Position analysis: MSU offensive line

MSU offensive linemen prepare to protect quarterback Keytaon Thompson.
Staff Writer

New Mississippi State offensive line coach Marcus Johnson isn’t shying away from his group’s potential.

Spring practice has just wrapped up and there is still work to do over the summer and then in fall camp, but Johnson sees greatness in his unit.

“They can be special man,” Johnson said last week. “When we’re on, we’re freaking on.”

While Johnson is quick to admit his lineman aren’t always ‘on’ and thus, there is sometimes second-guessing and struggle, he obviously has a strong belief in State’s offensive front.

It’s a veteran group that returns all but one starter from last year’s unit that spearheaded the Southeastern Conference’s third-best rushing offense and allowed the fewest sacks in the league.

“It’s a good, solid group, especially since they know what’s going on,” Johnson said.

The only starter that isn’t back from last year is left tackle Martinas Rankin. In Rankin’s place though steps sophomore Greg Eiland, who started four games in place of Rankin last year anyway so even Eiland is well-prepared.

“He has done really well,” Johnson said of Eiland. “He is a talented football player and his experience does help. Experience allows and helps you play faster.”

The rest of State’s offensive line is full of guys that have had a lot of playing time. Daryl Williams, Elgton Jenkins, Deion Calhoun and Stewart Reese all started every game last year. Jenkins and Calhoun are seniors and Johnson said that level of maturity is a stabilizing force on the line.

“You have been in the war and have been there, done it and lived it, so you know all about the speed of the game and everything tends to slow down a little bit for you when you become a veteran guy,” Johnson said.
Behind the anticipated starters, Johnson also bragged on the guys who will at the very least provide the Bulldogs with depth up front this coming season.

“There have been a few guys in that next group that have stood out,” Johnson said. “Tyre Phillips has done some good things. We have to keep developing him and bringing him along. Between him and (Reese), that’s some of the biggest guys I’ve ever seen that can move like they move. It’s really impressive. Michael Story has done some good things. Tommy Champion may be the toughest competitor in the group. He’s going to work his heart out for you. (Dareuan Parker), he’s done some great things. It’s just a matter of everyone continuing to develop as we try to create depth. Very few offensive lines go through an entire season healthy. Hopefully we can keep getting better and stack one day after the next and keep developing that depth.”

Despite the group’s talent and potential, maybe the offensive line’s greatest strength actually lines up across from them. It’s aiding Mississippi State’s cause as the Bulldogs prepare for the upcoming season that the offensive line gets to face MSU’s dangerous defensive front in practice.

What better way to prepare for Southeastern Conference Saturdays than practicing against guys like Montez Sweat, Jeffery Simmons and the like?

“We’ve all heard the statement that iron sharpens iron and that is the absolute truth,” Johnson said. “You know that once you step out on this practice field, you can’t take a day off. You better come with the right mentality about yourself or you’re going to get embarrassed going against that group every day.”

That battle up front in practice is one that new MSU head football coach Joe Moorhead likes to see. In Moorhead’s mind, his Bulldogs’ success in the year ahead hinges greatly on all the guys lining up on the line of scrimmage.

“I actually just got done telling the guys post-practice (on Thursday) that the mentality of the great teams I’ve been around are dictated by the offensive and defensive line, otherwise you might as well go play flag football," Moorhead said. "To have that caliber of front and that experience on both sides of the ball, I think in a transition with a new staff and getting new things installed, I think that benefits us greatly.”