Day Settling Into Lead Dog Life On Line

A year ago he had settled in as the backup, ready for such backup duty as might be needed and learning from elders. Now Dillon Day not only finds himself unexpectedly seasoned but suddenly an ‘elder' on the 2012 offensive line. My, how quickly things can change, eh?

"Yeah, last year I was like a two," Day said. "I didn't really know if I was going to do anything. That was kind of my mindset. Then I got put on the spot. This year I know I'm going to be the guy."

It is a status the third-year sophomore, repeat, sophomore has gotten comfortable with pretty quickly. So much so that Day even sounds like an old Dog discussing current camp developments. That, too, is part of a starting center's job, to speak for his unit.

Such as Day's evaluation of this week so-far. Coach Dan Mullen was not satisfied with how Mississippi State opened this phase of preseason and demanded better from Wednesday's work. Day confirmed the pace did indeed pick up as planned.

"(Tuesday's) practice, I don't know what it was. We had a couple of days off but it kind of didn't go too well, we were just sloppy out there. Today we definitely improved and just executed a lot more."

That is good news. Not that a sluggish start to week-three was cause for panic, of course. Mullen even anticipated some letdown due to both the break and the start of semester classes. Day pointed to a more fundamental reason. "We did the grind out there in training camp," he reminded. And by all accounts a great big grind it was down on the Farm.

But the Bulldogs are rebounding as young bodies and minds will, what with the excitement over opening day to inspire everyone. "Now we're not in game planning but we're switching over and trying to just build upon that, and build our legs back."

The building job fans are more fascinated with this fall is the entire Mississippi State front line. This is undoubtedly the area of most preseason interest, since all the other offensive pieces appear to be in place as far as running, throwing, and catching. What sort of blocking do they expect? Particularly from a group that, collectively, ranks among the lower-third of the Southeastern Conference when graded by collective starts.

Day is not exactly impressed by that quoted statistic. "I guess, sure," he said dismissively. "I don't really care, I think we'll do great." After all, Day was a leading figure in the 2011 ups-and-downs up front. As said the then-freshman expected to back up Quentin Saulsberry all season. But when veteran right guard Tobias Smith went down in week-three with knee injury, Saulsberry slid over to guard…and Day jumped up to starter by week-four against Louisiana Tech.

"The first game I started I wasn't too wild-eyed because I'd played all the game against LSU and got in against Auburn. What made me real wide-eyed was the LSU game!" Within weeks his vision was back to normal and Day put in a respectable first season at starter.

Now all that experience should pay off the second time around this conference. Being ‘the guy' as Day called it has been a powerful motivation through both spring training and August camp.

"And I'm out there trying to hustle around everything and to know way more than I did last year. So everything will come easily and I can help out other guys."

Yes, the other guys. Day finds himself literally in the middle of an interesting situation. To his left is junior Gabe Jackson, the true old Dog in this group nominated for both the Lombardi and Outland awards as top lineman in the land. Jackson and Day are the core to this entire unit in fact based on their individual experience and having started most of '11 together.

Mississippi State desperately hopes to have another veteran on Day's right as well. This ideal lineup hinges on the health of Smith, coming off his third major career injury. The senior has been able to play just 15 out of a possible 38 games and that doesn't count a 2008 redshirt year.

Day offers an optimistic view on the right guard. "He's getting a lot of work, he's doing what he can do. We're not at all worried, he's studying every day and doing everything. He knows what to do and he's already there, you know."

In the meanwhile Mississippi State is grooming younger guards…though ‘younger' is really relative given that Day himself doesn't turn 21 until mid-October. In fact sophomore Ben Beckwith arrived on campus as a walk-on in 2010, the same season as Day did. And Justin Malone is a second-year freshman now after sitting out his rookie 2011 fall. One or both these pups must be ready to spell or replace Smith as needed, perhaps even draw starting assignments.

"We're still kind of flip-flopping right now," Day said. "I think everybody out there, we're doing a great job. Everybody is learning and everybody is coming up, taking of control. And we're just getting there." By the way, though he is the first-team center Day doesn't have the job entirely to himself. State signed junior college center Dylan Holley both for depth—which last season showed is a must—and to keep pushing the still-young veteran.

"Competition is competition," said Day. "That's what makes everybody better, for sure."

Speaking of competition, the Bulldog blockers get a load of that every single practice day. Not just among themselves, but each time the ball is snapped in full-team drills or scrimmages. There is a mighty fine defensive line across the trench giving the offensive guys all they can handle and often more. Much more. Big, physical, fast on the ends and mean in the middle, they provide probably the best ‘teaching' Day & Co. could ask at this practice point.

"For sure. Even the scout team guys are putting in a lot of work giving us great looks. We've got a lot of depth at defensive line and that helps everybody."

What helps the blocking a bit more too is having a quarterback able to make their front-line jobs a little easier by recognizing the defense sooner and calling the appropriate response. Where his predecessor might have been prone to more free-lancing at the line, Tyler Russell relies more on reading and reacting before the snap.

Day likes how this partnership has developed, of center and quarterback. OK, so maybe Russell isn't yet at the stage of taking his linemen to dinner or such. But he and Day are quite the buds off-field, the center says. "For sure, we're always hanging out together and do a lot of stuff outside of football."

"Yeah, we're doing a great job. Tyler is making great reads and the receivers are running great routes. And we're doing big things with the offensive line, executing a lot. So we're getting there. He knows everything so if I call something he might check-out to something else, and we all have confidence in his checks."

Now the key to confidence in remaining practices before kickoff is meeting Mullen's goal of eight established linemen; two centers, three guards, and three tackles to take into SEC season. All Day can say on that score is…they're working on it, finding the right rotations.

"I wouldn't say we're 100% but I think if they got thrown in there they'd be alright. They've still got to improve a lot, I'm not trying to say they haven't. But they still need to keep working."

The work resumes Thursday afternoon, with Mullen scheduled to go over the day's results afterwards. He also will discuss the selection of Tim Brewster as wide receivers coach to replace Angelo Mirando following the latter's Sunday resignation.


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