For the second time in as many years, Mississippi State is tasked with replacing one of its offensive guards who moved on to the NFL.
First it was left guard Gabe Jackson and now the Bulldogs are filling the vacancy left by right guard Ben Beckwith.
Versatile senior Justin Malone is back after starting 11 games at left guard last season. Malone was still hampered by broken foot the kept him out in 2013 and never was 100-percent last fall. When healthy, the 6-foot-7, 320-pounder is an extremely athletic lineman capable of starting at multiple spots along the line.
As one of only two returning starters along the line and the one with the most experience, Malone will be charged as the leader in the trenches this season.
Rising junior Devon Desper got his first shot at a starting job this spring to replace Beckwith at right guard. Although Desper is the most likely candidate, he will have to show more discipline than he did in the spring. He was guilty of far too many presnap penalties for a player of his experience level.
Desper was recruited as MSU’s future center but has worked at guard for the last two years. It appears his snapping days are done and now he’ll have to hold on to his spot on the first team at guard.
Desper was pushed closely by redshirt freshman Deion Calhoun this spring. Calhoun was impressive and will have a chance to win the job in training camp. The 6-foot-3, 303-pounder from the Alabama private school ranks has a bright future ahead of him.
The Bulldogs depth at left tackle was dealt a blow recently with the transfer of sophomore Kent Flowers to Copiah-Lincoln Community College. Flowers had a good effort this spring and appeared to be the best back-up option they had at guard.
I’ve heard that Flowers will be back once he gets his grades back in order in JUCO. That would be a big bonus in 2016 if that is indeed the case.
Flowers’ transfer could have an impact on fellow sophomore Jake Thomas. Thomas worked this spring as the third team right guard but could shift into the back-up left guard role this fall.
I was very high on Thomas coming out of high school having watched him play many times. At Columbus, Thomas was a smart and solid player but so far in college it just hasn’t clicked for him yet. With limited numbers at guard now, John Hevesy will need him to step up and compete for playing time.
State was able to get high school signee Michael Story to campus in January and a head start with spring practice. Story flew under the radar during his recruitment out of Ripley but has the size and tools to be a good offensive guard in the future.
Story spent most of the summer working as the third team left guard and will likely be competing with Thomas for that back-up role when fall camp starts.