STARKVILLE – The last time Mississippi State’s offensive line stepped on the playing field, it was shredded by a vaunted Ole Miss front line to the tune of 11 quarterback sacks. That’s something the group, most of which is back for 2009, could have been chewing on the past nine months.
John Hevesy has not let them chew on it. MSU’s new offensive line coach, who came with head coach Dan Mullen from Florida, doesn’t believe consulting the past is a good idea.
“It’s a clean slate,” Hevesy told his pupils the first time they met. “So whatever you’ve done, I don’t really care. It’s going to be what you’re doing from this day on until we play.
“You’ve got to prove to me what you’re worth.”
Publicly, his players have echoed that sentiment. And really, little is to be gained by dwelling on the struggles of 2008.
It’s a different scheme, and the player themselves feel different thanks to a rigorous offseason program. Junior left tackle Derek Sherrod weighs 310 pounds, and the other four starters each weigh 300.
“I don’t think about (the Ole Miss) game in particular, because this is a new year, new season, a new team,” Sherrod said. “We just try to focus on having a better year.”
The Bulldogs seem to believe in what Hevesy is doing. For Sherrod, it helps that he was recruited by Hevesy out of Caledonia High School.
Starkville’s pull ultimately proved too strong for Sherrod to resist, but Hevesy’s hiring put his mind at ease during the coaching changeover.
“That was a little bit more comfortable for me, because it’s always a hard thing to play for a new coach you might not know,” Sherrod said. “So therefore, since I already knew him, it gave me a little bit more confidence in how the team was gonna come out this year.”
Hevesy, a former lineman at Maine who, at 38, looks like he could still knock people off the ball, has asked a lot of his players so far. He wants them all to learn at least two positions. Quentin Saulsberry, for instance, started all 12 games at right tackle last season, was at right guard in the spring, but is starting at left guard in Saturday’s opener against Jackson State.
‘Not so isolated’
“If you know one, you know everything else,” Saulsberry said. “You hit the field, you’re not so isolated in one position. You can move around. When your number’s called for a certain position, you can be there, you can be accountable.”
Said Hevesy, “Basically the fundamentals are all very much the same. It’s just a matter of turning over assignments. If they have a great grasp of their starting position, it becomes pretty quick to figure out the second one.”
Hevesy’s goal is to find a solid starting five, then, “I’m going to take the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-best. It’s not going to be two lines. … The six best guys are gonna play.”
Hevesy said he will probably play seven or eight linemen this week, more if it becomes a blowout in MSU’s favor.
The starting lineup looks like this: Sherrod at left tackle, Saulsberry at left guard, J.C. Brignone at center, Mark Melichar at right guard, and Phillip Freeman at right tackle.
Melichar’s in for Tobias Smith, who was the projected starter there but is out with an ankle injury.
That group made 36 starts between them last year. Melichar only made two, and Freeman, who redshirted last year after transferring from Copiah-Lincoln, will be making his first career start.
Sherrod hasn’t completely forgotten last season. Deep down, those tough times do motivate him to some degree.
“It was just one block away in a lot of those games from having a lot better of a record,” he said. “It’s just a one-play-at-a-time thing, and we’re gonna get that done this year.”
Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal