A Q&A With MSU OL Coach John Hevesy

Mississippi State offensive line coach John Hevesy discusses the overall offensive line, each player individually (starters and backups) and his expectations for the newcomers.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of your group?
"The strength is they are working hard and doing everything we ask them to do. They are becoming better players individually. From the time they got here in January until the end of the spring they started preforming well together. Obviously their weakness is I don't think they started that way so it's still in progress. The schemes and terminology is different than they had here before so they are still picking that up."

Go across the offensive line and give your tentative starting unit and what you like about each one.
"I want to find eight guys. And I wanted the same thing at Florida. I want to find eight guys who can play. Who the starting five is will be determined. I have in my mind who is it but they will work all summer and fall camp for that.

"At left tackle is (junior) Derek Sherrod. He finished the spring as the starter. I thought that Derek did a tremendous job of learning techniques, taking coaching and becoming a better player. He still needs to become more of a leader. I want him to the great leader in the group and he should be because he's a very good player with a bright future ahead of him."

Is he the type lineman who could be an Outland Trophy candidate by his senior season?
"Absolutely. But the one thing about Derek he's the nicest kid in the world. I think he's got to get more of a vicious mentality, more of that leader role. He's got to continue working on that every day."

What about the right tackle?
"(Sophomore) Addison Lawrence is the right tackle as of the end of spring. He had a good spring but he's got to step up a little more. Everything is new to him as far as what we do with techniques and fundamentals. But we saw progression throughout the spring from him. I think his weakness is pure power coming off the ball.

"(Redshirt junior) Phil Freeman is the next guy in the (tackle) rotation. He's our third tackle and he could play either side. I don't look at it as two left tackles and two right tackles but I want three tackles who can play. Then, if something happens I have one guy who can do both. And Phil Freeman is that guy. He started off a little slow but really became a good player in the spring and I don't have a problem starting him.

"(Senior) Chris Spencer is another tackle. He had a good spring. And I expect a lot from him due to him being a senior. Another tackle is (sophomore) Dakota Merritt. He hasn't played here so he's still learning."

Is Addison's athleticism one of his strengths?
"Yeah, that's why he is there. What I saw from winter conditioning is his athletic ability to be that right tackle. The only difference between him and Derek is the pure power, the power that offensive linemen have to have in this league."

Who ended up as the starting guards at the end of spring and why did they earn the jobs? And who will back them up?
"(Redshirt freshman) Tobias Smith is the left guard. He made tremendous progress and for a young kid he really stepped up. We want him to become a great leader for us. The one thing he brings to the table is he's a strong, powerful kid inside who can knock people back. He just hasn't played a down of football here because he redshirted last year.

"On the right side is (sophomore) Quentin Saulsberry. He is a great athlete with a lot of strength. Coming from playing tackle last year to inside this year, he has to learn to become that type guy who uses his power instead of his speed.

"The guards behind them are (senior) Craig Jenkins and (junior) Mark Melichar. They got a lot of reps. The other guy is (redshirt freshman) Templeton Hardy. They are the three guys who are fighting everyday for that backup role. Craig has played here and has the experience, but he's just got to become more athletic. Mark has played a little bit here but he just has to become more quicker. Both are good players. Templeton hasn't played here but he has a bright future as long as he keeps coming along like he has been coming along. Templeton is a very, very athletic kid but he's just learning the game offensively.

"Quentin and Tobias kind of stepped up above everyone else but the other three have their positives and negatives so I think it's going to be a battle throughout. How they do during the summer and how they start out fall camp will determine who the third guy is."

Who are your centers?
"One of the positives at that position is that I have two guys who can play. Right now J. C. Brignone is set to start. J.C. has played a lot here and has a lot of knowledge and understanding of the game. He is a strong, powerful kid. He's been working on his quickness all summer. He had a good spring and he became a leader during the spring. (Sophomore) D.J. Looney is a guy who is becoming a leader for us. He's a guy who can come in and play."

Why not ten offensive linemen instead of eight?
"In fifteen years I have never had ten that could go out and play the way I want them to play. It's not that they aren't good enough but you usually only carry fifteen guys on scholarship. And two or three of them are true freshmen. You can't count on them in a big game during the season. There's just too much for them to overcome. It's doesn't matter if they are a four-star or five-star kid or whatever star. They won't play until their second or third year due to their maturity and the responsibilities of the position.

"The difference in the offensive line and the skill positions is you can limit what the skill guys do. You can have them learn four or five patterns or runs. The trouble with the offensive line is they have to know everything. You can't tell a lineman when he's in the game we are only going to throw the ball or we are only going to run the ball. They have to know everything there is, plus the fundamentals and all the techniques."

What are your expectations for your new guys?
"Gabriel Jackson is coming in in July. He's a strong, strong kid but he's never blocked anybody in this league. He's a lot like Tobias - he's a big, thick, strong kid. But he's going to have so much coming at him, academically, socially, the weight room, the mental aspect of it. Instead of running four plays, he'll have 26 different runs, 12 different protections, picking up blitzes. Then, all of sudden their head becomes mush.

"Sam Watts came in during the spring. Those guys got away with pushing people around who were 100 pounds smaller than them in high school. When they get here, it's all guys who are just as big and very strong, everyone of them.

"Sam progressed in the spring but his body has a ways to go before it matures and he has that total body strength. I told him to mature this fall, then I would expect him to be that guy who is ready to go in and take a rep next spring."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing swindoll@genespage.com.

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