Monday Spring Football Notebook

Mississippi State hits this final week of spring football, with two practice dates left before the concluding Maroon-White game. Kickoff at Scott Field is 11:00am Saturday.

Coach Dan Mullen puts the Bulldogs back on the practice field 2:50 Tuesday afternoon, after the coaching staff evaluates Saturday’s second scrimmage of spring. The other practice is 2:50 Thursday, after which Mississippi State will split-up the roster for the spring game. Those will be made public at week’s end.

Fans might want to keep up with the weather forecast as rain is expected to come-and-go all week long in the north part of the state. Any practiced forced indoors is closed to the public for space and safety reasons, but Mullen has been lucky all this spring. Every scheduled practice and scrimmage has proceeded outdoors without a hitch.

*And for the largest part, without significant or scary injuries.

Remember last week’s reference to receiver depth? Yet again the value of and for that matter quality of depth was proven. Despite being down a pair of receivers before scrimmaging and losing two more during the day, all three offensive teams were able to proceed uninterrupted.

WR Gabe Myles spends as much time on crutches as he does re-habbing during practice with the ankle hurt in the first scrimmage. He doesn’t appear likely to be back by the spring game.

WR Jesse Jackson, who had been taking a lot of first-team snaps, did not scrimmage. His injury is unreported but Jackson had an icebag on the back of a leg during a midweek practice. The redshirt freshman didn’t look too gimpy doing the stadium steps.

Also, WR De’Runnya Wilson did begin the scrimmage on the first team. After a couple of series though he went to an end zone with a strength coach to do other work. Wilson was held out of most work the first three weeks of spring before taking a few series in full-team situations last week.

And late in the scrimmage true freshman WR Malik Dear got a scare. After a tough catch and run he was horse-collared at the two-yard line by CB Cedric Jiles, and immediately taken off to the side for a check of his back, legs, everything. Tuesday’s practice will be first chance to check Dear’s status.

Of course the usual trio of non-spring participants keep going through their own rehab work; CB Taveze Calhoun, S Kendrick Market, LB Dez Harris. And QB Elijah Staley did not participate in scrimmage work, as usual. He is doing position drills and static passing plays in full-team this spring, but nothing that requires lateral movement.

He didn’t work the stairs this day. But neither did QB Damian Williams scrimmage. The third team was handled by a couple of walk-ons. Williams was activated last week after missing three weeks with a pectoral muscle issue, and ran the #3 offense. He should be back at work this last week and could see action on Scott Field at last in the spring game.

*Before going down, Dear was putting on a show. He not only had six catches for 78 yards, and only the un-flagged tackle from behind kept him from making it 83 yards with a touchdown. Dear had rushed the ball once, and practiced kickoff returns to boot. Yes, this gifted rookie is going to get completely utilized right out of the proverbial box.

*The absence of aforementioned receivers just opens up snaps for teammates. Spring transfer WR Donald Gray has certainly taken advantage and should end camp firmly in the rotation. Perhaps, even on the first unit. Wilson seems pretty safe as a #1 going into summer and WR Fred Ross has grabbed the top spot at slot receiver from opening day.

So Gray and Jackson when healthy again are contending with veterans WR Joe Morrow and WR Fred Brown to be number-ones at the outside receiver spots. Ross was well ahead of Myles all camp, then Dear stepped up to #2 when Myles went down. Not that there really are #2s in this setup, but everyone wants to take the first snap.

*Things have gotten a little interesting at last on the defensive line, at least in setting a first unit. After veteran DT Nelson Adams was first-team for three-plus weeks, on Thursday DT Nick James received a promotion. At least that’s how it looks when he lines-up alongside DT Chris Jones with the #1s. The pairing was the same for the scrimmage, with Adams and DT Cory Thomas the second unit.

No, that doesn’t mean a lot going into summer, either. Maybe this is just a test of James’ development and hopefully maturing that he can go with the 1s. Or maybe it is Coach David Turner having a proven player on both the 1 and 2 groups between Jones and Adams. Or something.

