Line Dogs Prepare For Tougher Tigers

The long-awaited return of Tobias Smith to action was short, but successful. The senior guard worked eight snaps in Mississippi State's opening touchdown drive against Jackson State, then spent the rest of the evening cheering or coaching younger line-mates. Coach John Hevesy affirmed, Smith was being handled with opening-night care.

But not necessarily that he was booked for one drive and no more. "If for some reason we needed to put him back in, he was ready to go," Hevesy said. Fortunately there was no such reason as Mississippi State cruised and Hevesy was able to start rotating by the second series. And eight hikes was sufficient for an old hand, even one who missed most of ten '11 games. As Hevesy said, no sense risking anyone with a 35-0 lead.

"His last snap last year was third play of the game against LSU last year, so he's been out of it a whole year. Even practice reps to get him in the game, to get him in the mindset of playing game speed. Now it's let him go play." Which Smith did well in the brief stint, showing he remembered the moves with no hangover from his third major injury in college.

"You fall off that bike you get back on," Hevesy said.

Meanwhile several Dogs were getting on that bike for first times, or first extended times on the field for real review by their coach." It was great, I went in hoping to get those guys reps and get a lot of them. They got them, now let's go practice."

Hevesy didn't have an exact count but figured starters C Dillon Day and LT Blaine Clausell and backup RG Justin Malone played "40 to 50" snaps each. Malone's large workload came as he filled in for Smith. The other were left around a little longer for at least some cohesion amongst all the substitutes.

"I didn't want to yank all five at one time because someone has got to lead, someone has got to make sure communication is going on," Hevesy said. This was particularly true on the right end as juco star Charles Siddoway, himself a first-time player, started at tackle and found himself alongside redshirt Malone. Then, when Siddoway was excused for RT Damien Robinson.

Or after LG Gabe Jackson got his work in so Ben Beckwith could take over. It wasn't so much Hevesy feared breakdowns, even though those came. It was having at least one lineman able to tell the guys to either side what to do. "It's not any different to work on, it's just the confidence to spit it out. Put two of them together and somebody has got to speak up."

Hevesy is serious about that, by the way, almost to the point of demanding his Dogs say anything but just make their presence known to the neighbor. Such as a wide-open miss when Robinson and Malone were left wondering what went wrong. Hevesy asked in Sunday review which had made a call, any call.

"And they both looked at me, and looked at each other and they hadn't said anything! That's communication. This week it starts at practice, I want to hear you open your mouth because somebody has got to say something. Now, it may be the wrong thing but just agree on it, at least you're doing things together!"

TEAM WORK: Speaking of speaking up… Another reason Day worked long as he did was to give redshirt QB Dak Prescott a seasoned center, for at least a couple of series. "Yeah, it's his first snaps," said Hevesy, who tipped Day and others what to expect from a debuting quarterback in a loud venue. "He's going to get in there and stutter or mumble them. I told those guys on Thursday he's going to walk in and that's your job now."

Hevesy also recalls very well what Clausell told him after that bizarre ‘reception' in last year's Auburn game; when under pressure Chris Relf unloaded a pass right to his right tackle. And Clausell was not eligible. "He said what else should I have done? I said don't fumble, hold on and get down!" Hevesy said.

"I try not to think about it that much," said Clausell. "We joked around about it, but I don't really plan on catching no passes this time around!"

Clausell has much larger matters on his hands. Literally, in the form of Auburn defensive ends who must be held—if necessary—off the Bulldog quarterback. "They're fast. They're pretty good players. It's going to test our footwork and how we play, our technique and everything. So this is going to be a good test."

This sophomore tackle certainly got tested a year ago. Clausell was thrust into more action than scheduled at Auburn when starter James Carmon was hurt. He would start three other times in 2011 with naturally mixed results for a redshirt having to accelerate his development. It should be paying off this season, though.

"I've got a more confident mindset than last year," Clausell said. "I've matured a little bit, picked up the speed of the game." He's picked up more than that, in the form of 15, 20 pounds more muscle. Adding size to experience ought to make a big 2012 difference. "I feel I have a lot more power and can move guys more, move heavier guys than last year. I've got more in the system and scheme of the offense, knowing my assignment and everything."

Hevesy actually puts more stock in Clausell's aging than his adding."It's not going out there petrified. Last year his first play in college football was to catch a pass at Auburn. I've had some gems on first plays but if you're not going to get over your nervousness on that one…! Playing last year in this league there's an air of confidence, a little bit of swagger."

True, but Clausell isn't talking that way here in Auburn rematch week. Even a strong start over Jackson State left room for improvements, he said. "You should always be more critical of yourself so you can get better. I feel I could have done a lot better."

At the very least, Clausell figures he won't have to play receiver this time around. Though one wonders, does Mississippi State have such a play somewhere in the 2012 book? "We might, we've got a few gimmicks up our sleeve!" Hevesy said.

As for the other end of the Bulldog line, Hevesy said first-time starter Siddoway came out with a 80%-plus score. "He graded well." Though, the coach qualified, "With all the guys it was more of little things. In a game like this I can grade them a little harder on some things than others. It's just about finishing blocks, pad level, footwork, placement. We've got to get all that stuff right for this week."

Because it's one thing to block a SWAC defense. Auburn is a few levels of magnitude more challenging, with true heavyweights at the tackle positions as well as rotation depth, and 250-pounders blasting off the ends. Quickly, said Hevesy, as he assembles schemes to best match up.

"The thing they do is get off the ball fast. They've got some good speed on the end, and that's a good luxury for those outside guys to have four guys they can play inside that can hold the middle."

Clausell is confident though. Not just in himself now, but teammates who remember last year's trip and came back with a better idea what is required for SEC success. They've carried that through spring and preseason with the goal of a better start to conference season.

"It helps build chemistry with the offensive line. Dillon's been there, Gabe has been there, Damien has been in the system and Charles has been here for spring. We trust everyone will do their one-eleventh."


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