Which is why Sallach is among the busiest of Mississippi State staffers this August. With the largest tight ends roster of his six-season tenure, with a fascinating variety of talents, Sallach is looking for more and better ways to take full advantage.
He has just four scholarship players officially listed by ‘TE’ on the camp roster, though there are a couple more walk-ons working at these positions in camp such as Rashun Dixon and Lawrence Brown. What stands out more than the numbers is the fascinating variety of body-types Sallach is working with. They range from converted wide receivers like Malcolm Johnson and Brandon Hill, who no longer look like split ends since they carry 230 and 245 pounds respectively; to juco transfer Darrion Hutcherson who spreads his 260 pounds out on a 6-7 frame.
But as Sallach explains here, talent counts for little in today’s college game unless it is properly applied on the field. Because as the coach said, few Dogs need know more about the entire offense than his tight ends.
“I like where we’re at right now. I’ve got a big group of guys that have been around for a while, like Brandon Hill and Malcolm Johnson. Gus Walley has been around a little bit. So I’ve got a nice mixture of older guys and younger guys. It’s a good change from some of the things I’ve had to experience my first couple of years.”
It isn’t just a mix of ages, but body types and skills too? “Oh yeah. You’ve got wideouts, running backs, tight ends, d-ends, linebackers…you have the whole spectrum of body types in my room now, which is a good thing.”
Does that reflect how the tight end position has changed in spread offenses? “In Coach Mullen’s offense it’s a very unique situation. Because they have to have the ability to block Chris Jones, Benardrick McKinney, and Jamerson Love. They have to be able to do all of those things. They have understand run game, they have to understand pass game, blitzes, coverages, protections, and routes. The only person that has to know more than them is the quarterback.”
”So it’s a very unique thing. With that you’re going to get a wide range of people that can do that, from the 6-7 270 guy to the 6-2 240 guy. The bottom line is being intelligent, good football player and do multiple things to create mis-matches for us.”
What are your first impressions of Darrion Hutcherson? “A big, athletic kid. I like to think I’m a pretty good coach, I can’t coach them to be 6-7! He’s got great feet. But he’s at the same stage as all first-year guys in the program. We’ve probably had more offense through practice-two than he had all last year! So it’s just a matter of him getting comfortable learning a new language, going against All-SEC players, not just some SEC players form where he was coming from. But he’s got the skill set, it’s just a matter of getting him up to speed where he can help us win games.”
Along that same vein, Rashun Dixon is athletic but hasn’t played football in six years? “It’s interesting, because he’s got real-life experience. He’s sat on a bus and went to all these places and played in front of 27 people trying to make it to the big leagues. I love having him in the room, I think everybody has to remember he hasn’t played football in what, six, seven years? It’s not exactly like riding a bicycle. But he’s making progress. He’s starting to pick it up. It’s hard to say just because he’s been away from the game for so long. It’s not as easy as some of these guys can may make it look out there.”
Malcolm Johnson has done so much already, what can he do better at this stage? “At this stage it’s a complete understanding of why everything is going on. Which he’s pretty close to. But probably the biggest thing for him is passing on the legacy that a guy like Marcus Green did. This is how you behave Gus Walley, this is how you prepare for a game, this is how you study film, this is how you behave in the off-season, this is how I read these coverages, this is how I picked up these blitzes. Obviously he has to have a huge role for us to be successful this year. But off the field his biggest contribution has to be passing on this is what you need to be an all-SEC performer like me in this offense.”
After his injuries how anxious is Walley to get on the field? “Oh, you’d think it was August 30th already! Going through that makes you appreciate how much you love something. And when you get something taken away from you, you realize how much you love it. I think that’s what it did go Gus. And the fact that he is healthy now it just makes him crave game day more than normal.”
You talked about his feet, how are Hutcherson’s hands? “At 6-7 he’s got huge hands. I mean it’s just a matter of getting comfortable, of just being around all those people. Does he have good, soft hands, absolutely. But he’s just getting used to going against…it’s not fair for me to say but I can’t imagine he went against many Benardrick McKinneys.”
”With a guy like that you have to talk to him in a different way than you do Malcolm. Malcolm at 6-3, I’m not going to say it’s easy to play with leverage but it’s easier than if you’re 6-7. So you have to talk to (Darrion) about some different things. He’s got to remember that he is bigger but again he does have to block Preston Smith now, he has to block Chris Jones now. He’s got to block guys similar to them so things he might have been able to get away with in the past he’s got to fix in order to have success.”
With your guys doing so many things, how do you structure practices this time of year? “It’s a challenge. I mean you have to pick-and-choose what you’re focusing on that day. A lot of the success they have to have really has to come from the meeting room because you can’t drill it all and then do it in practice. You drill the priorities and then you fix what you saw at practice.”
”Coach Mullen said it the best to those guys in the spring. You don’t have to be great at one thing, but you’ve got to be good at everything. And that’s really what they have to do. It doesn’t hurt being great at stuff! But they have to be good at everything.”
How has the position evolved, at the next level tight ends are weapons? “Well, they’re major weapons because of the miss-matches that they can create. Because if you get put on a corner in the pass game you should out-physical that guy; if you get a safety you should out-physical that guy. If you get on to a linebacker you should out-athlete that guy."
"You should be able to play with leverage on defensive lineman. Yeah, he’s physically stronger than you so if I do something poorly he’s going to beat me. But if I use good technique I can do good enough to win. It’s about the miss-matches you can create and that’s where those guys are unique, there’s not a lot of 6-3, 240-pound guys that can do those things.”