"Yeah, I've got a couple of comments about all us being there every time we drive up, especially during training camp," Sherrod laughs. He also admits that the day media relations director Joe Galbraith said the job was done he took some pictures of himself, Tyson Lee, J. C. Brignone, Charles Mitchell, Brandon McRae, et.al. on super-sized display.
"But they did a great job and made the stadium look a lot better," Sherrod says. No, not just because it's his face up there; the first-team tackle means how all of the banners and drapes now adorning DWS have brightened up the entire facility. He's flattered to have been chosen for the one celebrating the leaders of this 2009 team…
…and not feeling added demand to live up to such billing. Sherrod puts enough of that sort of pressure on himself already. "I'm just going to just go out there and do the same thing I've always been doing: go out there and perform."
Fortunately Sherrod is back performing in practices again, having put an early-month knee problem (called a pinched nerve by the staff at the time) behind. It wasn't so serious a medical issue but State took no chances and gave the junior left tackle more recovery time just in case. Sherrod reports no problems since returning to workouts last week.
"It's doing really well. We have a great training staff and they made sure I came out there prepared and at the right time to do the best I can to help my teammates out. It's back at 100%. I took the time to make sure I got it back in place and took the right steps, now I'm glad I have the opportunity to be back."
And back in the full-swing of practice things. Now, it's not as if any Bulldog blockers needed to miss camp-snaps this particular August; not with Mississippi State continuing to install a new offense and instill a new attitude about how the ball is to be moved in Coach Dan Mullen's system. And the first-line has been missing a member for three weeks now with the absence of right guard Tobias Smith with his re-wired ankle. The redshirt freshman might be back in time for the Auburn game.
So when Sherrod stood aside to protect the knee it left line boss John Hevesy shuffling his deck with first right tackle Phillip Freeman taking the left end for scrimmage work and spring #1 Addison Lawrence moving back up to first right tackle in the interim. Sherrod agrees with his coaches that State made the best of a shaky situation and the whole line is better for it.
"It was cool, I felt very confident in all of them. Because that's one of the things about all of us, we know each other's positions. Therefore if anybody goes down we'll be able to take over for each other. I didn't have any problem with that, I knew we'd be ready to go.
"We know all the assets we have, and a lot of people got a lot of great work in. We know now we can switch up a lot of different combinations on the offensive line to better ourselves. And one of the great things about our coaches, they can handle anything and any situation."
So, Derek, since practices have been closed-off to media observation the last few weeks, who has been doing what on the o-line? Turning ‘pool reporter' for the moment, Sherrod goes over the shuffling. Mark Melichar moved up to primary right guard while #2 left guard Craig Jenkins, the ‘old hand' of this unit, has taken his own first-team turns at the RG position he has played before. "Mark has been doing a great job and Craig is one of our biggest assets," Sherrod says. "They've been rotating in-and-out, just switching up. And Addison and Phillip have been switching over. Phillip is one of our key players because he can switch over any position, because he's a student of the game. And Addison has been great for us."
The latest switches have come with a mild ankle injury to first center J.C. Brignone this week. The junior is almost certain to return by next week or even Sunday's start to game-week work, while backup D.J. Looney—a one-game starter last fall himself—moves up for now. Mullen even pointed out Wednesday that Brignone can always start at a guard slot if that's the opening-game need. It affirms what Sherrod says about the all-around awareness Hevesy demands of his big Dogs.
And, contributes to increased confidence from a unit that had a very rough 2008 for all sorts of reasons.
"It's going to be a good year for the offensive line," Sherrod says. "We have a lot of people coming back and that provides a lot of depth. And one of the things Coach Hevesy wants to make sure is we're ready to go at any position. He's going to have the best people on the team to play, therefore that could mean anybody. We're helping each other out learning the playbooks so we know each other's positions, that will help the team out."
For that matter the prospect of getting back into the big Doghouse next weekend is helping with practice and preparation. Sherrod naturally calls up the cliché of ‘tired of hitting each other' and if his coach is still stressing a training-camp approach to the rest of the week it's impossible for the players not to be thinking ahead. Why, just being on Scott Field last Saturday for a scrimmage improved everyone's efforts, Sherrod says.
"Because whenever we go in the stadium it's a totally different mentality. You know that it's getting close to the game time, so we have to make everything perfect. Everybody was going full-speed out there, it was a beautiful Saturday morning and everybody was ready to go. And it was our second scrimmage, we knew we had a lot of things to improve on so we had a great scrimmage."
Of course the next time he exits the stadium locker room, Sherrod will be in a real, new-for-'09-design game uniform. After the setbacks of last fall, Sherrod says that he can see a much more matured mindset from the team in general and the offense in particular. He's seen it in practice, he's seen it in scrimmages, and now he can't wait to see it—as well as do it—against Jackson State. Sure, there are bound to be some gaffes in debuting an all-new system against a real opponent, but Sherrod has no concerns of any panic this opening day.
"I can see that in the offense. Things might not go the way we want but we've instilled in ourselves how to finish out. We're working with a lot of confidence because in my mind we have one of the best defenses in the SEC. We're getting a lot of good looks practicing against them every day. That's only going to make us better and a force to reckon with."
Which should have folk looking at that southwest-corner banner in another light by the evening of September 5.