By JOEL COLEMAN
Rufus Warren can finally ask for seconds and not feel guilty.
Projected to be Mississippi State’s starting left tackle, Warren couldn’t always go back for a little more at meal times.
Now, after transitioning from tight end to the offensive line, Warren can feel free to go ahead and eat a few extra calories.
“It was always a fight for him,” Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen said. “I would say ‘Alright, you have to slim down to 270 to be able to function as a tight end,’ and it just kind of became a situation where we were fighting the inevitable. Instead of trying to make him lose this weight and getting him to stay as small as he can to be a tight end, tell him ‘Hey, go have another burger at lunch and eat a biscuit at breakfast and go play left tackle.’ That really became an easy adjustment as we were looking at him trying to make that move. We were just trying to fill him out to his natural body size.”
These days, Warren is hovering right around the 300-pound mark. MSU co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach John Hevesy said that’s just about right where Warren should be, and that he foresaw the position change coming as each year passed.
“As (Warren’s) career went on, every year I kind of saw him gaining more weight,” Hevesy said. “I told him to come with me as he went from a 230-pound guy to a 240, to a 250, to a 260. I told him about three years ago if he keeps eating he’ll end up in my room and he was like ‘No, I’m not.’ He kept gaining weight and he got in my room, that’s about it. But, again, he’s a big kid that finished growing when he got here. He was underdeveloped when he got here as a recruit, but when he got here he grew into his body which for him is naturally a 300-pound guy.”
Warren has now filled out his 6-foot-7 frame with the weight he needs, so the size is there to help Warren make his mark at left tackle. So, too, is the athleticism. For Warren, his development this fall now hinges more on refining his techniques and adjusting styles from his former position to his current one.
“I’m trying to get the tight end footwork away,” Warren said. “It’ll be times where I just go into my tight end mode. Just trying to get the kickbacks and stuff like that and slide protection and all that stuff, just trying to get that down pat.”
On top of technique, there’s a mental adjustment for Warren as well, according to Hevesy. Warren has already played in 31 games in his Bulldog career, however he’s still looking for his first start. Hevesy says that Warren got a taste of that responsibility in the spring, but now it must carry over through the course of the actual season.
“As a tight end he had been an in-and-out guy, probably 10-15 plays a game, especially as a special teams guy,” Hevesy said. “He’s done a great job with special teams, but now he’s taking the role of being a 70-play a game guy. Through the spring he’s learned now that it’s every play, not sometimes here or sometimes there I might play here and there. It’s every play. It’s every detail. It’s every little thing he has to become great at.”
Warren is already figuring out all the details of his new position. His athleticism and previous experiences cover for him some he says, but now it’s just the process of understanding the inner workings of left tackle.
“For me, I’ve just got to be football smart,” Warren said. “I’ve got 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. If we run an outside zone, I need to know why and stuff like that.”
Warren has obviously immersed himself in understanding his new position. Protecting prized quarterback Dak Prescott’s blind side, Warren can’t afford not to be at his best. Still, even though he has moved on from his tight end days, one can’t help but wonder if Warren might still have a reception or two left in him.
In 2013, Prescott hit Warren for a 23-yard completion, Warren’s lone career catch. Will MSU develop a package where Warren can slip out and possibly recreate such a moment?
“I can’t say all that,” Warren said with a laugh. “Just keep watching.”
By JOEL COLEMAN