Smith, Offense Off To Flying Spring Start

No, he isn't wearing them as a reminder of how the 2011 season ended. Seriously. Chris Smith insists there is a very practical reason to practice now in the golden Egg Bowl cleats. "Yeah, I love ‘em! They're real comfortable. I've broke them in real well and I've been grinding in them ever since."

That is no exaggeration. The wide receiver has just about ground the gilding off the special shoes Mississippi State donned for their victory over Ole Miss last November. Nor for that matter is he the only Bulldog putting well-worn footwear to work in spring training. A handful others also flash gilt cleats around the practice field.

But Smith is the most noticeable case and for a fine reason. State's senior wideout has been running wild, hauling in passes and showing fancy footwork with the ball through the first two weeks. For that matter so have his fellow veterans in the wide receiver squad. As Coach Dan Mullen noted at the end of week-two, normally when teams pull full pads on the defense takes charge. That hasn't happened yet.

Nor will it, at least not entirely, if Smith & Co. have their way.

""Well we started out kind of slow, to just get back into rhythm," Smith said of the first week. "Getting back to feeling as a team, you know. And we've started to look good. We looked good today!"

Surely they did, as recounted in Saturday's report. Whether in drills, or first-hit whistle situations, or full-tackle scrimmaging in red zone and goal line work, the offense has looked very good. "Friday was rainy and we couldn't really just get it on because it was so wet," said Smith. "But we came out today."

"We still have things to get better at. We looked good, though."

Mullen's comment actually came with a qualification. The coach added that this spring might be an exception to the contact-practice rule initially, because so many of the offensive players are SEC-seasoned. And, with Mississippi State trying to get second- and third-teams snaps in scrimmage settings there is a very good chance of miss-matches now because the backup receivers have at least some live experience in the system.

So, most expect the Bulldog defense to assert themselves in time. Maybe in short time given how many of them looked walking off the Saturday last and late due to wind-spring penalties for ‘losing' the scrimmaging. Some payback is certainly in store for future full-hitting practices.

Yet all Dogs on either side of the line understand; nothing encourages like an offense able to move the ball and score it. Which is exactly what Smith says he and his fellow seniors and juniors in the pass-catching corps have planned. They have all that cumulative experience, most on the roster probably. This is their time.

"That's what we're here for, man. We're here to make plays like that. So we have to get better every day, as a team, as a unit, as a group. We ain't proved nothing to nobody."

That said, off-season concerns by fans about having just two scholarship quarterbacks in camp is proving no problem. So far, at least. When Tyler Russell is taking the snap, the offense is snapping off positive plays. No surprise, Smith said.

"I expect it out of Tyler, he's a big-time player." So much so that the fourth-year junior hasn't breathed a word about the December knee injury which raised some spring questions. "He shouldn't!" Smith said. "I've been talking to him every day that he shouldn't let it bother him at all. He should be like everybody else and want to be the best. I love him."

But Russell won't take offense, so to speak, if Smith shares the love a little this spring, too. "We've got two big-time players at quarterback." Right. As impressive and in-charge as Russell has been, redshirt Dak Prescott has had some fine afternoons of his own. He accounted for as many Saturday touchdowns as did the starter, including a nifty cut-in on a rollout pattern. Forget the hands-off red jersey Prescott wore, his read and reaction were immediate and showed this kid will haul the ball.

"Dak is a beast," Smith said. "I mean, he's got things to work on like everybody else. But Dak is a big-time player, he really is. He understands the offense but he still has time to just get the offense down. Down pat." Oh, and while the younger triggerman can and will run… "Yeah, don't forget about his passing now! He can throw it, he can throw it."

And Smith can catch it, as have classmates Arceto Clark and Chad Bumphis and Brandon Heavens with junior Ricco Sanders. That isn't overlooking what younger, and bigger, targets like Joe Morrow and hybrid tight ends Malcolm Johnson and Brandon Hill are doing this spring in the passing game. And fans watching Saturday's action naturally noticed: in red zone work there were touchdowns thrown to running backs as well.

So far, so good, said Smith. "It tells us we're taking steps. And we have to continue to take steps, don't go back down. But we've still got to get better. It's still a grind every day."

Oh, speaking of taking steps…the wear on those golden slippers is showing a bit now. Naturally, Smith said. "I've been using them the whole spring, like when we come out here and do speed drills. I've been using them ever since we got them to play Ole Miss." And by the way, it's not to celebrate that game itself as Smith didn't catch a ball in the Egg Bowl. He more than made up for it with a team-best five grabs in the Music City Bowl. No matter. "I love them."

Well and good. But what happens come summer when day after day of running routes and catching balls in unsupervised workouts finally finishes the footwear off? "I'll just have to break the other ones in!"

Mississippi State will practice three days this week. Mullen has planned "heavy" workouts, meaning contact, for Tuesday and Friday which will include more scripted scrimmaging. Thursday will be a less-contact-filled session by this plan.


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