"(Walk-on) Michael Evans is here. He is Blake Pettit's teammate. He has been doing very well.
"James Cochran is our center. So far, we have been very pleased with what he has done. He has great flexibility and he is 20 pounds heavier than he was when we signed him. He weighed in at 285. I think he weighed in at 265 on his visit. He will be 300 in a hurry. Because he has a big frame, you can't even tell he gained the weight. We have a lot of quarterbacks in here and he struggled a little the first morning. But since then, we haven't had a bad snaps, which means he is a really good snapper. He is really above where we thought he would be. He is very smart and has been in his play book. I can really hear him verbally in the huddle. We are very excited about him being here."
How can you forecast a center out of high school?
"First thing you look at is the mental aspect. Mentally, it is tougher because they are the quarterback on the inside. They set all of our fits with what we do protection-wise and run-wise. They really have to be the captain of the entire line. It looks like he is going to pick that up very quickly. He will need to gain strength like most freshman usually do when they first get in. It really shows that he has the smarts to be a center. The biggest thing about him is he has been a center since middle school, which really helps him. He is not having to learn a lot because he understands what he has to do."
Talk about your veteran players. Talk a little about (starting center) Blake Jones.
"I'm expecting Blake to have a good fall camp. He knows that he has to because Chris McNeil is right behind him. I told someone the other night that Chris McNeil is going to play in the Oregon game. I am prepared to play two centers in the Oregon game. Those guards know that I'm not going to play two of the best guys at center. We know that. We are going to put our best three players on the field. If for some reason we were to have two of our best players on the inside, then one of them will go to guard if we aren't strong enough there. We are going to try and play more people because we don't have much experience. I think by playing more people, it will help us early with our physical conditioning and late with our experience."
How did Blake respond to what you said?
"He responded well. The big thing for him is he has been fighting injuries. Chris has fought the grow up mode, but he grew up a lot since last season. I've noticed that he and Blake have been hanging around a lot, which I like. They are working together a lot, which tells me that they are helping each other. What I'm seeing with them is team, which is what we are all about. I see them together a lot. They come by and pick up film and watch it together. They are both pulling for each other, which will make us better. Chris is up to about 300 pounds. Blake is around 300 pounds also."
Talk a little about your guards.
"Michael Allen has gotten his weight down. Brad Weathers was a 330 guy. He is about 310 now. He really likes how his feet feel. He has been working extremely hard on that. Johnny Wadley is down in weight.
"Michael had a really good spring. The biggest thing about Michael has been his endurance. He and I talked. We had a weight point and he made it. After he reached that mark, we set another mark. I'm looking forward to seeing how long he can push it to the max and sustain that pace. That has been the biggest problem for him. He is talented but he came in at about 370 pounds last year. A (broken) finger kept him out of everything, so he missed all of two-a-days. I'm hoping that he will stay healthy so that he can work everyday. He needs a lot of reps. When he got all the reps in the spring, he got better everyday.
"Michael is at right guard. Johnny Wadley wound up behind him in the spring. Wadley was a little bit slower in picking up the system, because he was a true rookie. But he showed flashes of very good ability. Will Rogers is a guy we want to look at there. He came on a little bit, but his shoulder got bruised. Will wants to be a guard and he will be good to push Michael. I think we are going to have good competition there and that excites me."
You have Brad Weathers at left guard. Talk about him and his backups.
"We moved him over to left because he is a natural left-handed guy. He moved over and the more we kept him there the better he got. He is older than the other guys, but he had no football experience. His football experience was way behind all the others. He learned something everyday and he is a quick learner. He has gained a big step each time we have had spring or fall. Now, I want to see if he can do that one more time before we go to Oregon.
"Kyle Watson will be the backup at left guard. Kyle is a guy who can play right, left and center. He is in the 300 to 305 range. He is older so he has played a lot."
Will you play McNeil at guard?
"We are not going to practice him there at the very start. What we are going to do is challenge our center spot, then immediately see how we look at guard. The main thing we are trying to do is find our best three players."
Where will you play Manuel Dickson?
"He has turned out to be very valuable because he is a guard/center. Right now, he knows he has to know what to do in the middle. He is smart enough to do that. He can snap and he can play guard. The biggest thing we did with him is we moved him back and forth too much. I'm going to try and settle him at center."
You mentioned that you will play Chris McNeil the first game. Are you going to do the same thing at guard?
"I am going to play other people because I don't think Michael (Allen) will ever be able to play a full game. Right now, I don't know who those guys will be. I haven't had a healthy Will Rogers, but I want Will Rogers to be one of our guards. And he wants to be one of those guys who play guard. I'm giving him the opportunity to do that if his shoulder is 100%. I can't wait to see what he can do."
Why would you move Manuel to guard when you are deep there, but not as deep at guard? "I wanted to make sure he knew what to do and that we always had somebody in the middle who was focused. When he left here in the spring, he was at the 280-pound mark. The guards are in the 310 range. He has more quickness than he has size. Plus, he is not as strong as some of the others. Those are really the reasons."
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.