So. There you have it. According to the new starting center for Mississippi State, the best and only way to really judge the Bulldog front line for 2015…is to watch how they play in 2015. Maybe even on into 2016, if ultimate ambitions are achieved.
Never mind Mississippi State is in the preseason process of replacing three graduated Dogs who from 2011-14 combined for 113 starts. Not merely games. Starts. Center Dillon Day opened 46 in four years, Blaine Clausell 42 at left tackle, and right guard Ben Beckwith 25 in two seasons. And this doesn’t even include their non-starting games as backups or special teamers.
Clayborn, who is in-line to assume Day’s position, is not worried. Just the opposite. The true junior is excited for the opportunity, and reminds that most of those battling for opened positions aren’t entirely new to SEC action. SEC success, too.
“Most definitely. I mean we’ve all played. Everybody that is out there has played in a game. We know the game experience and we just continue to go out there and get better.”
True junior Clayborn should be the ‘most ready’ of the lot. If he has yet to take, rather make, the first snap of a varsity game, he has been over the ball in intense settings. The wisdom of activating him in 2013 as a true freshman is being borne-out now, too. Clayborn was that much more prepared to step in and step up during spring training.
Now here he is finessing his craft in August. “I’m just trying to work on fundamentals and communications now,” he said. Just as he did during the summer in fact. Yes, he really did get to spend June and July days direct-snapping to Dak Prescott. With positive results, both proclaim.
Prescott certainly gave a strong verbal vote of camp confidence in Tuesday’s post-practice presser. Clayborn is glad to agree.
“You just continue to get a feel for his voice on the cadence. Getting the timing down. And I have my fellow O-linemen out there, so we work on communication, getting everybody on the same page so we can be as successful as possible.”
To repeat the obvious, even record-setting offenses won’t exceed the abilities of blocking and protection. And Bulldogs wrote whole pages of records in 2014 with Prescott pulling the trigger.
No wonder then Clayborn & Crew say their first task is protecting their All-SEC triggerman. Just the fact that Prescott is showing trust in the new starting center, “Oh yeah, that’s huge,” said Clayborn.“Because he’s like our ‘treasure’ back there. So we can’t let them get to the treasure chest. It’s awesome to have a guy like that to play for. He’s exciting to play for. He makes plays when you least expected so once you think you’re done he makes another move! So you never know, it’s great to play in front of him.”
Or mostly great. Prescott hasn’t hesitated to bark a bit at his blockers for blowing an assignment or missing a protection. Including Clayborn. “He kind of got me yesterday!” Clayborn admitted. “I don’t mess-up that often on the IDs. But when we do we just feed off each other and continue to move forward.”
Yes, speaking of identification duties… Now it is Clayborn’s job to judge the defensive alignment, spot the middle linebacker, and issue an ID to everyone in their stances. He welcomes the responsibility. He doesn’t flaunt it.
“I look at it as I’m here for my fellow O-linemen, helping the program win ball games,” Clayborn said. “So I do it every day in practice so it comes like second nature. I’m getting to that point I’m communicating better, making better reads, and just helping out the offensive unit.”
And help is needed. No, not because the blocking Bulldogs lack confidence and ability. It’s that gang on the other side of the line and the locker room that is demanding practice attention.
“We go against one of the best defenses in the country. Coach (Manny) Diaz is one of the gurus of defense in the country. So I mean he gives us different looks. It’s not too many looks that our defense is showing in practice that we won’t see in a game also. And it’s going to be the biggest thing to continue to communicate.”
The back-and-forth, give-and-take continues on through an intense August. Come the first week of September, this offensive line expects to be ready for an opening-night road show. Then, as Clayborn said, everyone can form a more factual opinion on Bulldog blocking.
“All from spring to summer to now we’ve been getting everything down-pat. We’re clicking on all cylinders. We only can get better from here.”