MSU O-Line: Guards

Mississippi State offensive line coach J.B. Grimes talks about the candidates for the two offensive guard positions.

Who are the leaders for the two starting guard positions?
"Right now, our guards going into the spring are (senior-to-be) Anthony Strauder (6-3, 290) at left guard. We don't need to spend a lot of time looking at Anthony. But he needs to go out there from a pride standpoint and not take a lot of coaching. He's been there for three years now and has started a lot of football games for us and has played well. He just needs to have a great year. He has an NFL body and he needs to play like an NFL player. And that is what we expect him to do. He has the ability to be a great player. RIght now, he's a good player, but I truly expect him to be a great player. How badly he wants to be a great player, that's on him, not on me or Coach Croom. He needs to take that next step."

Who do you expect to back him up?
"Today, we would probably have Dakota Merritt (6-5, 302) backing him up at left guard. He's big enough, strong enough, but he didn't play in the offensive line as a high school player. He was a defensive lineman coming out of high school. He's got to learn how to play the position, but he has a lot of the attributes that it takes to be an SEC offensive lineman. It just remains to be seen how he develops from a mental standpoint in grasping the position. But we saw some things in the bowl practices that we liked. And I'm anxious to get him on the field and really start him from the ground up. I'm excited to see how he develops."

What do you expect to start on the right side?
"Right now, Michael Gates (6-4, 305) is the starter. But he's run into some difficulties health-wise with an ankle (injury) that is sort of a reoccurring thing. But he's got a ton of upside.

"It's a shame that back three years ago we had to play him as a true freshman. He's one of those guys who is a victim of us not having any depth at the time. So, we had to play him as a true freshman, then he got hurt. He played around 60 or 70 snaps as a true freshman, which is way below what we wanted. And we couldn't get a hardship on him. It was just a bad situation.

"That's the bad news. The good news is he has developed into a pretty good player. He has an NFL body. But he really needs to work hard on his decision-making skills when it comes to playing the game of football. Mike only played one year of high school football, and he was a tight end. Then, his second year of football he is playing Southeastern Conference football in a totally different position than you have ever played before. While he's still in the developmental mode, he is a tremendously talented guy. He's got NFL talent, but he just hasn't played the game enough yet. So, this spring will be very important to him."

Who do you expect to back up Gates?
"Right now, Craig Jenkins will back him up. Craig has started 23 football games here and he's just now going into his junior year. So, he has great experience. But, in my opinion, Craig still needs to lose a little weight, probably anywhere between 15 and 25 pounds, to make him a more efficient football play. But he's a tremendously tough guy and has tremendous experience and he's really smart. The guy makes good decisions on the football field.

"There is going to be tremendous competition at the right guard spot because Craig is not one of those guys who will sit around and take being a backup. He's not going to like that. He wants to be the starter, and Mike Gates likes being the starter. For old Coach Grimes, we have a great situation there because we have two guys battling it out for a job. And we fully expect to get the best shot from both of them during the spring."

Who are some of the other offensive linemen?
"(Sophomore-to-be) John McMillan (6-2, 285) is a walk-on who got 105 live scrimmage snaps last spring. That was as a walk-on. I fully expect John McMillan to go out on the field and give his best because he has a great work ethic and he is a smart kid. And he's tougher than a nickel steak. He's a great kid to have in our program.

"Sam Latham is another walk-on guy. You know what they say about learning - when you learn something it creates a wrinkle in your brain. You can tell Sam something one time and he creates a wrinkle in his brain. He's got a lot of wrinkles in his brain because he is a tremendously smart guy. I really like him.

"(Redshirt freshman) Spencer Yates (6-3, 250) is a Bulldog through and through. He goes through all these things we ask all the other guys to do. And being a Mississippi State Bulldog is not an easy thing to be because it is very demanding both on and off the field. I'm glad he's in the program."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the sports network. You can contact him by email at

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