Bulldogs cope with injuries on offensive line
Mississippi State offensive lineman Addison Lawrence (62) throws a block for quarterback Chris Relf (14) during last Thursday's game against LSU. (Photo by Kim Murrell, SDN)
By LEE ADAMS
Injuries have plagued Mississippi State's offensive line.Â
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James Carmon, Quentin Saulsberry and Tobias Smith have all suffered injuries, and Smith has been lost for the season with a tear in his ACL. Saulsberry didn't miss a game after suffering his knee sprain at Auburn, but Carmon wasn't able to play against LSU last week. The only starting MSU offensive linemen to not go down with an injury have been Addison Lawrence and Gabe Jackson.
When Saulsberry went down in week two, Dillon Day took over snapping duties, and Saulsberry was back at center against LSU, until right guard Tobias Smith went down. Smith's injury sent Saulsberry to right guard and Day back out as the center. Shuffling a player around like that can be tough, but Saulsberry is experienced at both positions, so the transition was seamless. Carmon is going to be available for Saturday's showdown with Louisiana Tech, but redshirt freshman Blaine Clausell is expected to still be the starting left tackle. No matter who the Bulldogs put on the line, it's sure to be who they think is best.Â
"We're going to try and get our best five guys to put on the field," said Mullen. "Everybody is in the mix right now, but with James coming back, who are our best five for us to put out there? We will have to see as the week and the season progresses."
With a few of the five positions up in the air, practice is sure to be intense for the line.
"Practice is going to be a competition," said offensive line coach John Hevesy. "I think it's a positive that they are competing to see who is going to be the five best."
Hevesy knows that injuries are a part of the game, so he has been preaching to his players since the start of camp to always be prepared.
"I told them from day one, you're a shoelace away from going in," said Hevesy. "Unfortunately, it has been more than a shoelace, but they all have to be ready to play. I have to get them ready to get out there and play, because nobody is going to feel sorry for us."
It's not a secret that Mullen wants to get his receivers more involved, but he thinks they need to do better so they can get involved.
"We have to be able to get off and get open," said Mullen . "We're not as clean as we need to be."
The lack of cleanliness seems to be disappointing especially when it comes to the older players.
"I expect more out of our older guys," said Mullen. "I expect Chad Bumphis, Arceto Clark and Chris Smith to be playmakers more than depending on our younger guys."
A group of young guys who Mullen is wanting to step up more is the linebackers.
"We have to put more pressure on them and get them to perform at a higher level," said Mullen. "With their ability, I think they can play a lot tighter than they were playing during the (LSU) game."
The Bulldogs dropping their home opener had many players feeling like they let down the MSU fans and safety Jay Hughes even tweeted about it, saying "Tired of letting the fans down." Senior running back Vick Ballard understands where Hughes is coming from saying, "When that many people come out, you want to win for the home crowd." Even though they were not able to get the win in the home opener, Mullen hopes to rebound this Saturday for the fans.
"I think our players have very high expectations and our people have bought in to what we are trying to do as a program," said Mullen. "We want to make sure we give back to our student body, to our fan base and to everybody who has really bought in to try and help us build this (program). I expect this Saturday to have another unbelievably wild atmosphere, create a great home field advantage, and hopefully we give back to them with a win."
Since their home opener was on Thursday night, the Bulldogs got some extra rest this weekend, and Mullen thinks it has revived his players.
"We are anxious to get back on the field and play better a better football game this week than we did last week," said Mullen. "There's a lot of things that we want to accomplish as a team this year that are still ahead of us, but most importantly it's becoming a better football team."
MSU's next two games will be against other Bulldog teams in Louisiana Tech and Georgia. The Louisiana Tech game will be at Davis Wade Stadium this Saturday at 6 p.m. and broadcast on ESPNU. Next Saturday's Bulldog battle will be in Athens at 11 a.m. central time and broadcast on Fox Sports Net.