The Tigers took to the Spring gridiron looking for starters on the defensive side of the ball. The secondary will feature a host of new starters. While the secondary hasn't necessarily been a strength for the Tigers, the linebacking corps has been. The biggest vacancy on defenses is the big gapping hole that once showcased Bradie James. James was the leader of this team on and off the field. It will be very interesting to see how the 2003 version of the Purple and Gold respond.
On offense Matt Mauck is the starter despite missing the 2nd half of the season with a surgically repaired foot. Marcus Randall led the team down the stretch, but was less than so-so. Unless Mauck really struggles, Randall should only see mop-up duty. Mauck will have a trio of potential All SEC WRs. Michael Clayton leads this talented group despite experiencing a sophomore slump. #2 man Deverey Henderson had his season shortened by a broken leg on an unbelievable catch in the victory over Mississippi. The injury allowed seldom used speedster Skyler Green to see playing time. Green had some Randy Moss type runs after the catch in the last few games. This group has the potential to be really good.
The offensive line returns some depth, but a cohesive unit has yet to emerge. The running game took a hit in the ribs with the early defection of LaBrandon Toefield to the NFL. The only back with any substantial time is Joseph Addai who filled in while Toefield was out with a broken arm. Addai had a nice Spring and will emerge as the starter. The only other back that should see significant playing time is Shyrone Carey. Carey put on some weight but will need to polish his skills a bit to fill the void in the backfield.
The defense, as mentioned before, needs some help. DE Marcus Spears was billed as the 2nd coming of Jevon Kearse, but to date has yet to realize any where near the potential he has. Chad Lavalais should be the name up front, but will need some help to avoid double teams. The linebacking corps and secondary feature some nice high school athletes, but little to no proven experience. The Tigers will need to outscore most opponents as opposed to shutting them down with defense.
While there are certainly better subjects to occupy my time, I must give the U of M their equal time. The story of the Spring was injuries. The Mississippi football team had as many as 14 players on their 2 deep roster on the shelf with injuries. The biggest injury without a doubt was the knee of RB heir apparent Jamal Pittman. This is a huge loss. When Mississippi fans speak to me and find out I am from Columbia, MS they always ask two questions: #1 What do I know about Jamal? Jamal is from a fine family who has worked for everything they have. Jamal is no different. If Jamal has the same work ethic that the rest of the Pittman family has he will rehab just fine and fully recover. I hope for Jamal's sake he does. The #2 question is do I know John McNeese? John was a pitcher for the Mississippi baseball team back in the early 90s. The answer to that question is yes. John and I played little league ball together and went to high school together for three years before he transferred back out to CA for his senior year. Not that those facts make me anything more than I really am, I just find it funny that none of them ever ask me about Walter Payton.
The Mississippi defense spent this spring working technique as opposed to installing a new scheme. The Mississippi football squad will implore the 4-2-5 again this season to "maximize their speed". The loss of Eddie Strong looms very large. The red and blue has been very fragile against the run and the loss of their top LB only compounds the problem. If you thought last year's defense was shaky, this year I can only promise you more of the same.
On the offensive side of the ball the biggest impact was made off of the field with the decision of Eli Manning to return for his senior year. The road to Oxford is paved with tears of joy and sipping whiskey as the penny loafer nation hasn't stopped celebrating. Manning will look to lead the squad to their first winning SEC record in over a decade. The task will be made harder by the lack of a running game again and a very on-again off-again offensive line.
As I meet people, one of the 1st questions they ask is, "What's the real deal with Kevin Fant?". Anything I offer on the subject is just speculation and conjecture, but folks still like to hear it. The one fact that I know for sure is that like it or not this is Coach Jackie Sherrill's team. Despite the criticism I get I support the program in spite of rumors, allegations, and things left unsaid. This team and program is much bigger than one person or player. If Coach Watts and Coach Sherrill decide to start Kyle York - and I think there is a very, very strong probability that they will - I think we will be just fine. Kyle got some good time last year under some pretty rough circumstances and he seemed to get better each time out. Kevin has a fire that everyone around the program likes. Kevin is a leader and played hurt, much more hurt than 98% of the fans know. Kevin cares about winning and cares about the team. Of course he wants to start, but I know that Kevin and Kyle will both be on board 100% with whatever the coaches decide.
From ALL reports Nick Turner ran the ball extremely well. He should be the #1 guy once the fall rolls around. Fred Reid proved to be very reliable catching the ball down the stretch and that will make him very valuable in the Morris Watts offense. I expect several plays to be ran Norwood's way to maximize our athleticism. We have a nice problem at running back, but someone must become the bell cow. At this time it appears Turner may realize that role.
We've reported for years about the depth we have at WR. This year it appears that new Coach Guy Holliday is demanding more accountability from his receivers. The drops simply must get better and word from Starkville is that they are getting better. A few more sure hands and who knows what can happen.
The Bulldog D will run a scheme that is tried and true with a lot more cover 2. The Bullies will be more orthodox and will gamble less and force the offense to make a play as opposed to rolling the dice down after down. Look for senior middle linebacker T.J. Mawhinney to be a man possessed, reports are he is taking to they new scheme like a fish to water. Coach Ron Cooper promises to bring more discipline. That has set off cheers from Prentiss to Pelahatchie, from Hazlehurst to Hot Coffee and from Wiggins to Washington and all points in between. The Bulldogs say they will talk less and play more. I personally like the trash talking, but only when you win. It looks pretty stupid to trash talk when you are down 20 in the 4th quarter.
Until next week,
Steve Robertson is a free-lance correspondent who writes The Robertson Report for the premium site portion of Gene's Page. Steve's email address is email@example.com.