Mississippi State will open fall football camp Thursday with the only returning starting quarterback in the Western Division of the Southeastern Conference.
However, the biggest debate among fans, analysts and apparently the Bulldogs coaching staff as players reported this week is which person will be in charge of protecting the backside of Chris Relf.
“It’s simple because in the game as a left tackle (the quarterback) is my responsibility,” redshirt freshman offensive tackle Blaine Clausell said. “He is something I have to protect at all costs and not let anything happen to him.”
The graduation of left tackle Derek Sherrod has admittedly created major competition at one of the most critical positions on an offense.
Sherrod, a three-time All-SEC selection, became the first MSU player selected in the first round of the 2011 National Football League Draft (32nd to Green Bay Packers) since 1996.
“I can’t be Derek Sherrod and I can only be the best player I can be,” Clausell said. “As far as filling his shoes, it’s not in my mind because I can only play my game and play to my strengths.”
The battle starting Thursday night when practices start is between Clausell, a redshirt freshman that has spent two springs on the MSU campus after graduating early from Baker High School in Mobile, Ala., and converted defensive tackle James Carmon.
“It’s probably one of the biggest battles we've got going on the team right now,” Clausell said.
Clausell said Monday he remembers that first spring as a 17-year-old player being lined up against Pernell McPhee. McPhee was selected in the fifth round by the Baltimore Ravens in the 2011 NFL Draft. Clausell admitted he realized the incredible benefits from his redshirt season from a preparation standpoint. The two-star signee, who was the first Division 1 recruit from his high school, wasn’t prepared for the intensity jump to the Southeastern Conference.
“I had to rebuild my confidence because when you’re getting dominated early as a new guy against guys bigger and stronger than you, you worry about yourself,” Clausell said. “I had a low confidence level and actually dropped too much weight because of worrying about that. This summer I picked everything back up though including my weight.”
The first step for Carmon’s transition across the line of scrimmage is exactly that – changing his first step. In every practice, drill and game as a defensive tackle Carmon has been taught to go forward and his instincts got the best of him last spring when he was caught in pass blocking situations lunging forward. The result was normally Carmon getting stuck in a bad position and getting beaten by the defensive end across from him.
“I had to really change everything about me after getting out of defense,” Carmon said. “I’ve got to pass block this season. It’s hard, I swear it’s hard. Playing offense is more about chilling back and focusing on a thinking process instead of just go, go, go.”
The second change in the image of Carmon had everything to do with body type as he went from 360 pounds to saying he weighed in Monday at 315 pounds to have better movement and quickness that is demanded out of that position.
With the anticipation of handing more passing responsibility to Relf, Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen said two weeks ago at the SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala., that he wasn’t overly concerned at the uncertainty at left tackle.
“We have to find out what their strengths are going to be in the 29 practices (of) training camp really early on in the season,” Mullen said. “We're going to need both those guys to play for us. One of them is going to be the starting left tackle (and) the next is going to be the next tackle in the game on either side. We need both of them to be ready to play for us. That's the focus.”
The Bulldogs will conduct open practices on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and the annual Fan Day Celebration will be held on August 27 in the Palmeiro Center.
Practice on Thursday will begin at 6 p.m. On Friday and Saturday, the Bulldogs will work during split practices. Friday's schedule includes one group beginning at 9 a.m. and another at 7 p.m., while Saturday's practices will begin at 8:45 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.
Fan Day, a yearly kick-off meet-the-team celebration, will feature players and coaches signing autographs, photo opportunities with Bully and several other fun features. Doors will open at noon and players and coaches will be in attendance from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Earlier in the day on August 27, student ticket sales will begin at the Davis Wade Stadium ticket office.