By JOEL COLEMAN
It didn’t take Mississippi State’s Martinas Rankin long to find out how tough it is to play on the offensive line in the Southeastern Conference.
After transferring to MSU from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, Rankin went through spring drills with the Bulldogs and learned quickly he was in a whole new world.
“It’s like going from a pond into an ocean,” Rankin said. “You’re going from where you’re going against one or two good players every week or every day, to now, every player at practice and in games are great players that are coming after you every play.
“I think I realized that my first workout.”
As a result of the challenge, Rankin is battling daily this fall for a spot in MSU’s offensive line mix for 2015. With Dillon Day, Ben Beckwith and Blaine Clausell’s Bulldog careers complete, Mississippi State is rebuilding up front.
Rankin, the top junior college offensive lineman in America for the 2015 class, is doing all he can to make sure he’s an integral piece up front.
“I’ll take any spot I can get,” Rankin said. “I just want to be on the field.”
As Rankin fights for his place, there do seem to be some certainties on the MSU line. Junior Jamaal Clayborn looks to have the inside track on being the Bulldogs starting center.
Clayborn served as the primary center in the spring after working out there in preparations during 2014 bowl practices. Now, he’s just trying to keep improving.
“I’m just trying to come out and get better,” Clayborn said. “I’m mainly just working on fundamentals. I’m continuing to work on my technique and continuing to grow the communication between my fellow linemen. I’m trying to help everyone get in the best situation possible to be successful.”
A large part of Clayborn’s progression has revolved around developing his on-field chemistry with his quarterback. Clayborn says he’s been working tirelessly to make sure he and senior signal-caller Dak Prescott are always on the same page.
“We went out every day in the summer and did skills and drills,” Clayborn said. “We just worked on continuing to get the snap count down and different types of motions. We’re hitting on all cylinders right now and it’s only going to get better from here.”
Prescott said all the work he and Clayborn put in together was beneficial to them both.
“Jamaal has a very good work ethic and is always looking to get better,” Prescott said. “He did that all summer long and our communication is great. I don’t have any problems with him. It’s good. We know exactly what each other is thinking.”
Clayborn isn’t the only Bulldog finding his way on the line. When Clayborn looks to his left and his right, he sees plenty of promise all along MSU’s offensive front.
In Monday’s first practice of the fall, Justin Senior ran first-team reps at right tackle with Devon Desper at right guard. The left side was held down by seniors, with Justin Malone at left guard and former tight end Rufus Warren at left tackle.
Warren says he’s adjusting well to guarding Prescott’s blind side, thanks in large part to his work at his old position. In fact, Warren indicated it might actually be easier to play tackle as opposed to the complex nature of being a tight end in the SEC.
“Playing tight end and tackle, there’s a lot of similar stuff that we do besides running routes,” Warren said. “As far as the offense goes, tight end is hard. Offensive line is hard too, but it’s simpler than it was when I played tight end.
“For me, I’m just trying to be football-smart. I’m just trying to study the game. I already know what to do and how to do it, I’ve just got to know why we do it.”
While the entire offensive line works towards earning or keeping spots ahead of MSU’s September 5th opener at Southern Miss, there’s plenty of motivation. There’s the goal of once again competing for an SEC West championship, the hope to jump back into the national title discussion and according to Clayborn, the expectation to more than just adequately fill the large shoes of Day, Beckwith and Clausell.
“Those are our guys and we’re still good friends with those guys,” Clayborn said. “They set a foundation for us and we want to build on that and not let what they did go in vain.”
By JOEL COLEMAN