*It’s been a rather quiet spring for junior DT Jones. Except, for scrimmages. The two intrasquads have inspired him apparently because Jones had a sack late in the first scrimmage off QB Dak Prescott and gave an extra pop in the process purely for aggravation.

A week later, Jones was at it again. He got his sack, though this time at the opposite end of the scrimmage. He finished the first 1s vs 1s series on third-and-long by bagging Prescott again, for a seven-yard loss…but without any extra activities for a change.

*There were a few changes to the first offensive line for the scrimmage, too, but one wasn’t exactly planned. After RG Devon Desper jumped the snap count not just once but twice, he was yanked. OG Deion Calhoun took his place, and the #1 offense went on a good drive too. After halftime Desper was back with the #1s and made no more pre-snap mistakes.

The second half also saw shuffles on the first unit. LT Rufus Warren has been #1 at that end all camp and likely still is. But redshirt OT Elgton Jenkins took over left tackle for some series for a change. Jenkins had jumped OT Cole Carter last week to take the #2 spot at LT already, and now he was given some snaps on the first team in a scrimmage.

Right tackle of course is Justin Senior’s to keep after 13 starts last season. The interest is who backs him up, first. Senior OT Damien Robinson certainly has the age and experience, he just lacked the health to do a lot of contact work this camp after the August knee injury.

Yet late in the second scrimmage there he was, taking snaps at right tackle with the first team. It wasn’t a promotion, just a chance to risk a little contact and settle Robinson’s status for a possible sixth season. It might sound harsh but it’s just being practical, that both the player and team want to be 100% sure before locking-in a scholarship for the fall semester.

Otherwise Saturday it was still juco spring transfer Martinas Rankin running #2 at right tackle, just like the first scrimmage. For fans baffled that a high-profile signee and spring enrollee isn’t automatically taking a starting job, well, that’s just how it works on the offensive line. Jobs get earned, not signed.

*Much is being made of Mississippi State’s redshirt running back tandem, and rightly so. RB Dontavian Lee and RB Aeris Williams may be listed, unofficially, as sharing the third spot on the depth chart. Based on the second scrimmage they are competing to be #2 now, as both bring more to the table than small if fast RB Brandon Holloway.

Lee was high rusher Saturday, 90 yards on 15 carries, and scored on runs of 39 and two yards. Most of this was with the second offense until midway when the rookie got a promotion to the first squad.

Williams worked with all three units though, accounting for his 21 carries. Williams had ‘just’ 61 yards in the process with no scores…on the ground. Where he has the seeming edge on his classmate is familiarity in the air game. Williams has caught a lot of balls in practices and Saturday had four for 46 yards, including a 21-yard jaunt down the right sideline after a short throw from QB Nick Fitzgerald.

But as long as blocking is required to go with the running and catching, RB Ashton Shumpert will maintain the top job. Shumpert has been just plain efficient in camp, rarely flashy but always reliable.

Oh, and physical. He was part of Saturday’s most exciting play, catching a short throw on third-and-goal on the line…and instantly taking a brutal blast from S Kivon Coman. Shumpert went down very hard but maintained the ball just fine to keep the touchdown.

*Since Saturday will be a game, there will be kickoffs to return. Yes, we feel safe in predicting there will be no 0-0 score after regulation, that points will be put on the board.

If trends to date hold, the first pair of return Dogs for kickoffs is WR Fred Brown and CB Will Redmond. The second appears now to be RB Brandon Holloway and WR Donald Gray, with CB Jamoral Graham and WR Deddrick Thomas working as the third group last week. Dear is in the mix too, if healthy.

So far fielding punts has fallen to WR Fred Ross and Redmond almost entirely, though Graham has taken a few turns in the job he got and lost last fall as a true freshman.

*No one is claiming placekicking is in great fall shape yet. But the outlook is much more encouraging than a year ago at this time. K Devon Bell made the only three-point attempt of the second scrimmage, a routine 38-yarder he had plenty of leg on. A week ago Bell used a little bit of wind and a lot of leg to make good at 50 yards with a lot of margin left.

Better news maybe, is that after some missed PATs a week ago the second intrasquad saw all point-afters made. Sure, most programs take such for granted. State takes progress where they can see it.

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