Steve Robertson -

With two projected starters on the mend, Martinas Rankin is the lone returning starter on the offensive line going through spring drills.

Mississippi State is looking to replace three starters on the offensive line from a season ago. While Coach John Hevesy's unit returns four players who started games last fall, there is still some mixing and matching taking place during the spring practice sessions as two projected starters are recovering from injury.

The lone available regular from the 2016 campaign, Martinas Rankin, spent the fall at left tackle. With the annual Maroon and White game approaching, the talented Rankin has spent most of his practice time at center rather than his regular spot as the blindside protector. 

"It's going pretty good, just learning day by day," Rankin said. "It's a different feel. It's a little different than it was in bowl prep. There are a lot more tricks of the trade going on."

A handful of players worked at center during the Bulldogs' preparations for the St. Petersburg Bowl. While Rankin is getting the bulk of the first team snaps in spring, the Mendenhall, Mississippi product expects the competition to continue on in to the fall once the full complement of the offensive line returns to good health.

"I assume when (Elgton Jenkins) comes back that he will get some reps there too," Rankin said. "I think possibly (Deion Calhoun) will too, because he has played there in the past. I am just going with it and whatever happens. Whatever happens, happens.

"It's a benefit to me to be able to play more than just one position."

Last spring, Rankin worked at right tackle before making the move to left tackle during fall camp. Coach Hevesy uses the spring sessions to experiment and build depth. Rankin reports that he is using the experience to become more well rounded as an offensive lineman.

"You have to know a little more at center. You have to know what everybody is doing," Rankin shared. "There are different looks on the inside that you don't have on the outside. It helps.

"(Calling protections) just sort of came with it. At tackle, we have to talk a little bit too. It's a different feel. I have to (communicate) with everybody and not just the guys on the inside."

Rankin is not the only Bulldog sled pusher working in a different spot this spring. Redshirt freshman, Stewart Reese, is working some at right tackle rather than his 2016 position of offensive guard. In Rankin's customary left tackle spot, redshirt freshman Greg Eiland has been working some with the first team offense.

"He is a big body. He has some talent," Rankin said of Reese. "He just has to keep getting more confident in the playbook and he's getting that. It's just about putting it all together. We have some talented young guys and I expect a lot out of them.

"(Eiland) is getting better and better. He is learning to use his length and getting more confident in the playbook." 

Two years ago, Rankin was challenged to either win a starting spot or redshirt his first year in Starkville. While it took some time to make the transition from junior college All-American to SEC starting left tackle, Rankin is happy with how things have turned out. 

The former four star is using that experience to assist newcomers Tommy Champion and Tyre Phillips as they acclimate to life and times as a Mississippi State Bulldog.

"I think as far as playbook wise, they are catching on pretty quick," Rankin said of his new teammates. "It's about putting it all together. I know for me coming in, I was probably thinking too much at certain points. They are doing pretty good, probably better than me.

"It's really about the speed of the game and the players that you're going against. You can't just toss people around like you did in JuCo."

The Bulldog offensive line played its best football of the season during the month of November as the Dan Mullen offense began to really gel. Despite some musical chairs along the offensive front, Rankin expects the momentum from the end of the season to carry forward.

"We have to keep an edge and make sure that we know what we are doing," Rankin explained "We know that we have to play with a chip on our shoulders at all times."

Some NFL draft experts have projected Rankin as one of the top tackle prospects in the 2018 NFL draft. While that praise is certainly good news, the Bulldog big man is doing his best to remain both humble and hungry.

"I try to stay away from that type of stuff, because I don't want it to get in my head making me feel like I am better than what I am," Rankin shared.

The Bulldogs return to the spring practice field on Tuesday with other sessions scheduled for Thursday and Saturday. The Saturday practice will be the first scrimmage of the spring. That event is closed to both the media and the public. 

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