September 14, 2018 10:28:24 AM
STARKVILLE -- Most college football teams train their offensive linemen to different positions in pursuit of the so-called best five. They want to fit their best five linemen on the field in whatever configuration necessary.
Mississippi State isn't stopping at five. It wants its best on the field, period, even if it means rotating at a position where rotations are almost never seen.
Tyre Phillips has benefitted handsomely from just that. MSU's junior tackle from Grenada and East Mississippi Community College has seen the field as early as the second quarter, relieving starting left tackle Greg Eiland and right tackle Stewart Reese. He can only hope it continues 6:30 p.m. Saturday (ESPN2) against Louisiana-Lafayette (1-0), and hoping is all it will be: this is far from a preordained rotation.
"I'm just playing my role, as far as what (offensive line) Coach (Marcus) Johnson says. Get my reps," Phillips said. "I put my all in practice and try to earn game reps. I don't know what's going on in Coach Johnson's head, I'm just thankful for the opportunity."
Head coach Joe Moorhead said after the Stephen F. Austin game -- one instance of Phillips playing in the second quarter when both Eiland and Reese were perfectly capable -- that it was a crosstraining exercise. He said one never knows when an injury will create a void to be filled and having one player capable of filling multiple is valuable. In that game, Phillips played at both tackle spots.
As this has continued, it's become clear this is more than a failsafe. Phillips has earned this playing time.
"He just preaches next man up, next play mentality," Phillips said. "That's my opportunity, I have to take advantage of it."
Taking advantage of this particular opportunity meant specific directional training.
"I like playing both sides. It shows that I can play multiple positions just like everyone else on the line, showcase it," Phillips said. "It was different at first at practice, but I kept telling myself, 'Tyre, if you want to get on the field you better learn both.' I want to be on the field, I don't care what it takes."
Going from left tackle to right tackle and back again requires two basic adjustments. First, the obvious change in footwork, as the stance changes from one side to the other and thus the footwork changes, too. Then there's the responsibilities on each play and how they change whether he is on the right or left.
In this case, the physical challenge is much more difficult than the mental.
"Mentally, Coach Johnson makes sure we know the plays like the back of our hand. It's the physicality of taking the steps," Phillips said.
He added he reached a comfortability in that task the only way he knew how to: practice. He would practice on his own time whenever possible; he says he's getting close to being equally comfortable on both sides, but, "I love the left side. The right side, I'm getting there."
There is clearly not enough preference to make him turn down playing time -- even when it comes on a whim.
Phillips described how he was put into the Kansas State game: Johnson found him on the sideline and asked him if he was ready, Phillips replied yes sir and Johnson told him he was in on the next possession. It's far from usual for an offensive lineman, but Phillips knows how to work this way.
"Be ready," Phillips said. "When your name's called, be prepared."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson