saulsberry, and left tackle James Carmon. All three of those positions are officially up for grabs as soon as the bowl trophy is presented in Nashville, along with backup roles for that matter.
So Lawrence sees the parallel emphasis here in what is nominally ‘bowl' practice. "Yeah, they kind of use this as an extra spring. We know what the seniors, the older guys are going to do." The goal then is finding what everyone can do. Or, will do in this interesting December setting.
So far, so good says Lawrence.
"A lot of the young guys have stepped it up the past week and kind of turned it on a lot more than I expected. So they're looking pretty good. We're giving ourselves a chance to see what next year's team can be and kind of get a jump-start on next year. But, still get work with your current guys."
If there is special interest in the guys currently backing up Lawrence, well, that's understandable. In fact since Saulsberry has alternated some with center, and if not for injuries would have had the job all this season Lawrence can claim some sort of seniority. As in, the longest uninterrupted tenure at one position since Coach Dan Mullen and Hevesy arrived in Starkville.
So, who will win the promotion come spring training? Lawrence isn't making any predictions, he likes watching everyone compete for second-team status right now and the leg-up going into 2012. Though, he is disappointed how his '11 backup has suffered a setback. '10 redshirt tackle Archie Muniz suffered a knee injury the last week of the regular season in practice and is likely out until early summer with the standard recovery schedule.
"Archie was really starting to come on towards the end of the season," Lawrence said. "It kind of was a big damper on us because we were excited to see what he during this bowl practice, just to get him some good reps. But I think he'll be back fine and be able to compete for that spot next year." Meanwhile, others have even greater spring opportunities and one seems energized at a bowl camp change.
"They moved Damien Robinson over there (from guard) and he's done way better than I would ever have expected. He's done really good so I'm proud of him and hopefully we can keep developing him at right tackle."
Whoever comes out ahead in spring or starts in September, they will have had an advantage denied Lawrence. Yes, he did redshirt as a true freshman, and got to work in 2008 on special teams; but still was rushed into full varsity action a little earlier than ideal for offensive linemen. Not that he complained of course; guys love to play as much as possible, as early as possible.
Still Lawrence likes how Mississippi State at least has tried—tried—to get on a more typical schedule of redshirt, reserve, substitute, and finally starter in due time. Tried, repeat, because the aforementioned injuries have pushed Dillon Day into the starting center job and Blaine Clausell into some starts and then alternate work at tackle. Both were part of the same signing class as Muniz and Robinson, along with Eric Lawson.
For the long run, though, Lawrence thinks those who have put game-cleats on the turf already have handled the pressures well. "That's a good thing. It was bad last year having to play the young guys, but now it's kind of a good thing because they got experience. Not necessarily thrown into the fire, but we've got a lot of young guys with experience so that will help us for next year."
Of course it will be an ‘us' in spirit as Lawrence moves on to alumnus status. With another major change in the offing, too, after getting engaged last month. But before taking his own last hurrah on the Bulldog offensive line, this veteran blocker is doing what he can to finish 2011 with one more win…and set the stage for better things by his successors.
"I've tried to use my somewhat off-time to kind of help coach guys up on their footwork and stuff like that," he says. Risky business, now, as Hevesy is always hovering with his own words of wisdom. Or something.
"Yeah, you don't want to contradict anything he says!" laughs Lawrence. "But you want to try to help your guys."