Where Rankin is, is preparing for a preseason battle to win one of Mississippi State’s starting tackle jobs. That competition resumes in August after a spring session which saw Rankin taking most of the first-team snaps and all of his individual turns at right tackle.
It speaks to Mississippi State’s 2016 situation, as well as Rankin’s recruiting reputation, that an offensive tackle battle was if not the top spring story then certainly right up there. Never mind replacing a two-time All-SEC quarterback. Or setting some sort of order among six running backs. Or developing a new receiver rotation.
Offensive line, that drew longest looks and most of all tackle. Meaning Rankin along with two-year starter Justin Senior and one-year veteran Elgton Jenkins. When spring dust settled…not much else had been other than the two starters will come from these three Dogs.
“Oh, I feel all of us are competing,” Rankin said. “Because everybody has to be ready, you know what I’m saying?
More or less, yes. All who follow Bulldog football know the standard strategy is having three ready-to-go tackles, along with the same number of guards and two centers as well. By the numbers personnel was falling nicely into place during spring.
The question remains. Is Rankin, ranked by at least one analyst as the nation’s top junior college tackle prospect in 2014, about to prove it? His 2015 redshirting was one Bulldog back story all season and a firm reason was never given.
For that matter, Rankin himself still isn’t clear whether he truly expected to play—much less start—last fall. “I can’t say that I did, I can’t say I didn’t.” He only found out, he says now, “Towards the end of camp. Kinda sorta I was told if I didn’t earn a starting spot I was going to be redshirted.
“I didn’t take that starting spot, so it was pretty clear to me.” It certainly is clearer in rear-view. Thing is, Rankin has no regrets.
“But I feel like it paid off that I sat out, you know. I matured a lot, it helped me buy into the program. I feel it was a blessing in disguise.”
For Bulldog blocking in 2016 it probably is a blessing. It will be eternally debated whether activating spring ’15 arrival Rankin would have altered any outcomes, whether he would have beaten out Rufus Warren for left tackle or done it soon enough to make a difference. It’s also moot now. Jenkins certainly benefited with live snaps and faster development.
For his own part? Watching the action whetted Rankin’s redshirting appetite.
“Because it made me hungry again. Sitting out, it hurt me a couple of games. We weren’t doing too good on the o-line and it just really hurt me. It motivated me to come out and take nothing for granted.”
He didn’t in spring practicing and scrimmaging. Only the coaches know how he graded out or where Rankin rates technically. Rankin does know he’s better-prepared to contend.
“I was told I should come in wherever, if I was first, second, or third team, I should play with confidence and everything would take care of itself.” That’s exactly what he did in March and April, as it turns out. In fact is greatest gains aren’t in technique and tactics.
“Confidence,” Rankin said. “Being better shape than I was last year. And just like I said confidence. That’s the number-one thing for me right now.”
Well and good. Now. About that left and right thing…
When Senior, a 25-game starter at right tackle, lined up at left tackle on first day of spring it naturally began buzz. Rankin does offer one useful insight though.
“Actually last spring I was at right, then later on in the year I went to left,” he reminded. Rankin did practice as Senior’s backup indeed, but never got to play. Maybe Mississippi State is more comfortable taking the two-year starter and putting him on the perceived blind-side protection end. Or, maybe it’s nothing more than Rankin relates.
“I mean, it’s just really about us being able to play more than one position.” Jenkins for one showed that last fall, starting twice at left tackle when Warren was out and another game at right tackle. Rankin, now, he’s spent so much time out right that this seems his best assignment.
And the idea of lead-blocking in the run game at that end? Oh yeah, Rankin loves that responsibility.
“I know I’ve tried to be one of the best in the run game. I’ve tried to focus a lot on that. But wherever you are you have to be able to run-block, and you have to be able to protect.”
Here in June and July there’s nobody to ‘protect’. Rankin and fellow Bulldog blockers can do their summer drills on steps and timing and teamwork and such. How they run- or pass-block, only August scrimmaging will hint and real games prove.
Either way, it will be an older, stronger, smarter, and hungrier Rankin come opening day of camp. Oh, and that other aspect he thinks matters more.
“It’s just being more confident. I bought into the program and I’m just pushing every day so I can go out and earn a spot on the field.”