STARKVILLE — Mason Miller isn’t hiding what Mississippi State’s offensive line is still missing.
“We’re still looking for two tackles,” Miller said Thursday. “That’s what we’re looking for here.”
It’s no small feat filling the holes left by Charles Cross and Scott Lashley on the Bulldogs line. Cross will be a first-round pick in the NFL Draft on April 28, while Lashley has exhausted his collegiate eligibility. They leave the Mississippi State offensive line strong on the inside but missing on the edge.
“Somebody has to step in,” Miller said. “Something has to happen.”
Mississippi State should have the bodies to replace Cross and Lashley, but it won’t be easy to catch up with their production — especially Cross, likely in the top 10.
“He’s gifted,” Miller said of Cross. “He’s a gifted kid.”
But the two players up front to take over at tackle are gifted in their own right.
Six-foot-eight, Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College transfer Percy Lewis receives first-team reps at left tackle. Lewis has lost over 30 pounds but is still listed at 345, giving him the size to handle opposing passers.
“He lost quite a bit of weight, which he needed to do,” head coach Leach said of Lewis on March 24. “He has naturally good feet. If someone comes straight at him, he stops them outright. He’s still figuring out the scheme of things, so there are some growing pains there.
On the right side, the second Albert Reese IV is the main candidate to supplant Lashley at right tackle. Reese played down the stretch last season for the Bulldogs.
Defensive lineman Randy Charlton praised Reese’s “Canadian strength” on Tuesday, and the young player mostly deserved praise.
But Reese still has to learn to “bend”, according to Miller.
“He’s such a big guy; he has to learn how to knock his butt off,” Miller said. “He’s gotten into the quarterback a little too much right now.”
Inside, Kwatrivous “Dollar Bill” Johnson returns for his final year in a redshirt after appearing in 11 games last season. Starkville native Kameron Jones is also a redshirt senior this year, as is Cole Smith – who is out at the moment.
Redshirt junior Nick Jones and redshirt rookie Gabe Cavazos are also getting work on guard duty after being absent last year.
“These guys are young and they’re getting there, but at some point you have to start,” Miller said.
Miller said he hopes to have three-man rotations on either side of the line, with backups who can play guard or tackle as needed.
In the center, there is little question. Columbus native LaQuinston Sharp announced he would return for his final year of eligibility, providing much-needed stability on the line.
Quarterback Will Rogers said Tuesday he was “very happy” to see Sharp back — happier even than hearing about the addition of new wide receivers.
“The center plays a huge role in our offense,” Rogers said. “He makes all the calls, and he’s the leader up front.”
Miller lent credence to that Thursday, saying Sharp was directing traffic with his offense in a goal-line situation during practice.
The former East Mississippi Community College lineman can help teach young players like Reese, Cavazos and redshirt rookie Canon Boone. Bulldogs prospect Steven Losoya’s transfer from Middle Tennessee can provide similar help.
Losoya came in the offseason and will compete for a guard position in his redshirt junior season.
“I think he’s going to end up being an inside guy, which is going to help us, and then create some competition with those guys and eventually take somebody’s job,” Miller said.
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.