Craig Jenkins Makes The Transition

The sport of football always features transition for any player. Whether making the leap from high school to college or from offense to defense, there are countless adjustments to make. Mississippi State sophomore Craig Jenkins has seen plenty of transition, and he's only starting his second year of playing for the Bulldogs.

Jenkins, who redshirted in 2005, started every game last year for the Bulldogs, earning 12 starting nods at right tackle on the offensive line.

But this year, Jenkins was asked to move to right guard, and has stretched his streak to 15 consecutive starts three games into the 2007 campaign.

And the transition from tackle to guard wasn't that "difficult".

"I think it went well," said Jenkins of the move. "It wasn't that much of a difficult transition because a lot of it is the same. Playing inside now, there is less room for defenders and I have to worry more aobut the power than the speed of defensive linemen. So overall, I say the transition went very smooth."

However, the Pearl native isn't taking all the credit for his smooth move to guard. In fact, he takes no credit.

"I really have to give all the credit to the coaches," said Craig Jenkins. "I consider myself a very, coachable player and I just have to pay attention to all the details. If you listen to the coaches then you always come out on top.

"It was hard to point out all those details but my coaches have showed me everything I need to focus on. They have worked on my strength and conditioning, things you have to have because it's tough in the trenches, especially in the SEC."

And to keep up with the big boys on the other side of the line, Jenkins has continued to closely watch his weight. At 6-foot-4 and 315 pounds, Jenkins admits his weight is still not where it needs to be. But it is getting better.

"I'm still not satisfied because Coach is not satisfied with my weight," admitted Jenkins. "It is still an on-going process. But losing weight only helps me get quicker and makes it easier blocking bigger guys."

In the first three games, Jenkins and his O-line mates have been one of the most improved units on the team.

Yes, they are still somewhat young and need more experience. Jenkins is the youngest among the starters, which features two juniors (Mike Brown and Anthony Strauder) and two seniors (J.D. Hamilton and Royce Blackledge).

"I think that since last year, we have all been together now and with time comes experience," noted Jenkins. "I think we have learned how to play as one unit instead of five offensive linemen.

"No doubt our future is very bright. And all of us young guys are gaining experience every day. The new guys are also progressing and when we all get going, it will only help us in the long run."

And for the first time in the Sylvester Croom era, the Bulldogs actually have depth on the offensive line.

"With (Michael) Gates, we have basically six starting offensive linemen," said Croom. "And you throw in (freshman) Derek Sherrod and (sophomore) Johnny Carpenter, then we have seven or eight guys we feel comfortable with and that's about five more than we had last year."

Jenkins also notes that the much-improved depth, talent and experience have paid dividends in practice and on Saturdays.

"It has definitely made competition in practice pick up tremendously," said Jenkins of the O-line depth. "You always know there is someone behind you wanting to take your job.

"It also helps to keep fresh bodies in the game. That makes you play so much better when you still have solid legs in the fourth quarter because of that rest during the game."

State's offensive line will be counted on even more with the Bulldogs' on-going saga under center. Junior Michael Henig broke his hand in the 19-14 win at Auburn, his third injury setback in 12 months.

That means that either true freshman Wesley Carroll or junior college transfer Josh Riddell will garner their first collegiate start. But Jenkins admits the line's focus remains in tact.

"Really with a different starting quarterback, it doesn't bother the offensive line," said Jenkins. "Our job is still the same with the same steps and same techniques.

"But with a new quarterback, our job is to make him feel at ease, communicate with him and let him know we have his back. We have to play with one heartbeat and keep playing like that on the line."

Exluding the blowout loss to second-ranked LSU, the Bulldogs have relied on the ground game to set the tone, a trademark of Croom's formula for success.

Sophomore Anthony Dixon ranks seventh in the SEC with 263 rushing yards while sophomore tailback Christian Ducre has also stepped up and grabbed the back-up role.

Ducre rushed for 63 yards, including the game-winning touchdown, at Auburn last Saturday.

"There really is no difference between the two (tailbacks)," said Jenkins. "Both of them are big backs. Actually, Anthony Dixon is more of a finesse back, even at 240 pounds. Christian is more of a power runner and even if he doesn't have a blocker out front, he will power through there anyway. But with both of them, we still do our job of getting a body on a body."

Having that type of success on the ground simply means that Jenkins and company is doing their job.

"That is what our offensive line has to do," said Jenkins. "It all starts with running the football. That creates opportunities in the passing game. But we still know our top focus is to run the football and play smash-mouth football.

"Every game our plan centers around the running game. We know that if we can control that aspect and run the ball well, then we will be in every game we play this season."

This Saturday at Davis Wade Stadium, the Bulldogs have a chance to match the team's win total the past three seasons. A win over Gardner-Webb would give State a 3-1 mark and a solid start to the 2007 campaign.

But like all Bulldog coaches and players, Jenkins isn't looking ahead. His only focus is the game at hand, and more specifically, the defensive foe in front of him come Saturday evening.

"It was a fun ride home," said Jenkins of the Auburn victory. "But really, we don't play the name, only the person in front of us. Yes, it was good to get a W in the win column and see our work pay off. But we have to maintain the same focus every week regardless of who we are playing."


Paul Jones is a writer for the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website. He can be reached by email at pdjmsu@yahoo.com.
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