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August 12, 2011

Looking at left tackle

So, about that left tackle thing? The guy who anchored the position for Mississippi State the last four years is playing preseason football for the Green Bay packers this weekend.

The question of how to replace Derek Sherrod was asked numerous times over throughout the spring and summer.

Now, the Bulldogs have actually gone through some significant fall practice, in full pads, in preparation for the 2011 season.

You know the candidates for the spot: senior and converted defensive tackle James Carmon and redshirt freshman Blaine Clausell.

Offensive line coach John Hevesy said the trimmed down Carmon, who worked with the first team throughout practices open to the public, is the No. 1 guy.

"Right now, he is," Hevesy said. "To me he's earned that. That could change tomorrow."

Carmon was often lost in spring practice, having just switched over from defense, but Mullen said he has seen significant improvement from the new left tackle in fall training camp. Now he just wants to see consistency.

"I'm pleased with how he's working," Mullen said. "He's got a long way still to go, inconsistency, but you see some flashes of great things, and then you'll see something horrific. Our left tackle spot, we're used to consistent greatness, so he needs to step up and try to fill those shoes."

Carmon said the main thing he has to work on is the protection schemes.

Hevesy said it is taking time, but that Carmon is coming around.

"He's buying in to the things that he's supposed to and just not just 'blocking that guy,' but understanding the fundamentals and techniques and aiming points and targets and the scheme of things, really what the defense is doing. Which are the things he really needs to catch up to speed on."

Carmon said it is indeed the mental side he struggles with, but that the coaches tell him every day he is improving.

"I'm picking it up," Carmon said. "I'm not trying to take it fast. I'm trying to take it step-by-step. There's stuff I still need to get corrected, stuff I still need to do right. Everything's good, I feel like I'm gonna get it down pat."

The other thing Carmon got down was his weight. He dropped to 315 over the summer, and since fall camp started he's dropped another 10-pounds to 305.

He said he feels lighter on his feet and that, so far, it hasn't led to him being overpowered.

Hevesy has been impressed with Carmon's efforts to get his body into the right shape and thinks it will be a good thing for the left tackle.

"I think he's exactly where he needs to be, give or take five pounds," Hevesy said. "His mobility is great, he's got great feet. I can see him now where he can go and constantly play, he's got the feet. I think prior, being 325, he could go for about three or four plays and he'd run out of gas. Now we can see him go for 10 or 12 plays. It's helping not carrying extra weight around."

As for the other guy battling for the job, Clausell, Hevesy said he has the skill set for the position, he's just young.

"He's got great athletic ability," Hevesy said of Clausell. "The difference with him is just the maturity and the 300 pounds, where James is a 22-year old, 305 pounds, Blaine's an 18, 19-year old, 300 pounds. Just a maturity in the fact of playing in games, in the experience. Not the experience of playing offensive line, because right now, they have both played zero amount of time at offensive tackle, so they're bringing the same amount of experience. But gamesmanship, being on the field in front of crowds, that's one thing James has over Blaine right now."

As the youthful Clausell and the converted Carmon try to learn the offense and find their way onto the field, they have leaned heavily on their teammates.

In particular, it appears Carmon has gone to senior center Quentin Saulsberry for advice pretty regularly, that according to Saulsberry.

"When we go back and watch film, he's always asking me, even when we're in drills in practice, 'what do we do right here? What's the best position I need to be in to get my job done?'" Saulsberry said. "He always comes to me and we always talk."

As Carmon said, it is pass protection he struggles with. As a former defensive tackle, he does not shy away from contact, making him a natural in the run game.

"The left side has got me and [guard] Gabe Jackson," Carmon said. "We're two big guys. We've got the mentality of whatever is front of us, we're gonna mash it and get it out of there and clear the whole thing. I've got that defensive mentality. I still like to hit, I like to stick my face in stuff. If you wanna come behind me, come on, I'm gonna clean it out."

The run-blocking seems to be OK. Carmon said he has identified the problem with the pass protection. Now, it's just a matter of fixing it.

"It's things I think in my head, 'I know I gotta do this.' Then as soon as the play is called, I do something else," Carmon said. "I look back and I see Coach Hevesy and Coach Mullen looking at me, cussing me out. It's gonna come along with the game. That's how I learn stuff, by doing it wrong. Repetition, repetition. By the time the season starts, I should be OK."


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