You hear it all the time from folks who know football: "Games are won and lost in the trenches."
Well cliches are usually cliches for a reason. A lot of times, they're true, and most of the time, the team that wins the battle along the lines indeed wins the game. It's why, since Mississippi State offensive line coach Mason Miller spoke to Cowbell Corner back in June, he has insisted his plan was just to play his best five guys along the offensive front.
As the Bulldogs move into the middle of the second week of training camp, here's a quick look at who appears to be those Top 5 guys that are on track to make up MSU's starting offensive line in 2020. Keep in mind, these are simply Cowbell Corner's projections based on impressions from interviews with coaches and players. And of course, with a month before the season kicks off at LSU on September 26, anything can change.
Left Tackle - Charles Cross
The redshirt freshman Cross came to the Bulldogs as a five-star recruit and it appears he's the favorite to be State's starting left tackle. Now it's not a slam dunk. He's in competition for the spot with graduate transfer from Alabama, Scott Lashley (more on Lashley later). But Cross is impressing and it's easy to get the impression that if the Bulldogs played today, it'd be Cross drawing the starting nod.
"He’s like a pit bull," Miller said of Cross when talking to reporters on Tuesday. "When he gets his hands on you, he doesn’t surrender. That’s the thing I love best about him – his persistence. He’s a constant. Same guy every day. That’s kind of where we need to be as an offensive line."
Left Guard - Greg Eiland
Yes, you read that right. Entering his senior year, Eiland has spent his entire career playing tackle. However in Miller's quest to find his best five offensive linemen – for now – it appears that mixture best comes with Eiland playing on the interior.
"Coach (Miller) is just trying to find the best five for the team and even if that's me moving to a guard position, that's what needs to be done," Eiland said.
Miller also noted Tuesday that Eiland is one of two guys (along with guard Dareuan Parker) that have taken a vocal leadership role for this year's offensive line group.
Center - Cole Smith
The sophomore LSU transfer has had his good days and bad days so far in training camp according to Miller. But he's apparently taking it all in stride and, though he's battling James Jackson for the role, it seems like Smith might be slightly out in front in the fight to be the starting center at the moment.
"He’s learning well and he’s committed to learning which I think is important," Miller said of Smith. "He doesn’t take it personal. I’m very, very hard on our centers. You’re going to get some tongue lashings. He’s taken it very well. So has James. They both have. I’m very proud of what they’ve done. We did some good things in protection again (on Tuesday at practice), but we’ve got to continue to get better."
Right Guard - Dareuan Parker
Parker made 11 starts at left guard last season and it seems he's on track to stay in a starting role, though on the opposite side of the line, in 2020.
As previously mentioned, along with Eiland, Miller has praised Parker's leadership abilities. As such, given how the two are highly respected along with their talent levels and experience, Eiland and Parker are probably the safest two bets to be starters in some role along the line come the first game.
Right Tackle - Kwatrivous Johnson
Dollar Bill, as he's called, has impressed in camp, is working with the ones and has a starting spot in his grasp at the moment. The sophomore might be the biggest surprise up front if he indeed wins the job. While he was expected to at the very least provide quality depth, he has done enough to get himself an even bigger opportunity.
"He’s playing with a lot of confidence right now, to be honest with you," Miller said of Johnson. "He’s been running with the ones the last three days. Saturday, he started running with the ones."
Right now, it seems as though Lashley would be Mississippi State's backup at the tackle spots, while senior LaQuinston Sharp would back up the guard positions. And of course, whoever doesn't win the starting center job between Smith and Jackson will be the reserve there.
Again, there is certainly a chance things could change and Lashley or Sharp could make a push into a starting role before the season starts. Here is what Miller had to say on Tuesday regarding how Lashley and Sharp are coming along:
Miller on Sharp: "He’s a guy who could benefit from (the extra year of eligibility the NCAA is giving football players)....He's a guy who can play left or right. He’s a guy who can do it. It doesn’t seem to faze him. I don’t want to leave him out. He’s done a really good job and he’s a good football player. One of the things we’re trying to do every day is learn to compete and be consistent. I know that’s a cliché, but it’s the truth. It is what it is. We’ve got to be the same guy every day. If you’re going to be bad, be bad, and be good at it. Pick something. Don’t go up and down on us."
Miller on Lashley: "He’s coming along well. We’re obviously very glad to have him. He’s done well. He and Charles Cross are battling it out and that’s the bottom line. We haven’t played a game. Don’t have to play one for another month. We’ve got 20 practices left until we’ve got to play. We’ve got a long way to go, but he’s done well. He still does some things we saw on film that he did at the other school. We’ve got to get those corrected, but when he gets his hands on you, he’s a large human. There’s no question about it."
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