Competitive Pups Keep An Edge On Perkins

He doesn't have a crick in his neck, not yet anyway. Because staying lead Dog in this pack of backs has to keep LaDarius Perkins looking over his shoulder a lot these days. "Oh yeah, I've got to stay on my Ps and Qs at all times, man! At all times."

That is a summer fact. At a time Mississippi State's veteran tailback ought to be concerned only with honing himself for the coming campaign, here Perkin is actually preparing just to keep his number-one job during preseason camp. Know what else?

He likes it this way.

"We've got a stable of running backs and I feel all of those guys can get the job done when I'm not in there. So just make sure we keep getting better."

Getting better would make for a pretty special senior season in Perkins' case. Last year he posted only the 12th 1,000-yard season (the ninth Dog to do so) in Mississippi State history, with 1,024 to be exact, scoring a team-best eight touchdowns in the process. That was in his first years as The starter too. For the career Perkins boasts 2,012 yards and 13 rushing scores, as well as a collection of catches and other touchdowns.

Those feats have put Perkins on preseason watch lists for postseason honors, as he is already up for the Maxwell Award given to the country's top overall offensive player. He can expect to be included on the Doak Walker Award list when that comes out in a few days too, as Perkins made that watched group in 2012…before he'd even been a full-time starter.

It's quite a compliment to Perkins' impact as an underclassman. Though, he is more impressed that so many of his teammates have been placed on other awards and honors watch-lists in the past two weeks. "It says a lot. When you have a lot of guys nominated for things in the nation that means a lot about a program. It means we've got a lot of big-time guys on our team."

Perkins certainly counts in that elite class as a runner and receiver, especially as he intends to catch more balls this 2013 season in an expanded offensive scheme. Beyond and above that, the senior is openly bidding to have another duty added. "This year I'm going to try to do punt return," he said. Fielding kicks isn't new, though up to now Perkins has been working kickoffs. His talents suit that task nicely, plus it means he's on the field for first down already.

Now though, he really hopes to try his hand(s) on the other return game. "I talked to Coach Mullen about that and he told me to get with Coach Gonzales to get me prepared to do that," Perkins said. "I might still do kick returns. I don't know right now, but I really want to do punt returns."

Otherwise, his regular role at running back offer plenty opportunities to make plays. "You can expect to see me touching the ball different ways. Also, me catching the ball more out of the backfield and motioning out. So I'm trying to get the ball in my hands any kind of way."

All well and good, and none doubt this upperclassman is up to the tasks. Perkins is certainly capable of becoming a rare repeater in the 1,000-Yard Club…if he gets enough touches. And there is where the old guy still has to hustle with a quartet of underclassmen chasing his snaps. Josh Robinson, Derrick Milton, and Nick Griffin all have live snaps and each has shown they can gain ground in the SEC.

Griffin of course is coming off his second knee operation, a summer subject of interest that Perkins updated today.

"Nick is doing great. He came back last week to full-speed I guess, because I've been helping him out a little bit. But he looks great, he's been running with us and still strong and getting better. We're ready to see what he's going to bring to the table when we get into camp. He's hungry, really hungry."

A healthy Griffin means a full table, or stable that is, of Bulldog backs too. "So you can have Josh in there, Milton, or Nick," Perkins said. "And Shump, we don't know if Shump is going to redshirt or not. He's a great running back from what I've seen now in the off-season."

Shump is of course true freshman Ashton Shumpert, the prize backfield recruit of February who is already on campus this summer. It hasn't taken long for the new kid to make an impression either.

"He's in great shape, you don't see too many freshmen come in in shape like he is," Perkins said. "We were doing drills and shuttles and he was right behind me! I'm not used to seeing a freshman behind me that quick! He's doing a great job. We've been watching film with him a lot, getting him ready and going over plays to make sure he's ready when the season comes."

If it sounds like Perkins is helping prepare guys not just to succeed him, but to push him right now, bingo. After all, once upon a time he was the new kid watching Boobie Dixon run…then the next two years it was backing up Vick Ballard before stepping up to the top spot in 2012. Oh yes, Perkins has indeed noticed how his predecessors ran into NFL jobs, and that is his own ambition.

For now though, it's just keeping an edge on the kids in camp. "They're watching every move you're doing because they're trying to figure out how this guy is doing so good. They want to do the things I do, and probably even do them better so they can get more playing time. Which is great. because whenever they ask me any questions on or off the field I'm going to give them my thoughts about everything. I just want those guys to keep getting better."

Which would make Mississippi State's ground game a real pain in the, ummm, neck for a lot of opponents.

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