Perhaps no player will have bigger shoes to fill in the fall than the guy who takes over for Gabe Jackson at left guard.
Jackson has been a constant at that position for 52 consecutive games and will have to be replaced after being drafted by the Oakland Raiders.
While left guard was locked up in 2013, right guard saw its share of changes starting with Justin Malone season ending foot injury in the opener against Oklahoma State. Ben Beckwith started the remaining 12 games at right guard and shared time with Jamaal Clayborn.
Malone, a junior, is the most likely candidate to take over for Jackson at left tackle. The 6-foot-7, 320-pounder has five career starts and moved really well prior to his lisfranc fracture. Malone didn’t do much this spring other than individual drills so it is hard to know if he’ll be able to regain the same mobility he once had.
When healthy, the former Madison-Ridgeland Academy standout gives the Bulldogs an athletic big man to run behind.
Beckwith is another former MAIS product at Benton Academy. He filled in admirably in Malone’s absence last season and MSU didn’t miss a beat. That’s a testament to just how prepared the 6-foot-3, 305-pounder was to take over at a moment’s notice. That experience Beckwith received last season is invaluable and will only benefit State moving forward.
Not bad for a former walk-on who is entering his senior year.
Clayborn is also a former star from the Mississippi Academy ranks at Jackson Academy. Due to all the injuries at guard, the 6-foot-4, 315-pounder had his redshirt pulled three games into the season. Clayborn went on to play in seven contests as a true freshman and received a majority of the first team reps at left guard during the spring.
Clayborn still has a ways to go as far as getting his body in proper shape but all the tools are there and he’s got a bright future ahead.
Things haven’t gone as planned with Devon Desper at center so he has shifted his focus to playing guard. The 6-foot-3, 300-pounder from Madison Central saw action in seven contests as a redshirt freshman last season. During high school, Desper had a real nasty streak that you like to see in an interior offensive lineman but I haven’t seen that side come out so far in college. If he can find that same confidence that he had in high school then defensive lineman around the league should be on the lookout.
Kent Flowers came to State very raw and definitely needed a redshirt to get better with his technique. That being said, the former Holldandale-Simmons product may have the biggest upside to any of the young guards on the roster. At 6-foot-5, 298-pounds, Flowers has a nice frame to work with and spent most of the spring working with the second team at left guard.
Jake Thomas is another 2013 signee who redshirted his rookie season in Starkville. Thomas started the spring at tackle but got some work inside during the final few practices. It’ll be interesting to see which position he lines up at when fall camp opens. The Columbus native is a highly intelligent player who is naturally gifted with talent. I’ve covered him a lot during his career and am anxious to see what he can do at the collegiate level.
As I mentioned during the tackle review, I’m still not sure where JUCO signee Jocquell Johnson plays. After transferring in during January, Johnson stayed among the walking wounded during the spring and did not participate hardly at all in any team drills. Johnson was a tackle at Copiah-Lincoln Community College but we will have to wait and see if that’s where he sticks with the Bulldogs.