"The starting tackles are the same two as last year. Finishing the spring was Derek (Sherrod) at left and Addison (Lawrence) at right. They both had good springs. And they should since they both started 12 games last year. They understand the offense. I just want them to understand the game better, not just the plays but the defenses.
"Phillip Freeman, right now, is the third tackle. He can go either way. He did some good things in the spring that solidified him as that third tackle. He did a good job in the spring in terms of where I feel if he's got to play he can play. Last year, I was worried about him going into the game. But he had a good enough spring where I feel really good about having three tackles.
"The fourth tackle in the spring was Blaine Clausell, the freshman. He has a lot of ability but he doesn't know what is going on. He's still trying to figure out right from wrong. He hears a play and he wonders what does that mean. What's the cadence? But he's going to be that way since he's a freshman. The best thing for him in the spring is he's heard it all now. Now, when he comes back in June and works with the guys he can get himself really, come August, to go play and be a fourth guy. Will we need him? I don't know. But I have to get him ready in case we do need him."
What are your thoughts about the guards?
"Tobias (Smith) had a great spring and is our right guard. He is a very talented guard, very powerful, very strong, has great feet. He knows what is going on and became a better football player. He didn't really miss anything after being injured. He was physically and mentally on top of things. But his biggest thing is he has to stay healthy. Matt Balis and I talk about doing top-notch research to figure out why he is being injured. We want to do everything that we can to prevent him from being injured. But we can't control everything. We just have to work to keep him healthy and he has to work himself to stay healthy.
"Quentin (Saulsberry) is our left guard. Quentin had a tremendous spring in terms of mentally understanding things. And this spring I worked him a lot at center. He probably played 75% guard and 25% center. Center is probably his natural position. He has such great feet and he is naturally strong. The main thing with him is learning everything I ask centers to learn, especially mentally. Mentally, they have to do everything. They have to set the protections, set the run game, and make a lot of calls.
"Gabe Jackson, a freshman, had a really good spring. This was his first time to do live reps in this offense. He is powerful like Tobias. He is strong, explosive, has great feet. He is going to be the third guard. I would keep him on one side right now. If he has to go in I would play him at left. Like any kid who has all that talent, they still get slowed down tremendously until they know the offense. They are still thinking. And when they are thinking they are slow. That keeps them from using their ability like he can.
"Mark Melichar is the other guard. He knows everything. The only thing he lacks right now is the physical attributes that Tobias has. But mentally he is on things. He is a very intelligent player but he doesn't have the physical prowess that Tobias or Quentin brings to the table."
It sounds like you feel like you have four guards that can play.
"There are four, but really two that I will play with. Mark and Gabe will fight it out as to who will go into the game next. Right now, that will be based on what point of the game it is, where the game is played. Game two versus Auburn in the first quarter. I don't know if Gabe could go into the game at that point. Game three, at LSU, first quarter. That might be hard for Gabe to play. But at least Mark has been around that and knows the deal. He would have to go in then until I can get Gabe ready to play in that environment.
"Another guard is Templeton Hardy. Templeton's biggest issue is he was hurt for 10 to 15 practices. He made a great push at the end of last season at either a guard or tackle position. Then, he dislocated his elbow. And he was out 10 to 15 practices due to that."
Talk about your centers.
"J.C. (Brignone) had a really good spring. He has pushed himself to be a leader. When I got here two years ago, I didn't think he was a leader. But during spring practice he worked with the younger kids. He is a smart football player. He understands defenses. He understands body control. He has power, he can run. And he is crafty. He might not be perfect blocking you, but he understands what he has to get done. He just needs to continue pushing himself to get better and be a leader.
"Sam did some good things in the spring, but he's still a freshman. He got better at a lot of things, but he just has to continue growing up and letting his body mature. He has the intelligence to be a center. He just has to develop that physical nature to knock people around inside."
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.