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Miss. State hit where it hurts most: O-line

With Dak Prescott entrenched as the starter and Damian Williams a decently experienced backup, Mississippi State's quarterback spot looked fine.

With Jameon Lewis, Robert Johnson, Joe Morrow and De'Runnya Wilson, there were plenty of wideouts to draw from.

And with Josh Robinson, Nick Griffin, Ashton Shumpert and Aeris Williams all available, the running back position looked fine, too.

But if there was one area where Mississippi State needed to stay healthy, it was the offensive line. Depth, coach Dan Mullen pointed out late last week, was a major point of concern.

"That's the one position during the season that we can't afford any injuries," he said.

It turned out to be an auspicious statement. On Monday, we learned that projected starting right tackle Damien Robinson tore his ACL and will miss the season.

The Bulldogs were banged up enough as it was with starting guards Justin Malone and Ben Beckwith missing practice time during fall camp. Throw in the noticeable absence of Gabe Jackson, and it's hard to imagine what the Mississippi State offensive line looks like in Starkville today.

Now the second-string linemen Mullen was hoping he wouldn't have to call on until next season are suddenly being put to the test earlier than expected. "They're growing and they're growing quickly," Mullen said last Friday. But will they progress enough between now and the start of the season?

"They're going to be the huge group of inexperienced players that you'd love the opportunity to slowly build them in instead of having to throw them into the fire immediately," Mullen said.

Look for Justin Senior and Rufus Warren, two inexperienced reserves, to be the top candidates to replace Damien at right tackle. Mullen, when reached Tuesday morning, said there's also the possibility of moving a tackle to guard and working with different combinations on the interior of the line.

The good news is that there are 11 days until the opener and the first three weeks of the season don't look to be a huge challenge with non-conference cupcakes Southern Miss, UAB and South Alabama. That means there's plenty of time for whoever wins the job to get comfortable enough in the offense before SEC play begins Week 4 at LSU.

Dillon Day, a three-year starter and Rimington Trophy watch list center, said he's looking forward to the run up to the season. Before Damien Robinson went down, Day said he was feeling good about the numbers on the offensive line.

"I've seen good things already," Day said. "Guys have been rotating in that haven't played, like Devon [Desper]. That was a big thing to have not just five guys but eight guys that can play.

"We have a lot of depth that can play now. That's a big thing, getting new guys in there and letting them play with the ones. And so far everyone has done really well with that."

With Damien Robinson out, that depth will be tested. And like any inexperienced player, we won't know how they'll perform until the pressure is on during a game situation.

If Mississippi State is going to finally break through in the SEC West, the offensive line is going to have to drive the train. Without them, the depth at receiver and running back is meaningless. Without them, Prescott could get banged up and his dark horse Heisman Trophy campaign could fall off the tracks.

There's a lot to like about the Bulldogs this year. The only question was how the O-line would hold up, and so far it's not off to a good start.