August 4, 2011 11:35:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- James Carmon has soaked up every piece of advice and studied tirelessly to complete his offseason transition from backup defensive tackle to starting offensive tackle.
The Mississippi State senior lost 15 pounds this offseason and opens preseason practice today at 6-foot-7, 315 pounds.
"I wanted to lose more," Carmon said, "but (strength coach) Matt Balis said 315 is right for you."
Carmon is used to kicking backward out of a stance after transitioning to left tackle last year during MSU''s preparations for the Gator Bowl. His learner frame should make him more mobile in an offense that pulls its guards and tackles in the run game.
Carmon has the added responsibility of protecting senior quarterback Chris Relf''s blind side. That''s a big burden for someone who hasn''t played a down of offense in his junior college or Football Bowl Subdivision career. He recorded just eight tackles in his first season at MSU.
Still, he feels he has an advantage over redshirt freshman Blaine Clausell.
"It''s my senior year, he''s a freshman," Carmon said. "I gotta start."
Clausell, who graduated high school early and enrolled at MSU in the spring of his senior year. He has two spring practices and a redshirt season''s worth of work as he competes for the spot vacated by All-American and first-round NFL draft pick Derek Sherrod.
"He''s one of my best friends around here," Clausell said of Carmon, "but it''s a locked-up battle. It''s still kind of different having to fight for a position, but him being an older guy is one of the things I really like about this battle."
Clausell and Carmon will be challenged to replace Sherrod, who was the team''s most consistent lineman and best pass protector for the past three seasons.
Clausell watched Sherrod in practice and in games to prepare himself for his opportunity. Carmon opted to pick Sherrod''s brain.
"I still (talked to Sherrod over the summer)," Carmon said. "But I really laid off because I know it''s time for him to do his thing. He''s going on to a bigger and better place."
Carmon is confident he has the tools to play left tackle in the Southeastern Conference.
"When he first got here, he just looked like a left tackle," defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said.
Clausell has added 28 pounds to his 6-7 frame since he arrived on campus in spring 2010. At 295 pounds, he said his ability to read defense, which is something he didn''t do a lot in high school, has improved the most. His toughest challenge will be from his toughest critic: Offensive line coach John Hevesy.
"I''ve had nightmares about that," Clausell said, "but I''m ready for it."