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Brignone reveals changes on 'O' line


David Miller



STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State football coach Dan Mullen isn''t releasing any details about his depth chart as his team gets closer to its season opener against the University of Memphis at 6 p.m. Sept. 4 (ESPNU). 


But there was one post-practice nugget Wednesday that shed some light into the team''s most experienced group. 


Senior center J.C. Brignone indicated redshirt freshman Gabe Jackson had earned a starting role at left guard, and praised the second-year player for reaching the top of the chart in one year. 


Brignone is familiar with playing early, as he, and linemen Quentin Saulsberry and Derek Sherrod played as freshmen. 


"I think Gabe Jackson, my left guard, has taken big strides to go from a scout team player last year to a starter," Brignone said. "That''s big-time for a freshman. He''s taken on the responsibility and done really well with it. 


"(Jackson) is a young guy who stepped up to us instead of us dropping down to him." 


Last year, Saulsberry played left guard, and while there''s no indication the junior has fallen to second string, the reshuffle Brignone suggested could stem from the status of oft-injured guard Tobias Smith, who was seen in a walking boot Saturday. Smith wasn''t available to the media, and the injury was classified as "minor." 


Smith, still unavailable to the media, walked off into the locker room Wednesday favoring the same foot that was in a brace Saturday. 


While Mullen won''t give details on position battles or provide injury updates, he said he has been rotating seven players with the first-team offensive line. 


"You''re really starting at the eighth lineman on the depth chart when the twos go in the game," Mullen said Saturday. "With that said, those guys just have to grow up fast We''ve got a lot of young kids." 


For Brignone, preparations to face Memphis mean game-planning for old friend in Jamon Hughes, who started at linebacker in 2007 when the Bulldogs went 8-5 and won the Liberty Bowl. 


Hughes, who has played for Memphis the past two seasons, was involved in the spring 2008 on-campus incident involving former MSU teammates Quinton Wesley and Mike Brown, who was accused of firing a gun on campus. Hughes was one of three players to plead guilty to a misdemeanor of obstructing an arrest. 


Upon readmission to MSU, Hughes was offered a walk-on spot to rejoin the Bulldogs but opted to go to Memphis. 


Brignone has a great respect for a linebacker he feels is the "best he''s ever went against." 


"It''s going to be a fun battle," Brignone said of facing Hughes. "We came in together as freshmen, and he was really like one of my best friends. We still keep in touch a lot and was really more like a brother to me when we first got here." 


Last season, Hughes led Memphis with 87 tackles. 




McCardell learning the ropes at receiver 


When approached by MSU coaches about the prospects of playing wide receiver, sophomore defensive end Shane McCardell was all for it. 


After recording just two tackles last season, and at the time caught in a logjam for playing time at the end opposite All-Southeastern Conference pick Pernell McPhee, the rangy defender saw the optimism his coaches and a lack of depth at receiver and decided to give it a try. 


"I told them I was excited," McCardell said. "I never played offense before, so this is new for me. But I''m learning pretty quick, and I''m just trying to pick up as much as I can." 


Despite his inexperience, coaches wanted to a big body to the receiving corps, which lost 6-foot-4 Brandon McRae to graduation and 6-5 burner O''Neal Wilder to track and field. 


At 6-5, 245 pounds, McCardell provides size, but is limited in offensive skills. It marks the first time he has played offense, but he''s not concerned that his adjustment to a new position will keep him off the field for another year. 


"I anticipated it being slow," he said. "I need it to be because I don''t need to miss anything important. They''re doing the right thing taking it slow. 


"I knew it was going to take some time to get the position down, so if I don''t play right away I know I''ve got time to work with it."



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