J.B. Grimes - "It always start with the center because he's the quarterback of the offensive line. It has been my experience that when you are good in the offensive line, you are generally pretty good at the center position. When you have a good, smart center who is a leader I think it not only helps your offensive line, but helps your entire football team, especially on the offensive side.
"And I think we have one of those guys in J. C. Brignone. He's tough, smart and a really strong, athletic guy. He went through a really tough spring from a personal standpoint, but being the kind of guy he is he was able to bounce back. [Brignone's dad died during the spring.-Gene]
"Last year, as a redshirt freshman, he played well in a relief role. He had 184 snaps in SEC play and graded 84%. Now he has great experience. It's just a matter of him snapping the ball a lot to the quarterbacks in the gun and under center and getting the snap right. I feel good about him at center."
How good can he be?
"He's got a lot of potential. He can be a really good player. He can be an NFL type guy because of the great strength he has and the position that he's playing. He's probably 6-1.5, but one of the best centers that I have ever coached was 6-1.5 and played about 8 to 10 years in the NFL. Height is not that big of a factor when it comes to playing that position."
Who is the backup center?
"D.J. Looney is backing him up right now. I thought he had an excellent spring for a true freshman. I believe he had 122 snaps in the spring and graded 67%, which isn't bad for a guy who has never played the position. He's got great balance and is never on the ground. And he's got great strength. He was a heavyweight wrestler in high school. He has tremendous hands and uses them very well. Those things negate the fact that he's only 6-0 tall. I go back to what I said about J. C. and the height factor - it's not that big of a factor at that position.
"We feel good about those two guys - their character, their athleticism, their knowledge. We feel like we have two good prospects at center."
Who are your starting guards?
"(Senior) Michael Gates had an outstanding spring - the best spring that he's had since he's been at Mississippi State. We talked about balance earlier. Mike became more balanced during the course of the spring. He kept his feet under him better. And the game is starting to make better sense to him now. And he's got an NFL body. I believe Mike really wants to play in the National Football League. And I think he will have a chance to be an NFL guy because he is a good athlete and a good person. I feel really good about him at guard.
"(Senior) Anthony Strauder is returning for his 5th year. And he'll have an opportunity to have a great year for us. He not only had an outstanding spring, but he played well for us in the fall. There's no reason why Anthony should not have a great senior season."
"When you look at our starters - Strauder, Brignone and Gates - we have three solid guys, three guys with a lot of playing experience. Brignone had 184 snaps, I think Gates played 400 snaps and Strauder has somewhere in the neighborhood of 682 snaps."
Who backs them up?
"Behind Mike Gates we have (junior) Craig Jenkins. Craig, who has started 23 ballgames here, has a tremendous amount of experience as well. And he's a really tough, smart player. He had a good spring. But I still believe, and I think Craig believes, that he needs to be a 300-pounder instead of a 315-pounder. And I think he will work hard toward that end. I feel good about him right now.
"The other guard at that position is (junior) John Carpenter. We are going to put him there and throw him in the fray because I believe that will give him the opportunity to get on the field quicker. I do have some concerns about his shoulder because he had shoulder surgery during the course of the spring, so he didn't get any spring practice. The summer and (preseason) camp is going to be very important to him.
"A guy that I was pleasantly surprised about was (true freshman) Dakota Merritt. He has an SEC body. He's close to 6-6, 300 pounds and he can run. And he's naturally strong guy who has the character that you want. But he's breaking into a new position because he was a defensive lineman in high school. I was talking in English and he was hearing something else for a long time. He's just got to work on his fundamentals and techniques. I think that he will be a good football player in time at Mississippi State.
"Really, we know what we have in Strauder, Gates and in Craig Jenkins, but the mystery is who is going to be the backup left guard. Will it be Carpenter or Merritt? That will depend on if Carpenter is healthy enough and if Merritt make the necessary strides from a plays standpoint."
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.