Robinson Keeping Tackle Competition Close

There were some clues the chance was coming. Still, seeing his name listed first at right tackle last week caught Damien Robinson by some surprise. "I found out just then really. I thank God that He gave me the opportunity to be on the starting line, and I hope I stay up there."

He says hope because the position remains very much in-play as Mississippi State spring football head into this new week. There are three more practices and another scrimmage, during which right tackle can and likely will continue to alternate between fourth-year junior Robinson and senior Charles Siddoway. For that matter giving anyone an edge based solely on who takes the first snap each working day is debatable.

Of course, "It's been fun!" Robinson says.

Robinson's promotion stood for two whole practice days, as well as the first half of Saturday's scrimmage. In the second half Siddoway returned to the first team…and coincidence or not the offense went on a tear. Though, as Coach Dan Mullen pointed out, that had as much to do with the scrimmage script starting the #1 offense in positive field position than any lineups and schemes. The running backs were alternated as well in the latter half for another example.

So first-squad status is only as firm as the more recent results. Regardless for Robinson, the fun has been a while coming, involving three college falls and a couple of position-switches along the way. Now here he is, showing stronger signs of tapping into all the potential projected when he signed with Mississippi State in 2010. Want to know why his status has suddenly accelerated?

"Things have slowed down a lot. I've been here almost my fourth year now, so things have slowed down a real lot for me."

Yes, you read rightly. Whereas in most college cases the goal in development is getting talented players up to speed, Robinson reverses such conventional wisdom. Emotionally and mentally, that is; physically he's gone through the same grind as any offensive lineman must without issues.

His challenge has been to dial it back a bit inside his helmet. Or just stop thinking too much and acting too quickly on it all. "Just show them I can have patience, I've calmed-down, I know defenses. And that I keep doing it and keep getting better at it."

Robinson must continue progressing to hold his position of course. Siddoway isn't just giving the starting job away without a fight. As a juco transfer, Siddoway started all 13 games at right tackle and graded out as ‘champion' in Coach John Hevesy's scoring system eight times. The natural outside expectation was for the upperclassman to stay first-squad over the course of this camp.

Yet here Robinson is making his own case. And in the process, making everybody involved the better for it.

"Charles has a lot of experience on me," Robinson says. "I mean a lot of experience. And I really take after him, I follow a lot more Charles than anybody." Which makes obvious sense. Why not learn the rival's strong points and weaknesses alike and apply them appropriately? Or from the rest of the Bulldog blockers for that matter?

"Him and Gabe (Jackson) and everybody on the front line, I feel I can follow them. But the competition is very intense."

Intense, true…but in a teammatey sort of way. Which says much about the mentality required by life on the offensive line. Oh, players are expected, required to scrap and scrabble for every edge on position-peers if they expect to start. Or even just alternate. They might not pancake their momma for a promotion but less-close relatives consider themselves warned.

Yet compared to, say, the mindset shown from defensive linemen who would plow through a parent without blinking, blockers operate at a calmer condition. "Because we know we have to work together," figures Robinson. "It's five of us, them it's just the defense. If we're all hitting each other in the head that's no good, we're not going to get anything done." So, the tackle says, even the fiercest competitors have to be buddies in the meeting room or when watching drills together from the sideline.

"Yeah, it's friendly! Me and Charles are very friendly toward each other. We'll be in the middle of drills and he'll be like hey, you need to work on this; I'll be hey, you need to do better on this. We help each other out no matter what we're doing."

Just don't mistake this for softness or passivity on Robinson's part. He didn't come to Mississippi State just to look good in uniform…though he does do that these days. The updated spring roster added an inch to his listed height and he looks every bit of that 6-8. What he does not look like is 330 pounds, but that's what the scales are showing.

Either way, Robinson is now (officially at least) the tallest Dog on the team again. That extra altitude is helpful if for no other reason than he can cast a shadow on his 6-7 partner Justin Malone, the sophomore right guard. But what matters now is standing taller during the post-practice evaluations, and this again depends on Robinson dialing-in the right degree of pace.

Interpreted: try hard enough but not too hard. "Like, calm-down, have patience, slow down. Just don't do nothing barbaric, don't get over-wound on plays. Just do what you're supposed to do."

Hmmm, now that was an interesting adjective. It comes from Hevesy, naturally.

"Barbaric is don't think about wanting to kill the other guy in front of you," Robinson says. No, not even if he blew his block the snap before, the worst response would be attempting to make up for one mistake by over-aggression the next chance. Easier said than done because even the calmest blocker loves to even personal scores. Defensive linemen do, after all.

But his is another business and Robinson says he can do it. He can play under control. "But when I get wound-up, I mess-up. I have to do better, I get frustrated, I've got to do this, I've got to stress that, I've got to kind of block out everything else and kill my guy. And then I mess up on my assignment." In short, he wants it so badly sometimes he can't play good?

"That's how I feel sometimes. I'm not saying it comes in my mind, but it's so bad I want to really emphasize what I do. And I really want to show them that I've worked on this and I want to get up there."

Evidently Robinson has made progress on this point, based on the right tackle competition being so tight now. By the way, moving Robinson to tackle after a couple years' tests at guard has been the correct call. He doesn't just look like a tackle, he is one again…though Hevesy insists his top seven or eight in the rotation be able to play either position and both sides of center as needed.

The coach also stresses that his quintet communicate, and so far so good reports Robinson. "It's real good. All of us are friends on and off the field, so the communication with all the guards and tackles is deep. We say ‘alert this' and we know what's coming."

Is the day coming Robinson takes the field first at this or the other tackle spot? Maybe so. For now he is only concerned with the next practice, scrimmage, spring game, etc. August is too far away to worry about. The opportunity is there though, not just for his own positioning but the entire offense. Spring has been upbeat across the entire unit, he says.

"Yeah, on the o-line we've got depth and we've got experience. So everybody knows what they're doing, everybody knows where they're going, and everybody is trying to get their technique back in shape."

Spring practices resume today, when evaluations from the Saturday scrimmage should show in the next round of depth chart adjustments. Maybe Robinson remains first-team, maybe Siddoway returns to the top. Regardless, "I'll keep doing what I'm doing," Robinson says.

"When I find that switch, it's over! But I'm working towards it and doing what Coach Hevesy tells me every day."

The Bulldogs have 4:00 practices on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday; then wrap up the busy week with a Friday 3:00 scrimmage at Scott Field.


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