Ready to Play After Dropping Weight

Anybody that follows college football religiously, or even in a mildly manner, will tell you that the toughest position to adapt to is along the offensive line.

Coming from high school to the Division I college level, there are so many adjustments to make. Obviously, getting up to the different speed of the game ranks high on the list. Of course, the offensive schemes are more complicated as well as the practice sessions.

And yes, many prep linemen have to work on their weight issue, getting to the point where unwanted pounds are not a problem anymore.

But those that have ability and work ethic usually pass the final tests concerning adjustments from high school to college.

And that's where Mississippi States Craig Jenkins comes into the picture.

The former Pearl O-lineman sat out last year as a redshirt, learning the ropes on the practice squad and awaiting the spring of 2006 for his initial opportunity at the collegiate level. Jenkins dropped some 30 pounds from his official reporting weight in the fall of 2005.

And in the spring, the 6-foot-4 and 319-pound redshirt freshman made quite an impression, racing up the depth chart and finished spring drills in the number one slot at right tackle.

"In the spring, I just took it day by day," said Jenkins, a cousin of former Mississippi State standout receiver Justin Jenkins. "I just worked hard and did what I needed to do and needed to get done so I could get better at my position."

Now that preseason practice has arrived, it's still an ongoing battle for Jenkins, battling for playing time and his weight.

On the first day of fall practice, head coach Sylvester Croom singled out guys 'that came in fat and played fat', which included the likes of Jenkins, Michael Gates and Johnny Carpenter.

Jenkins dropped back to second team at his right tackle slot, giving way to junior college transfer J.D. Hamilton, although he's back at first-team due to Hamilton suffering a minor ankle injury.

Jenkins fully understands the challenges that lie ahead if he wants to win the starting job back on a permanent basis.

"The way I got my weight down was just hard work," said Jenkins. "I really watched what I ate. But I am still not where I need to be. I have a little longer to go as far as being where my coaches want me and where I want to be.

"I have to get that weight down and get quicker. I know what weight I have to be at to compete at this level and in this league. So there's more hard work left to do but I know I will get there. I also have to learn my assignments and get more comfortable with those aspects."

Despite his short time wearing the maroon and white, Jenkins has shown his toughness and ability to bounce back with flying colors. His coaches saw it in the spring, and so did his teammates on the offensive line.

"The one thing he showed me in the spring is that he is a fighter," said Bulldog senior offensive lineman Brian Anderson of Jenkins. "He has some ability, enough to make up for what weaknesses he may have, which is obviously experience. Right now, he needs to get in shape and I know he was hurt a little with his hamstring.

"If he gets in shape, I know he can help us out this year and we need him on the offensive line. In this league, you need every able body you can get."

Yes, the offensive line has been a focal point of State's lack of offense in the past few seasons. Jenkins was part of an O-linemen dominated recruiting class with Gates, Carpenter, Anthony Dunning and starting left tackle Calvin Wilson.

The real test will come when the Bulldogs begin hitting other teams instead of the same uniforms day-in and day-out.

And in this league, experience is everything.

"I don't have any experience and I know it's already going to be tough and be a challenge," said Jenkins. "I just have to keep my head straight and get better with each practice. Getting in shape and getting my weight down is the toughest part. But I am still doing extra things to focus on my weight, doing extra running and those types of things."

Then again, it's not like Jenkins is lining up against a collection of scrubs and below-average Southeastern Conference players. Every day in practice, Jenkins goes against one of the top defensive lines in the SEC, battling the likes of Deljuan Robinson, Andrew Powell, Antonio Johnson and speedy defensive ends Michael Heard and Titus Brown.

That alone should help Jenkins' progress as the season opener on August 31 with South Carolina creeps closer and closer with each passing day.

"We don't practice against a bunch of average players," said Anderson. "We go against one of the best defenses in the SEC day-in and day-out. That will help him out, seeing a guy like Michael Heard coming hard around the corner and breathing down you neck.

"But it's still going to take him playing in some games and going through a real game to get acclimated to it. There's nothing like playing in a game to get that experience and that's the only way to get experience."

Currently, Jenkins is at the same weight as he left spring drills, although he is one of three Bulldogs (Gates and Carpenter) not to make conditioning times on the opening day of practice.

But his plan is already mapped out and he knows what he has to do for the 2006 campaign.

"I know they are counting on me this year so I have to be ready to go," said Jenkins. "Playing up front in the Southeastern Conference is a major task but my team needs me. I just have to give them and the coaches the best I have to offer and get my experience as I go along. It's never easy but nobody said it would be easy."


Paul Jones is a writer for the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website. Paul, also a sports writer for the Columbus Commercial Dispatch, can be reached by email at pjones@cdispatch.com.

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