Tight End Spring Progress Report

Coach Scott Sallach entered the 2015 spring practice sessions looking to replace the experience and talent of two talented five year seniors in Brandon Hill and Malcolm Johnson. Johnson was one of the team's top players during the 2014 season that saw the Bulldogs rise to a #1 ranking for five straight weeks. With one spring practice left, Sallach sees his depth chart now coming into focus.

"It's hard to replace a captain, two time Mackey watch list, All-SEC unbelievable leader, but that is part of college athletics," Sallach explained. "You have to find guys to fill the roles that the departed seniors held. It's been a different spring, because you get used to having guys like Malcolm around. The other guys are working at it. The good thing is that we are a lot better today than we were before practice one. We have to keep making that progress to put us in the same position that we did as an offense with Malcolm."

The Bulldog offensive efforts were among some of the more prolific in all of college football, finishing second in the SEC with 6,679 yards of earned real estate. Sallach reports that Johnson's ability to create mismatches out in the pass pattern was a big part of the team's success.

"It had nothing to do with numbers, catches and things like that," Sallach said. "The versatility that he let us have was a really big deal. We need somebody that is able to fill that role now and it might be two guys or three guys. We have to fill that role to keep us versatile, so people can't sit on Dak (Prescott) on Bear (De'Runnya Wilson) on (Ashton) Shumpert. We want to be able to keep people off balance."

One of the veterans in the tight end meeting room is Gus Walley who is running with the first team offense. Sallach reports that the talented Walley is playing his football right now.

"Gus is a smart guy," Sallach said. "He knows what Malcolm did and how important he was. He is also smart enough to know the things that Malcolm did that he needs to do now. When he looks around he's it, there's nobody else. He has to do those things. Gus did a great job learning from Malcolm and now he's trying to take on that role."

Senior Darrion Hutcherson is another player the Bulldogs are expecting big things from this fall as the team competes in America's toughest division in all of college football, the SEC Western division.

"He needs to use his God given skills better," Sallach said. "He is a large, good looking football player and sometimes he doesn't play that way. He needs to be much more aggressive and play with an edge. He needs to play with a chip on his shoulder. When he does it, he is a very impressive football player. When he doesn't do it, then he is not helping us the way that he is capable of helping us.

"It's about showing him on film. There is not an athlete out there that Mississippi State or any college anywhere that doesn't think at the moment they are doing the best that they possibly can. He need to see it on film and it's like the question that Coach Mullen asks us all of the time, 'Is that the best that you have? Is that the maximum effort?'

"When (Hutcherson) watches it and it gets presented to him, he realizes that wasn't the best that I am capable of. You can rewind or fast forward to a couple more plays and say 'that's great effort'. We need to replicate that action. That's what makes you a successful player. It's not doing it once, twice or one out of every three. It's repeating actions with consistency. That's the big thing for Darrion. He has done some spectacular things. He just needs to do them more consistently."

A trio of other tight ends have been jockeying for position after having some time in the program, Shelby Christy, Rashun Dixon and B.J. Hammond. Sallach reports that he has been pleased with their progress.

"For Shelby and B.J., you are seeing the beginning of the development," Sallach said. "It's a slow process. You see the success that Malcolm Johnson had and you see the finished product. You don't see the three and half to four years of dedication, commitment, hard work and sacrifice to be in that position. Those guys are trying to process that. It's a step everyday to get there.

"I have been really pleased with Dixon's development this spring. I think what you are starting to see with Rashun is that playing football is not like riding a bike. You don't just get up and start riding again.

"I think everybody remembers what a great athlete he was in high school and they forget that he spent six years trying to be a major league baseball player. He didn't do anything with football, so everyday is a huge step for him. He is getting back familiar with everything.

"I have been very pleased with his development this spring, but what does that mean for the fall? Everybody wants to know the answer, because they love the Dixon name like they should here. I love the Dixon name here, but I think he's put himself into a position where he can make a contribution this fall."

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