And when the tight end comes open these days? As the numbers show, those Dogs do get the right sort of attention. In just the last two games tight ends have combined for a dozen receptions, good for 130 yard and three scores. That, sir, is involved.
The Volunteers certainly paid for letting Mississippi State's eligible receiver/blockers get loose behind coverage. Once the State staff saw which direction the defense was leaning, they made excellent use of the tight ends. All three of them, too. Senior Green came away with a career-best six receptions that went for 71 yards and as noted two touchdowns. Sophomore Johnson got his hands on two passes, from different quarterbacks at that, with the game-clinching score. And soph Brandon Hill wasn't overlooked either with his five-yard snag.
Keep this sort of success up, and watch defenses focus on these Bulldogs. In fact Green might have blown his mid-season cover by showing off so. "I really haven't ever thought about it! The main thing I worry about is trying to execute the plan and whatever play is called for us as tight end we make sure we do our best."
Green's best is pretty darn great, with 15 receptions so far and 170 yards. He is on-track to at least match his 2009 season when Green grabbed 27 balls for 306 yards. But as far as scoring he's way ahead already, with five senior-season touchdowns after four total in his first four (admittedly often-interrupted) years here.
What will really leap-out to upcoming opponents is this ratio of five touchdowns in 15 catches. Be sure defensive coordinators have noticed, not that it will impact how Green goes about his business.
"I always look at myself as a playmaker. And any time you get a ball to you, you want to make a play."
Which he did early and often against Tennessee. His first touchdown, on a 13-yard flip by backup QB Dak Prescott, was a case of catching a defense utterly flat-footed; because Green came off his left-end position untouched and just about unnoticed until the pass was heading his way.
The second, now, that was a case of right time and place spiced by one heck of a strong right arm. On second down at the UT seven, QB Tyler Russell practically stared Green down the whole way and despite two defenders being within reach of Green was able to rifle the throw in. In retrospect, maybe it was taking a chance.
"But at the same time you have two people covering your and the quarterback goes with a decision, you just want to make a play for him. And that's what we did." The throw surprised many who have come to see Russell as a low-risk sort of field general. Green sets this story straight.
"What that says is Tyler has a lot of confidence in his receivers. Not just in a game, he does things in practice that he might get cussed-out about. But he's just trying to make a play, it's all about building confidence in that receiver. That's something we really appreciate, it's like trust."
Whoa, there. Now what on earth could the analytical Russell do on the practice field that has his coaches purpling the air? Green grins. "Tyler is very brave! He'll do things and try things in practice, they might have it designed to go one way and just the way he reads it…it's nothing bad, just in the moment."
Speaking of in the moment, Johnson surely was there two weekends ago when he went up and came down with the one-handed snag that was all the post-victory talk. Green, no mean athlete himself, had a professional appreciation of what his younger cohort achieved there.
"Oh, that was beautiful! The thing about it, Malcolm is a receiver playing tight end. It's an amazing catch, but at the same time Malcolm always makes great catches. He came out in the moment." There's good reason Mississippi State might expect more such moments this season, especially from the obviously-involved tight end corps.
For one thing, the presence of three senior wide receivers automatically draws first scouting attention. This can the tight ends in more isolated coverage situations, though as coordinator Les Koenning noted most defenses to-date have tended to leave their safeties between the hashmarks. That limits openings for tight ends of course. It's when coverage shifts to the outside, a la Tennessee, that Green and gang can roam more freely. Or ‘get involved' as Mr. FF yells from Row 47.
Secondly, up to now State has been comfortable, confident even, leaving Russell to the care of just five down-linemen blockers. Whether that policy applies this weekend against a brutal Alabama defense that gets after the passer like nothing the Dogs have faced so far remains to be seen Saturday night.
The other fact though is this is an interesting collection of talents.
"You know, we all bring different things to the table," said Green of himself, Johnson, Hill, and big kid Rufus Warren. Interestingly, the fourth tight end is the only one of this quartet actually signed as such. Johnson and Hill came to campus in 2010 as tall receivers, while Green was a 2007 recruit with a big prep name at running back.
Green said it's a sign of how this program produces players for their ideal roles at this level.
"You have to think about it. You come in with this attitude because you're used to playing one position. You've got these coaches who have been coaching 15, 20 years. Pretty much they try to put you in a position where you're successful. You can make plays and if you listen great things will happen."
Great things are happening already and more should be in store. The Bulldog bonus is when Green & Co. come in the game, it takes nothing away from the passing or running game either way. Which is why Green foresees a lot of two-tight end formations the rest of 2012.
"It's very different because you have two tight ends out there that bring variety. It's like bread and butter, sit it at the table! It's a beautiful thing when you've got all your weapons."