With the loss of just one player from last year's group of players and the return of seven players who started at least one game last season, the offensive line has a chance to be a solid group this year. New offensive coach, J.B. Grimes, one of the best in the business at teaching technique and fundamentals, has a lot to work with, but also has a lot of work to do with this group.
"We have to get better fundamentally," said Grimes. "We are not a very good fundamental football team from an offensive line standpoint. We like to grab a hold of people instead of lining up and getting our feet going. It's like we are doing some wrestling out there. We have a lot of work to do, but we will get better. It's not that we don't have guys that can play."
Individually, starting with the left tackle, two players have stood out, according to Grimes.
"We have a real battle going with James Redmond and Richard Burch for the starting left tackle spot," said Grimes, a 25-year coaching veteran on the college level. "They are kind of neck and neck. Both guys have an opportunity to be the starter. It's just who steps up. They both have talent. They just have to learn to play the game. I think the off-season and the summer workouts and the fall camp will determine that position."
At the left guard position, one player had moved to the top of the depth chart based until an ankle injury that will require surgery ended his spring training.
"At left guard, we have Johnny Wadley, who I think is the starter right now," said Grimes. "He did well this spring. He has to continue to get better fundamentally. He needs to continue to drop weight. I am very proud of the way he is working and the way he has worked to lose weight. He has gone from 363 pounds in January to 338. He probably needs to lose another 20 pounds."
Behind Wadley are a couple of youngsters who are in a fierce battle for the second spot.
"We have a battle going on between (redshirt freshman) David Price and (sophomore) Otis Riddley behind Johnny," said Grimes. "We've got to get Otis in shape. He is way overweight. He has to lose the weight so that there is some suddenness and some quickness there. David is in much in the same position. He is a guy that needs to lose some weight to be the type of athlete that we are looking for."
With the temporary suspension of projected starting center Chris McNeil for the rest of the term, sophomore Brian Anderson has moved to the top of the depth chart. Anderson is playing center for the first time in his career (high school and college) after playing offensive tackle and tight end his freshman season at State.
"We have Brian Anderson at center," said Grimes. "He has shown some good things during the spring and is improving everyday."
Veteran Avery House has been moved to the center position and is currently backing up Anderson. Freshman John Davis backs him up.
"We have moved Avery House to center to give us more depth," said Grimes. "He also gives us some more experience at that position."
"John Davis is a guy that just has to get bigger. Right now, he is 265 pounds. Those kind of guys in the SEC have a hard time on the offensive line. But he can be a big, strong 290 pound guy. And that will be big enough if he is strong enough."
Walk-on Michael Evans is also working at the center position.
The right guard position has senior Will Rogers slightly ahead of sophomore Donovan Davis, a former high school Parade All-American.
"At right guard, we have Will Rogers and Donovan Davis battling it out," said Grimes. "Donovan has done a tremendous job of dropping his weight. He just has to get in the weightroom and get stronger. Will still has a ways to go in dropping his weight. He was 361 in January and is about 326 right now."
The right tackle spot is solid with the return of 27-game starter and All-SEC candidate David Stewart, a player that Grimes has been very impressed with.
"David Stewart is the starter at right tackle," said Grimes. "He has a chance to be a really, really, really good player when he understands all the fundamentals that we are looking for in an offensive lineman."
Backing Stewart up is sophomore James Cochran, a player who participated in four games his freshman season.
"James is getting better," said Grimes. "He has some talent, but he has to learn how to play football."
Overall, despite the work that is needed in the fundamentals area and the players that are overweight, Coach Grimes is pleased with the talent level of his group.
"I am excited about this group," said Grimes. "I think they have a chance to be really, really good because they are good people and do what we ask them to do. I don't think there is any question that we have enough talent. They just have to understand, technique-wise, what it takes to be the kind of player you have to be to play in this league. Some of the technique problems are due to guys not being strong enough to execute the technique, so they have to get stronger. They have to get better fundamentally. We have the rest of the spring. Then, they will be able to work hard with (strength) coach (Jim) Nowell in the weightroom and get stronger. We will see tremendous strides in the strength level because a number of these guys have had to drop a lot of weight. Building strength and dropping weight don't work with each other. In fact, they have the totally opposite affect."
When a coach like Grimes, a man who has coached numerous players who have gone on to play in the NFL, says there is talent, there is talent. Talent is not the problem; lack of fundamentals, overweight players and lack of strength are. Once he gets those problems resolved, the offensive line could very well become a strength of this team.
Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. The URL for Gene's Page is http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com. You can contact him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.