Clayborn faces difficult task as Jackson's replacement in 2014
Gabe Jackson’s performance in 2013 went above and beyond the usual contributions made by a team’s starting left guard.
The 340-pound beast dominated opposing defensive linemen last season, playing every offensive snap of every one of MSU’s 13 games without allowing a single sack. His stellar play was rewarded with All-SEC recognition, the Conerly Trophy (awarded to Mississippi’s top collegiate football player each year – Jackson was the first offensive lineman to win the award) and a third-round selection by the Oakland Raiders in April’s NFL Draft.
The Bulldogs return eight starters on offense in 2014, but will have a huge hole to fill (literally and figuratively) at Jackson’s left guard position.
The likely candidate to replace Jackson up front is 6-foot-4, 315-pound sophomore Jamaal Clayborn. The former three-star recruit played in seven games as a freshman in 2013 as the Bulldogs shuffled their line to compensate for injuries.
Now he is slated to be MSU’s starting left guard, and his teammates and coaches know how important his play will be in helping the Bulldogs’ offense take a positive step in 2014.
“Jamaal is a hard worker, a guy who wants to get better,” center Dillon Day told The Commercial Dispatch. Day has started 34 games in his three-year career at MSU, and has lined up next to both Jackson and Clayborn in that time.
“It’s hard to replace a Gabe Jackson, but Jamaal is a guy who saw what Gabe did, saw how hard he worked, and now he is filling that role,” Day continued. “He’s asking us questions, trying to make sure he gets better every day.”
Clayborn’s desire to emulate Jackson is a promising sign he will be able to grow into his role up front in Dan Mullen’s run-happy offense. After all, Jackson was hardly the same player at the start of his career as he was by his senior season. Jackson was redshirted his freshman year in 2009 before eventually reaching the starting lineup in 2010.
By the end of his tenure in Starkville, Jackson helped Mississippi State’s offense set school records in yards per game, total yards and first downs.
The Bulldogs hope Clayborn is able to undergo a similar transformation in their starting lineup. Clayborn’s experience as a freshman should give him a leg-up in finding a rhythm with his fellow linemen as well as familiarizing himself with the speed of play in the SEC.
As teammate Chris Jones told the Clarion-Ledger, Clayborn is a “freak” who can lift 400 pounds in the weight room with relative ease. Clayborn also admitted to the C-L that he knows he has the physical attributes to be successful as Jackson’s replacement on the line, and that he is working every day to improve the other areas of his game.
“I just have to be able to think quick on the run and get the mental aspect of the game down,” Clayborn said.