"All of these kids who have come in here appear to have come in here in fairly decent shape. The one thing that is impressive about these guys is the fact that they all have excellent height. We talk about wanting offensive linemen with long arms and height and all of these guys have that. They all are much bigger than they look. Offensively, Monte Collins is a very big young man (6-5.5, 387 pounds) who is going to have to lose some weight in order for him to compete. But we knew that when we signed him. He certainly knows it. I think he will do everything he needs to to play for us. Those other young men all have extremely good height and mobility. It is a very impressive group. If you had the chance to watch them in the huddle and not know they were young guys, you would be very impressed with them. Although they are great athletes, they will need to work on their strength."
Do you feel a young offensive lineman can come in and play early even though he isn't super strong?
"As a rule, Gene, in all my years, I have always preferred not to be put in that situation. While depth will not be a problem for Mississippi State next year, in order for us to have the depth we need for this year, it is probably going to require one of these young guys to step up."
You also coach tight ends. Talk a little about the two tight end newcomers you have, Kyle Wiley and Blake Pettit.
"Blake is everything that I thought he would be in terms of athleticism. He is impressive. He obviously has played other positions. That in itself tells me he is a good athlete. He didn't disappoint. The big thing for Blake is putting on a little more weight and becoming a good blocker. He has diligence and character so I think he will be able to get those things done for us.
"With Kyle Wiley you couldn't ask for a better walk-on in terms of the tight end position. He is very strong and has some mobility. He is going to have an opportunity to compete for one of those spots. We certainly need a little help at tight end in terms of depth."
Talk a little about the depth you have behind your starting tackles?
"There is no question that we are going to have to find some people who can help on the offensive line. To be honest about it, I told these guys (the newcomers) that they would have to get ready to play. At the tackle position on the right side, we have Avery House behind David Stewart. Avery is a guy who needs to get a lot better than he was, but then he was just a freshman last season. He is working really hard. I am excited to see his growth and maturity. Behind him, we will have the true freshman, Richard Burch. On the left side, we have a fifth-year senior, Carl Hutchins, who needs to be a player for us. I told him what his role needs to be if he is going to be a contributor to the 2002 football team. His role is to be a contributor this year, otherwise, we will have to go in another direction. (True freshman) James Redmond will play on the left side."
You have a veteran at left tackle, Donald Tucker. However this is his first year at that position. Talk a little about Donald.
"Coach (Sherrill) has always been high on Tucker's athleticism. I was a little concern going into the spring because he really has the body type for guard, but as a tackle I was concerned. Luckily for us and for him, he put all my fears to rest. He had an excellent spring. The thing that I was the most concerned about was the pass-rush for a speed guy on the outside. After a week or so, he came on really well and really learned the techniques that we need over there to get his job done. I knew he had the character and athleticism to be ok there, but I was concerned about him because he has been inside since he has been here. He has really taken to it. I expect him to actually be a leader on the offensive line."
Talk a little about your philosophy as to how you determine who will come in for the starters.
"After the starters, the next guy needs to be able to play left or right. I'm not interested in playing the second right tackle if he isn't the third best guy. After the starters, even the guards, we will play the next best guy. It doesn't have to be our second best right guard. It is going to be our sixth best lineman. It would be to the benefit of those second teamers to understand that they need to know the guard and tackle positions. If someone goes down, we want our sixth best guy to go in."
Talk a little about your veteran tight ends.
"I have told Donald Lee that I expect him to play on a All-Conference level. He has everything that is needed to be an All-Conference football player. We just need to get him off to a good start. I know we are going to utilize him more in the passing game. However, I have coached a kid who only caught about 20-something passes at North Carolina before I came here and he was a second-round draft pick. He was a second-round pick based on his ability to block.
"As far as Aaron Lumpkin is concerned, we needed for him to become a good enough blocker for when he went into the games. We aren't going to get that many balls to the tight end where one will catch 40 or 50 and the next one will catch 20 or 30. So, when he gets in the game, he is going to have to be an accomplished blocker. He took that to heart this spring and became a much improved blocker. I think he is going to be a very good contributor for us this season.
"We also have a steady guy in Tommy Ferrill and Keith Walker, a guy who has unbelievable potential. He actually came on as a blocker during the spring."
There has been talk that a concern of this team will be the offensive line. What do you say to that?
"I will definitely go on record and say this. I know people wonder how in the heck we are going to get things done because we lost this guy or that guy who played last year. The truth of the matter is we won three games last year. Not that the guys from last year didn't play hard, but I don't think there is any question that we are going to be a much better offensive line. I think we are going to do a better job as coaches and I think the players will perform better. I don't question the offensive line at all. I will be stunned if we aren't a very good offensive line."
Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page (http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com), the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. You can contact him by email at email@example.com.