Line Rotations And Depth Are Still Developing

Never mind they ground through sixty-plus snaps last Saturday. Those offensive linemen who put in a complete game's work at Troy should assume nothing about their status for the next weekend. Or the next, or the one after that… "I'll tell each one if you have a bad week of practice, you're now a two," Coach John Hevesy said.

If this sounds like a stout standard Bulldog starting blockers are being held to, well, correct. Never mind each successful week, each new victory, each Sunday grading. The Mississippi State mindset is that all Dogs are only as established as the day's practice results. It seems to go-double for the guys up front.

Especially since, Hevesy said Monday, "I'd love to get more guys as much as I can to play." That's a signal to the starters and their immediate alternates to stay on their own games because the coach is looking for ways to work others onto the field. Maybe even into the lineup. Possibly even…starting? One never knows given the coach's goal of developing depth for the mid- and end-season streteches.

"I always want to work guys into the two-deep," Hevesy said. "Again the one thing you see in every position on the team, we talk about getting 30-40 reps in a 70-rep game. There are really five guys right now getting every rep in a game, and one is the quarterback. So if I get someone to take them out; get Tobias out and let Justin get reps, get Damien in there to get reps, get Archie and Ben reps. So that they're ready got for down the road when you have to play, but also experience."

Among the quintet Hevesy is referring to are the obvious up-front fellows who served essentially non-stop offensive stints in victories over Auburn and/or Troy. No surprise there, since early in any season a coach is likely to stay safe by riding the best horses. Or blockers, rather. Maybe there were some notions of rotating in week-three before the Trojans' own offensive prowess made it imperative State try to score each and every turn.

Still it remains a goal to get more men into live action, much as in the Jackson State opener, without exactly taking South Alabama (6:00, PPV) for granted. Besides, Hevesy wants more live-snap video for evaluation and instruction during the next week's open date, before the Bulldogs dive back into SEC action.

Two of the every-down Dogs are obvious, LG Gabe Jackson and OC Dillon Day. The junior left guard has been every bit as efficient as expected of a pro prospect, and a NFL scout at the Troy game acknowledged Jackson was on his watching-list. Both Jackson and Day have gone about business so smoothly, so far, that they've been practically ignored afterwards—which Hevesy says is a good thing. "Always!"

"But Dillon had a great game (at Troy)," the coach added. "And I told him Saturday night, a lot of our run game was based on him handling the shade-nose, and he did a great job. He had an outstanding game. He got whacked for a holding penalty, which he has to get his hands in a little more. But other than that one penalty he's played great. And he's leading from the inside-out."

Not quite as low-key, due to his edge position and recruiting reputation, is the work of RT Charles Siddoway. The junior college transfer has lived up to billing, and rewarded the coach's August promotion to first team. Even better, Siddoway is working to get even better.

"He's graded very well," said Hevesy. "In all three games he's really stepped up and played. And to me he has a great emotion during the game which I love. He's fit right in with everyone there and has done a great job. He's very detailed in what he does, his footwork and his assignments and watching film. So it's going to make him a good player."

LT Blaine Clausell might wish the camera wasn't turning that way quite as often as in the past two games. The fact that QB Tyler Russell has been getting hit and sometimes sacked by defenders coming off the left, his back, side, means uncomplimentary attention naturally turns to the left tackle. Hevesy doesn't say sophomore Clausell needs to continue improving, understand.

He does say what anyone who looks beyond the tight camera shots noticed. Most of the times Russell is getting hit it is not to be blamed directly on the back-side tackle. More often it comes with the backfield emptied, the runners out in route, and the tight end—if there was one—doing the same or on the other side of the field. That is the price of a spread-system the quarterback must sometimes pay.

"You can say well one man got beat, but you look at the schematics and what is going on and assignments. We still have to get better in general at all positions, and up-front to me it's the same thing. We have to get better technically. To me it's not necessarily the sacks, it's the late hits he takes that are obnoxious to me! But I don't care, I tell our guys the one job you have is to protect the quarterback."

There are technical and schematic solutions to those situations. Health, now, is something no coach can chalk-up. And the health of fifth-year senior RG Tobias Smith has been topic-one for the 2012 line. Here is another so-far success story, in no small part due to the rapid development of RG Justin Malone. The ‘no small' bit is literal as well for the 6-7, 315-pound second-year freshman.

Fans noticed on opening night how after Smith played just one opening series, Malone made his college debut working into the fourth quarter. A week later Smith did most of the work against Auburn, but not all. "Justin had a chance to play that game and he played about 21 plays," Hevesy reported. "And he played well, which earned him the right to have more snaps."

Actually, all the snaps at Troy. As Coach Dan Mullen said afterwards, Smith had lingering soreness from his Auburn efforts. State gambled on keeping the older Dog out of action and riding the big kid at Troy, even when the game proved a nailbiter. In the end it worked out for the best.

"There was nothing glaring that you saw," Hevesy said. "Except for seven or eight plays, he played well. There were few things that were probably youth but otherwise he played a pretty good game." Good enough that most expect more of the same for Malone this week. Well, perhaps per his coach.

"I tell kids you earn the right to play. I mean, just because you can play and you can line up out there doesn't mean you are going to play. If he doesn't play well he'll lose that right. It's the same way with all my kids." And by play well Hevesy means practice well. Oh, including Smith by the way. One wonders how much work this three-time injury victim will get in a week before both South Alabama and then an open date?

Wait to Saturday to see, is Hevesy's advice. But no question Smith, regarded uniformly as the most capable blocker on this line, is being protected as much as practical without losing his edge. Even Hevesy admits some pre-camp concerns about how much Smith could handle.

"And everything is fine with him, there is stability with his knee. The doctors say there's nothing wrong, you saw that in the Auburn game." Indeed folk did, most notably in a series of superb third-quarter series where Smith was racing around left end pulling, or getting downfield in front of the backs as if he'd never missed a day or a step. All that exertion came at last week's cost of course, so caution must still be exercised.

"The biggest thing is can I rest him?" Hevesy said of game and practice snaps alike. "Just how long can we go with him." Fortunately the answers are a little easier when Malone is executing his assignments.

"And I've said in fall camp and this season, Tobias is a great leader. He's like having another coach over there with me when I'm working and talking with the kids. He knows what is going on, he knows what is being said. He's been out there so he can relate to the kids more as a player than I can."

Meanwhile Hevesy is working on and with that two and even three-deep. Juco Dylan Holley is settled at the second center, the job he was signed specifically for. Jackson is such a steady presence that one forgets the need to have an alternate ready there, too. Well, Hevesy hasn't forgotten, as he too clearly recalls the ripple-effect Smith's injury had on the whole interior line last year.

"At left guard Ben Beckwith, and Justin can swing either way if he had to. There's Templeton Hardy back there. And at right guard Damien Robinson if we had to go inside. Once you get outside the first group anybody could jump around anywhere."

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