“We’re really not given anything. It’s just both of you better be ready.”
Which they are. Even better, both Jenkins and Rankin will say they are fine with this uncertainty. Rankin even puts a positive spin on the weekly situation.
“It keeps us both on our Ps and Qs. No one can really just slack in our preparations. We’re both trained as starter.”
Both have been starters, too. Third-year sophomore Jenkins opened the first three games, before second-year junior transfer Rankin got the call at Massachusetts. This was not a sign any permanent change has been made in the starting lineup.
And speaking of sign…Rankin said there are a few hints, whether during the practice week or just who gets to go out with the rest of the first-team line for the first round of pre-game warmups.
“Whoever it is starting off is probably going to be the person starting off in the game,” Rankin said. Probably.
The certainty? Both are going to play at left tackle every weekend. It could be in a scripted rotation; it could be a change of pace; or it could be shifting fortunes for either against that particular defense.
Whatever the plan or lack thereof, both tackles stay on their mental-toes so to speak.
“We just kind go series by series. Coach lets us know how he wants to go about a situation. But we always have to be ready.” Which again is no bad thing as far as Rankin is concerned.
“For one, it’s good. We kind of can get feedback from each other about what’s going on out there. And two, there’s no reason we shouldn’t give our all on every play.”
Rankin’s long-awaited first senior college start didn’t, well, start out so well. He struggled through the first half against a Minuteman defensive front that should have been overmatched. Jenkins didn’t have much more success either as the Bulldog offense sputtered.
The second half was a different matter. Not for any technical adjustments though, Rankin said.
“I know speaking for me, I just started playing with confidence. I reminded myself of how I trained in the summer and when it got hard, I talked myself up, I picked myself up. I had to figure out how to do that in a game.
“I started telling myself play with confidence, I belong here, I’m here for a reason so start playing like it. That really helped.”
So did State snapping the ball at a faster pace and wearing down UMass. Whatever the reason Rankin came home with a fresh attitude. “I mean, sometimes when you mess up you kind of get down on yourself. I started telling myself that I belong here. I feel I’ve got big-time ability so I had to continue to remind myself of that.”
Rankin certainly had a big-time reputation as a junior college tackle. Why he had to take that route is simple enough: “I was 235 pounds in high school,” Rankin reminds. Juco ball allowed Mendenhall kid to grow up in all aspects, and now after a redshirt year at Mississippi State he packs 307 pounds on the 6-5 frame.
Now, about that redshirting… More than a few fans were baffled why the #1-ranked tackle prospect by a juco recruiting outlet had to sit a season. Maybe they ought have more considered veracity of such rankings in the first place.
Regardless, even as a 2015 spring enrollee Rankin began realizing he wasn’t entirely ready for senior college ball. “I kind of knew it was coming, because I didn’t start. It was ups and downs. I just had to realize that there’s some positives to it and the positives are going to show now.”
Mainly that he’s still a junior with another season at State. This doesn’t take away all 2016 pressure to perform of course. It does provide long-term perspective though.
Now as far as perspective this weekend, Rankin and Jenkins and the entire Bulldog front line are going to be pressured in the extreme. Auburn is coming to campus bringing a defensive line which has blossomed with age and health. Rankin has studied Carl Lawson, Montravious Adams, every Tiger he’s likely to go facemask-to-facemask with Saturday.
“They’re physical, they’re some big guys and are going to come out and play hard. I feel that’s the strength of their team, they’ve got a good defense and they lead the way.”
By same token it is up to Bulldog blocking to lead the offense’s way if Mississippi State is to re-start the season successfully and stay on a bowl-eligibility track. Their last home-field appearance went well in out-muscling South Carolina. Then on the road LSU and at times UMass had the linemen on their heels, or worse.
Now they’ve had an open date to evaluate and address everything. Mostly though Rankin said mindset will matter as much or more in this matchup.
“We just have to play with confidence and gel as one unit. We have to have each other’s back and make sure we have good communication.”
Oh, and for what it’s worth…sometime around 10:45 the starting left tackle will be shown. Probably. Maybe?