Spread-Out Duties Suit Marcus' Skills

Safeties are turned into starting linebackers, and ‘backers line up at defensive end. The newest tight ends arrived as receivers, the tailbacks will flank-out for pass routes and the wideouts rush the ball. So Adrian Marcus finds nothing odd about his own dual Dog identity. "I see myself as a running back that can block."

Which is an ideal description of what Mississippi State expects from the position formerly known as fullback. And, why Marcus is such a fine fit for this hybridized, to use Coach Dan Mullen's own linguistic label, role in the Bulldog offense. All backs are expected to block and do it well, understand. Some must do it more often and even better than the rest.

Welcome to the 2011 gameplan, Adrian Marcus.

"I really don't know what my role will be," he says. "Whatever the coaches want me to play I'll play."

Mullen clearly plans on playing this bruising Bulldog back as, well, as a real Whatever. Need someone to tee-off on a linebacker and keep a running lane cleared for Vick Ballard or LaDarius Perkins? Send #35 that way and listen for the lick. Could special teams use a hand in either coverage or return blocking? Marcus is your man.

And hey, if opportunity arises, the redshirt is happy to haul the ball himself. Which is why Mullen values the walk-on from Alabaster, Ala., so highly.

"Because he's kind of a half fullback/half tailback. He has some tailback ability and plays fullback," the coach says. "And now being in the program he understands the importance of special teams. So once you get that figured out you have a chance to contribute."

Speaking with Marcus, that is exactly why he came to Mississippi State in the first place. To contribute as a, yes, hybridized Whatever.

"Like I said, I'll do whatever they ask me. If they want me to play O-line I'll play O-line. If they want me to play D-line I'll play D-line! It doesn't matter." Offensive line might be a stretch admittedly, but at 235 or so pounds one could kinda envision him taking a D-end's stance. Seriously, what will he see coming at him from that direction that he doesn't cope with already on the other side of a line of scrimmage?

More seriously though, Marcus is being booked for more true backfield work beyond the standard lead-blocking. He got a few chances last fall with 13 total carries, albeit divided between opposite ends of the season. Six of those carries came in State's blowout opener over Memphis, and he didn't touch the ball again until New Years Day. Of course another seven rushes for 24 yards in the Gator Bowl victory were well worth waiting for.

So was simply having the opportunity to do what Marcus did best back in the prep days. He rushed for 2,200 yards in his last two varsity seasons at Thompson High, scoring ten touchdowns as a 2008 senior. His stats and skills were sufficient to attract some college attention but Marcus had his own ideas which way to go after graduation.

"I went to the Naval Academy prep school in Rhode Island," he says, which would have put him on track for eventual enrollment at Annapolis. "It's not like a junior college because you don't lose a year. It's like an extra year of high school. So I had a decision. I was going to go to the Naval Academy in Maryland after that, but things happened."

Things that Marcus doesn't go all that deeply into, beyond simply stating an advance look at the military lifestyle changed his thinking. It would seem to have been Navy's loss as Marcus had been a 3.44 student in high school and president of his FCA chapter.

"It wasn't really for me. And I wanted to play football, I wanted to play in a big-time program," he adds, with no insult aimed at the Midshipmen program. There was the one fact the Naval Academy couldn't match firepower with, after all. "And I got to come here in the SEC."

"After leaving the Naval Academy my decision actually got kind of easy. My uncle, Michael Montgomery, played here and started three years as an offensive lineman back in the 90s. And Coach Mullen was coaching the spread offense." Not just coaching it but credited with help popularizing the growth of spread and spread-type systems all during the 2000s. It appears some folk caught on earlier than most and Marcus was the surprise beneficiary at THS.

"I've played in a spread offense all my life at high school. So the decision was pretty easy."

Deciding how best to use Marcus hasn't been quite so simple. Mullen advocates versatility in his skill personnel, but also cautions that such jack-of-all-trades still must master some aspects if they are to beat out teammates that do them better. Marcus understands and has attacked all assignments. Whether running tailback in scrimmages—and by virtue of his walk-on status he gets plenty of carries and thus plenty of contact from the varsity defense—or fullback with the first unit, he really intends to contribute.

As observers of the spring game or preseason practices have seen, Marcus can do it. At tailback. Though, he demurs, "That's all about the O-line and the play calling. I just do what I'm told; if the hole is there then I'll go there." True, but don't doubt how Marcus can handle the job and thus is making a serious bid for tailback rotation time.

Something else about all those rushes he's received in drills: it proves that Mullen and Mississippi State are entirely serious about giving a deserving walk-on a fair shot. These volunteer Dogs aren't just practice punching bags for scholarship signees at all.

"Yeah, they give me all the chances I need and I've got to take advantage of them when I get them," Marcus says.

He's done that so well in one full year here and this past summer, that someday soon Marcus could join other veteran walk-ons such as Marvin Bure and Sylvester Hemphill as scholarship Dogs. That's the proposition Mullen presents to those willing to accept the challenge and stick to assigned tasks.

"And I did my best to live up to what they wanted me to do. So now, whatever; if I get my scholarship, I earned it!" Of course Marcus has already earned something maybe more meaningful to an athlete. "Yeah, I get respect from everybody. On the team its equal respect all the way through."

Meanwhile Marcus is taking care of the other business inherent in ‘student-athlete'. "Class is going good. I'm taking all marketing classes now in my major. It's tough, but our coaches give us plenty of time. We get extra study time, we have study sessions set aside for football, extra tutors; whatever you need to get the job done."

Speaking of time, the Bulldogs had a precious portion of if handed them this weekend as Mullen let them get away from coaches a while. It's the perfect break in August's schedule, really; over two tough weeks of training camp completed, and now transitioning to real preparations for kickoff at Memphis. The work resumes Monday, including increased emphasis on special teams where Marcus naturally expects assignments.

As for where he stands on the tailback and/or fullback depth charts by opening evening…that is secondary to just being in the battle for a guy who has already won his way onto a SEC roster.

"Oh, man, I love it! I'll go in any chance, with the ones, twos, threes, fours, it doesn't matter. I'll play all day, I love it."

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