First-Five Fixing Flaws Ahead Of SEC Road Stretch; Rankin Will Get Work When Judged Ready

The positions couldn’t be farther apart physically. Or schematically for that matter. Yet Coach John Hevesy sees comparable pressures. “Your two biggest to me spotlight people are corners, and offensive tackles.”

Spotlight as in the harsh variety, he means. And the Bulldog line boss has a fair point. When a cornerback blows a coverage touchdowns can result. When the tackle really blows a block…somebody usually helps their quarterback to his feet. If he can get up at all.

“You’re in the spotlight,” Hevesy says. “But that’s the role you live, the life you lead. So guess what? With criticism is going to come accolades and you’re going to take them both in stride.”

Two games into Mississippi State’s season there have been more critiques than compliments for the offensive line. It may not be always fair. And to Hevesy, not entirely accurate after going through the Southern Mississippi and LSU video.

What all will agree, Hevesy says himself. “We just need to get better.” This general statement covers several more specific aspects that have contributed to a slower-than-expected start by the entire Bulldog offense.

“A couple of things that came up that we’ve practiced. Again it’s part of the experience of the games, the adjustments; here it is, see it, how fast they turn it over. I think the communication was one of the biggest things as a whole we need to get better with. Which we addressed Sunday, we addressed today. And we’ll keep working on.”

Now, readers of good memory might recall last week’s comments praising how Mississippi State’s front-five communicated in the opener. Particularly as it was all silent cadence, an excellent test of group cohesion straight on opening night. LSU was a whole different level of defense though.

So was the amped-up atmosphere at over-capacity Scott Field. Everything contributed to some mixing of messages across the full front. Oh and just for reminder, this is still a unit with three new full-time starters trying to replace a trio with 113 starts among them.

This is why Hevesy expects improvement. Or more of it to be accurate.

“The biggest thing was every snap we play for them it’s going to be better. It’s going to be a learning experience. After the game the learning has to stop, it’s got to be I know. Talk about things from spring and summer being in the bank.” And with two games now in their accounts, “It’s for them to keep digesting what they saw.”

To spit out some items of immediate game-three interest? Communication remains first, though Hevesy did see things improve through the LSU evening. “But it’s now making sure it’s clear throughout the five of us. It’s something that to me every day we have to work on.”

“Just when we make a check, or we see a different thing. And the game is based on situations whether it’s red zone or third-and-long, first-and-ten, back to the wall, short yardage. That’s the things we constantly go over.”

Something Hevesy and Coach Dan Mullen are also going over is how to get more Dogs into week-three action. The line is a somewhat different matter than most other units since no true freshmen are likely to play all year.

2014 redshirts are another matter. Elgton Jenkins played late at Southern Miss and is Hevesey’s first pick for third tackle this week, along with sixth-year senior Damien Robinson. Guard Deion Calhoun backs up both starting guards already and needs regular snaps to stay sharp. Redshirt junior center Jocquell Johnson is one Hevesy really wants to put on-field soon as practical this Saturday.

“The hardest things with getting them experience is we haven’t started out great either game. And for me that first five is still building that camaraderie. Last year I could get away with it, whether it was Blaine (Clausell) and Justin (Malone) playing by each other or Dillon (Day) and Ben (Beckwith).

“So I could sub one in there and not miss a beat, they could help. Now the experienced guys haven’t played a lot of games. Throw in a guy with no experience, how is that going to help me?”

When top-rated junior college tackle Martinas Rankin arrived in spring he was anticipated to immediately help this season. Preseason found him still alternating with Robinson as a #2 tackle and he has yet to play. Though, Hevesy pointed out, Rankin does dress every game.

“To me he’s right where he should be.” Not just as far as position but status. Call it caution or wisdom, the coach is playing it patient. First, he said, the mental game has catch up with physical ability.

Rankin is doing his part with steady practice reps, typically two sets with the #2s before taking a turn with the first team. “He’s prepping to be in the game,” Hevesey said. And only this coach will decide if anyone, even juco all-Americans, meet the standard for activation.

“I’ve never played a kid that’s not ready. You play a kid that’s not ready to play, you could shell-shock him.” If that sounds harsh, it’s because the risks are high with new linemen of any age. Hevesy said that a blown assignment by, say, Warren is one thing. Not a good thing, but nothing that can’t be dealt with.

“Rufus is a fifth-year guy, he’s been beat before, he’s made mistakes and come back from mistakes. A guy that hasn’t played in the spotlight and fails, just gets beat, it could hamper him for a while. That’s going to take me to mentally build him back up.”

That said, Hevesy is not ruling-out playing Rankin this week. Or anyone else.

“It’s a great possibility. Obviously I’m going to see how the game goes. I hope I can play them all.”


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