April 1, 2010 9:24:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- The road to fulfilling potential can come with setbacks.
Tobias Smith has taken a pair of detours.
The Mississippi State guard spent his first two seasons in Starkville wondering if he''d get a chance to make good on the potential two coaching staffs have seen in him.
Torn ankle ligaments and high ankle sprains have seen the former Columbus High standout miss his freshman season, only to see his redshirt freshman season cut short after the Georgia Tech game.
Disappointment lingered for the 6-foot-3, 305-pounder as he went through a second rehabilitation stint while MSU''s offensive line paved the way for the nation''s 13th-best rushing attack.
Having experienced back-to-back injury-marred seasons, Smith''s issue going forward wasn''t about time lost or falling behind in the playbook; avoiding another leg injury has become the sophomore''s hurdle.
"It gets real mental," Smith said Tuesday after practice. "At times, you''re like, ''I don''t really want just give it all, then get hurt again.'' You always worry about it in the back of your head.
"On the offensive line, things are so cluttered. It''s a lot to think about."
In MSU''s second practice in full pads Tuesday, Smith faced the scenario that runs through his head: Having a teammate accidentally roll up on the back of his legs.
The key, Smith said, is keeping his legs and feet high while he''s blocking to avoid such situations. For offensive linemen, that isn''t always the easiest thing to do, as they''re the biggest and heaviest players on the team.
Footwork, however, is what separates effective offensive linemen from the rest. As MSU offensive line coach John Hevesy said, his linemen have no choice but to focus on fundamentals.
"I don''t care about plays. You ask my kids, I care about fundamentals and technique," Hevesy said. "You can put in any play in the world but their footwork, their handwork has to be 100 percent every time. Plays will come.
"If you''ve got the ingredients, you can make whatever you want."
Hevesy is steadfast that Smith''s only hurdle is his ability to stay healthy. Smith was touted as a potential starter at guard by former coach Sylvester Croom and his staff, and again when coach Dan Mullen took over last season.
This spring, Smith is listed as a starter at right guard on the team''s depth chart.
"I saw it last year and I saw it last spring," Hevesy said of Smith''s ability. "He''s got all the power in the world and all the athletic ability. He had the ability as a freshman and as a sophomore, so it''s the ability to stay healthy more than it''s his ability to play."
Despite missed time the past two seasons with Grade 2 and Grade 3 sprains, Smith doesn''t feel behind on the field or in the playbook. And for a team that returns four starters to the line, more is expected out of an offense that surprised many last season.
The passing game is an area that flashed potential but was largely inconsistent and limited last season. Receivers were young, and will be again this season as the team continues to establish depth.
The running game was a crutch last season, and with a year of experience in the system Smith is confident the team can add to the playbook.
"When the offensive line knows what they''re doing, you can always expand," Smith said. "Running backs, naturally, are going to find the hole. We basically know the offense, so it''s just a re-run of old installations and everything. As far as that, we''re doing pretty good. Technique is what I''m really working on."