Steve Robertson - Genespage.com

Redshirt Year Brings Back Tackle’s Hunger for Starting Status Again

This time last year, Martinas Rankin thought he could compete for a starting job. A week from today, he knows the job is there for the taking.

Rankin also knows…now he’s ready for the opportunity.

“Confidence,” is how the Bulldog tackle explains it. “Being in better shape than I was last year, and just like I said confidence. That’s the number-one thing for me right now.”

Confidence can be a key to Rankin winning a number-one spot on the 2016 Mississippi State offensive line. Talent doesn’t hurt either of course, and the redshirt junior does seem to provide that. Still Rankin figures that when camp competition opens next Tuesday, mindset will count as much as muscle and psyche as much as skills.

“It’s just being more confident. I understand where I stand in the program now. I bought into the program and I’m just pushing every day so I can go out and earn a spot on the field.”

That would be an offensive tackle spot, and presumably the one which is not occupied by two-year starter and fifth-year senior Justin Senior. Even there a question ensues since, in spring training, Senior switched from right tackle where he has opened 26 career games. He practiced exclusively at left tackle, re-opened for 2016 by graduation. More on this in a moment.

The more immediate matter is one end of the offensive line is to be re-filled this fall. Redshirt Rankin and sophomore letterman Elgton Jenkins both want the job.

“Oh, I feel all of us are competing,” Rankin said. “Because everybody has to be ready, you know what I’m saying? If you’re on the first team and the second team you have to come out and compete every day. Regardless of where I am my job is to come out and compete.”

Judged purely off spring practice and scrimmage rotations, Rankin enters August with an advantage. Maybe a modest one, maybe nothing that offensive line coach John Hevesy takes into account. Still any sort of margin might matter, if only in who gets more turns with the presumptive #1 offense for the first week of camp.

For the first weekend of the season? Stay tuned.

What is as certain as anything about Bulldog blocking status is, Rankin will play now. It’s interesting that Rankin does not resent having spent a whole year redshirting despite a lofty junior college reputation. In fact, he now sees that maybe when he arrived on campus he wasn’t truly ambitious enough. Or not enough to risk wasting a year on.

“I feel like it paid off that I sat out. I feel it was a blessing in disguise.” OK, and exactly why? “Because it made me hungry again,” Rankin said simply.

Now, back to one of the popular spring topics. If Rankin does win a starting job, or if he continues to compete on through the season…which job will it be?

When he signed-on with Mississippi State and enrolled for spring 2015 it was assumed this top prospect, in fact by one ranking THE top offensive line prospect in the juco ranks, would step in at open left tackle.

Instead, “Last spring I was at right,” Rankin reminds. Sure enough, he practiced there, behind returning 2014 starter Senior. “Then later on in the year I went to left.”

 Popular figuring was Rankin was one more injury from taking over, too…but as ’15 played through State continued to cobble-together lines and rely on Jenkins to keep Rankin’s redshirt unburnt. Then came this past spring and there Rankin was, back at right tackle as Senior swapped sides. But of course alllll this must remain in the perspective of Bulldog blocking philosophy; that of having at least three tackles trained to play both ends at any moment and in any combination.

“I mean it’s just about us being able to play more than one position.” And hey, in that regard tackle ought be simpler than the interior where guards and center should be entirely interchangeable…in theory.

Anyway, come August 2 and opening practice there will be a pair of tackles on the first line to take a snap. Which side isn’t as big a deal to Rankin now as just being in the top tandem. He’s added five pounds since spring, to 307, and has honed all the preexisting weight well. Physically Rankin is ready to really compete for a starting spot.

Mentally? Yes, even more so.

“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.”


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