I’ve often said that the fate of a football team rests a great deal on the ample shoulders of the offensive and defensive linemen.
But since those aren’t the glamour positions, line play is usually overlooked as fans and media assess a team’s chances. For Mississippi State, all the major offensive skill weapons return, the secondary is loaded and the linebackers will probably be better than the sum of their parts.
Even if all those players perform well, it can quickly fall part if the line play isn’t up to standard. And there are legitimate reasons for concern on both sides of the line of scrimmage for MSU.
The offensive line lost All-American left tackle Derek Sherrod, and MSU simply will not get the level of play from either James Carmon or Blaine Clausell this year. That’s asking too much of them.
Lining up next to Carmon/Clausell will be sophomore Gabe Jackson, who started all 13 games at left guard last season.
His adjustment will be learning to work with a new left tackle, and he bears some responsibility for helping those two along.
Also gone is center J.C. Brignone, who might not have had all the measurables but provided invaluable leadership and grit. He was the glue of that unit in so many ways.
Quentin Saulsberry, a senior, should slide seamlessly into that role. He’s experienced, having played every position except left tackle during his MSU career.
The big concern here: Depth, as several redshirt freshmen dot the two-deep.
There is a clearer delineation between strength and weakness along the defensive front. The starting tackles, Josh Boyd and Fletcher Cox, are solid gold and will wreak much havoc this fall.
The defensive ends might as well have giant question marks in place of numbers on their jerseys. Sean Ferguson is an experienced senior who will start on one side, but has yet to look like a playmaker.
The other spot could be occupied by juniors Shane McCardell or Trevor Stigers, or perhaps redshirt freshman Kaleb Eulls, who also is working at tackle. As for depth, there are plenty of bodies but not many snaps logged.
MSU has some awfully good line coaches in John Hevesy and defensive coordinator Chris Wilson. They know how much depends on their big men performing well.
If things go poorly this season, those groups will get some attention, just not the good kind.
Brad Locke (email@example.com) covers Mississippi State for the Daily Journal and blogs daily at NEMS360.com.
Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal