April 10, 2017 10:09:20 AM
STARKVILLE -- The transition began in March.
The Mississippi State football team knew its offensive line was going to have a new look following the graduation of Jamaal Clayborn, Devon Desper, and Justin Senior.
But the absence of Clayborn, Desper, and Senior from spring practice was just the beginning.
With Deion Calhoun and Elgton Jenkins out with injuries, MSU has nearly completed its spring practice schedule without answering the questions that face its offensive line. As spring practice ends Tuesday, the real work begins for the offensive line.
"Chemistry will be built in the summer," MSU offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator John Hevesy said. "Everyone has to be able to hold their own before you can build chemistry. Chemistry is built on trust. You have to know what you're doing individually. The guys aren't going to trust you if you don't know what you're doing."
Hevesy is confident the chemistry will come in the fall, when MSU hopes to enter preseason camp with a full allotment of linemen. In the spring, left tackle Martinas Rankin, the team's lone returning starter, practiced as the starting center.
Former Auburn offensive lineman Cole Cubelic, who is an analyst for the SEC Network, thinks MSU has a good formula. He saw Elgton Jenkins play left guard position in the Egg Bowl and thought it came with a noticeable difference.
"I think it solidified who the first five were," Cubelic said. "I think he got more physical, he had to think less, didn't have to worry about being in so much space on his own and could do more firing off the football and get more at the point of attack."
Hevesy said MSU's starting five will be a work in progress throughout the summer. He didn't rule out the possibility of Rankin staying at center in the fall despite receiving high grades as a left tackle. If Rankin was to stay at center, MSU could use Jenkins at left tackle, which is where he started the first three games last season. In either scenario, MSU would have a vacancy at center or one of the two spots on the right side of the line.
Even if Calhoun returns as the starter at right guard, MSU still has to replace Senior at right tackle. Senior and Clayborn were the only two Bulldogs to start every game at the same position on the line in the regular season.
Potential shuffling aside, Cubelic has a positive outlook on the offensive line.
"The first thing you look at at that position is experience," Cubelic said. "I don't think there's anything that can equate to that. You look at guys that have played a lot of football, whether they're great NFL prospects or not, you can be a good college football offensive lineman and help your team win games. There are a lot of guys that are perfect examples of that."
With Rankin projected to have a future in the NFL, MSU is asking him to do more than play in a way that improves that stock. MSU coach Dan Mullen expects his off-the-field role to grow as the unit around him builds chemistry.
"He was a guy that didn't have to be a leader last year," Mullen said. "He and Elgton Jenkins didn't have to be the leaders. Now they're the veteran guys, so they have to step up and be leaders in that group."
Rankin said he has grown accustomed to being a leader in the spring because center requires him to be more vocal and to have a deeper understanding of the offense. Rankin added he would feel less pressure to lead once Jenkins and Calhoun returned.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson