Q&A Part 1: MSU O-line coach Mason Miller talks playing up front in the air raid, Charles Cross and more
Mississippi State offensive line coach Mason Miller talked with Cowbell Corner and provided his insight on multiple topics. What follows is the first half of the chat. Part 2 will come on Sunday. Note that the interview has been slightly edited in spots for clarity.
Cowbell Corner: It has obviously been unique times for us all, but through it all, how much have you been able to learn about and get a feel for your guys on the offensive line over the last few months?
Miller: Well I think you can have some meaningful conversations and start to build some relationships through the different venues we’ve had at our disposal like the Zoom meetings or now that they’re mostly back in town, you may bump into them in the parking lot or something like that and say hi to them and this, that and the other. Obviously there are ways to (deal with these circumstances). It has been different. Before, your relationships are forged in practice and meetings and all that stuff and it was fire-tested through competing and trying to get better. I think this has just been another avenue for us to learn how to build relationships outside of football.
Cowbell Corner: Are you able to take film from the past few MSU seasons and see what your guys have done in the past and project how they’ll perform in the Air Raid offense, or is that something you just won’t know until you get on the field with your guys?
Miller: I think it’s a little bit of both. Obviously you can watch film and do your own evaluations. You can tell who is talented and who can help you and who you’re going to have to do some things with. The other thing is there are some things we are going to change and tweak. But yeah, I think you can do your own self evaluations and look at the kids and understand their athletic ability. The other thing you don’t know is their ability to learn yet because you haven’t put it under trial by fire.
Cowbell Corner: If I was an offensive lineman that had spent the last couple of years at Mississippi State, then you guys come in with a new offensive style, what would you be telling me as far as what I’d need to do to be successful? Or is offensive line play just offensive line play regardless of the system?
Miller: We don’t do anything that different. We don’t like stand on our heads or anything different. Offensive line play is offensive line play. Our splits are a little bit different and that’s about the extent of it. We set a little bit differently. Our timing is a little bit different. But at the end of the day, it’s playing football. It’s getting to your spot and keeping the defender from killing the quarterback.
Cowbell Corner: In the state of Mississippi, it seems like most high school teams are heavily reliant on running the football. Running an offense that passes the ball about 75 percent of the time, when you’re out on the recruiting trail, do you primarily look for linemen from passing offenses or can a guy that’s really good at run blocking, does that indicate to you all that he could be successful in the passing game as well?
Miller: I think you just go to your own evaluations and see who is athletic and who can compete and play. Length and athleticism are the main things we look for. That’s kind of why they put coach in front of my name. I’ve got to teach them something. Not everything is going to be ideal. We’ve always done a really good job between (strength coach Tyson) Brown and the fundamentals we teach around here, taking kind of an underrated guy and turning him into what we’re looking for.
Cowbell Corner: Given Stewart Reese’s departure to Florida, it kind of seems like there will have to be some shifting along the line. How much discussion has gone into who is playing where, or is that another situation where you just have to wait and see?
Miller: There’s always position changes. We’re going to put the best five guys out there. End of discussion. I don’t really care where you’ve played. If you’re the best guy, you’re the best guy. For all I know, something we do might trigger something to help a guy that didn’t play a lot last year to become a better player. That always happens. But we’re going to put the best five out there, whoever they may be, whether they played tackle last year or we recruited them at tackle, maybe they’re a guard. Or if they’re a guard and they’re better at this, maybe they’re a center. Or a center may be a better guard. Again, we’re going to put the best five out there. And our kids know that too. There’s no gray line with me on that. We’re going to put the best five out there to help them succeed.
Cowbell Corner: Charles Cross is a guy that, as a five-star recruit coming in, of course has a ton of potential and I’d guess has a chance to be a stater this year. What are your early impressions of him?
Miller: I think I know what I’ve got there just because of his work ethic. Through what we saw before the coronavirus shutdown, he got after it at midnight maneuvers and was always competing. He’s tough and works hard and is determined. Obviously, his athletic ability speaks for itself. So I’m pretty sure we know what we’ve got with him. On the flip side of it, he’s young and there’s going to be some growing pains but knowing him, he’s going to work hard and do what he’s got to do to put himself in the best position to be on the football field.
Cowbell Corner: Has anyone else stood out to you in your interactions with them to this point?
Miller: I really like the way some of our seniors like (Dareuan) Parker and Greg Eiland and the guys that have been here, they’ve taken a leadership role in the room and I admire that. I’ve been through a couple of coaching changes where you came in and it was the guy’s senior year they had to play with me. It’s always important for me for those guys to have the best senior year they can regardless of the circumstances. Because you never know what tomorrow is going to bring. And you may never be able to play another down again. This may be your last time. This will be your last time to play in the maroon and white. So we’ve got to make it the best it can be for them, but at the same time, they’ve got to buy in too. All the cases we’ve had where guys had great senior years and competed hard to change the room, they bought into what we were trying to do. So I appreciate them for doing that. It’s been really impressive to watch them grow in the short time that I’ve got to know them. And maybe they’ve always been like this, I just wasn’t here. It really is impressive to see these young men and how they’re handling some of the adversities that we’re going through.