So don’t we need something, anything to talk about as far as Mississippi State football? Last week did provide a few more September game times. The week before, athletic director Scott Stricklin talked about ticket sales and future scheduling. What’s left?
Well, how about a shorter and snappy summary of what the summer depth chart is believed to be? This is based entirely on the spring practices and scrimmages. In most cases the #1s are expected to hold good up to kickoff. In a few though, these are just ‘starting points’ if you will for August camp competition, such as at running back, safety, maybe offensive tackle.
You will also surely notice we did not list a couple of positions. Because while punting should be in fine hands, or foot rather…one wonders if even the boss knows what will happen at placekicker in camp?
QUARTERBACK: Dak Prescott SR-3L 13-13; Nicks Fitzgerald FR-RS; Damian Williams JR-2L; Elijah Staley FR-RS.
No surprises here. No, not even the spring ascension of Fitzgerald to #2. Remember, Williams was out most of the time with a pectoral muscle tear. But Fitzgerald was impressive enough, and is absorbing the offense so well, we can’t automatically assume Williams will be back in second place come August. The guy throws a very pretty pass and runs better than most realize.
The closest thing to a surprise was Staley. Not because talent lacked to be sure. It’s just that off-season surgery and limited mobility should have cramped his spring style. Instead being forced to stay put, read coverage, and throw the ball without scrambling was the best possible way to accelerate his development. And the physical gifts are off-most-charts.
Oh, about that Prescott guy? He’s merely the reigning All-SEC quarterback and on his way to every Mississippi State record for the position. That’s all.
RUNNING BACK: Ashton Shumpert JR-2L 12-0; Brandon Holloway JR-2L 13-0; Dontavian Lee FR-RS OR Aeris Williams FR-RS.
Opportunity knocked and everyone answered. Meaning, August is going to be intense as all four scramble for status. Big-hitter Shumpert stayed first-team and he’s clearly a brutal blocker without the ball.
It’s what Lee and Williams—or Williams and Lee, order doesn’t matter for now—can do with the ball that fascinates. We can claim one is the better power runner (Lee) and the other the better receiver/runner (Williams) but the differences aren’t so sharp for now. Both are made for the modern spread.
That’s putting pressure on the nominal #2 Holloway. He’s fast, he has some moves. He just seems to need more open room to operate. The others can make their own room. It makes for a to-be-watched status situation.
And as noted in our position profiles, he might not be listed as a back. But be certain State will scheme ways to hand the ball directly to Malik Dear. This kid can become an instant game-changer in backfield or as a reversible wideout.
SLOT WIDE RECEIVER: Fred Ross JR-2L 13-2; Gabe Myles SO-1L; Malik Dear FR-HS; Shelby Christy SO-RS.
Speaking of Dear, let’s go right to his slot. It isn’t ‘his’ actually. The transition of Ross from split end to slot begun last season is complete and boy does he complete it. The move might mean an eventual shift by Myles to the old Malcolm Johnson-type of tight end as he’s got the body and hands. Myles wasn’t 100% most of spring so holding position was tough enough, but he’s just a good reliable ball player State can use in traffic or in the open alike.
That said, Dear is a difference-maker with more speed and explosiveness alike. He would play anyway as a rookie, but uncertainty over twice-injured Christy’s status makes it more important. If this looks like lots of depth at just one position never fear. State showed enough mix-and-match in spring lineups using four true wideouts lots of times.
Depth here makes for an interesting situation. With a good year Ross might be headed to the NFL early so it helps having lots of guys in-line. Yet, State also needs scholarships to hand out for '16. Hmmmm.
TIGHT ENDS: Gus Walley JR-1L 12-0; Darrion Hutcherson SR-1L 13-0; B.J. Hammond SO-SQ 2-0; Rashun Dixon SO-SQ
Don’t think State is not using tight ends any more, just not as MSU folk have been used to. If Walley’s spring translates to real games with his height and hands he can open up room for others on the outside. Hutcherson also has height and lots more muscle, but the hands haven’t been reliable yet. Hammond is a subject of transfer rumors but was on the roster at last check.
WIDE RECEIVER: Joe Morrow SR-2L 13-0; Jesse Jackson FR-RS; Deddrick Thomas FR-HS; Kareem Vance.
WIDE RECEIVER: De’Runnya Wilson JR-2L 12-10; Fred Brown JR-2L 13-2; Donald Gray SO-TR; Javous Nicks.
We stressed depth in the position review. But as a reminder…not only was State able to have about half the split- and slot-spots roster limited by injuries at various stretches and STILL have productive practices. Mullen gave Jamoral Graham to the defense where he’ll now cover receivers instead of be one.
Listing two depth charts for the slot-side and tight end-side wideout jobs isn’t a big deal as they’re supposed to be interchangeable. Besides, defenses will be looking for #1 first anyway as Wilson sets up for a huge junior season and his own look at early NFL exit. But it isn’t much if any drop-off when Brown shuttles in. Transfer Gray was good if not great but hey, he’s got three whole seasons ahead so don’t worry.
That big Orange Bowl seems to have put a spark in Morrow for spring. He’ll have to keep it though because redshirt Jackson not only can move but has more muscle than most MSU receivers of recent years. He was one of those slowed by spring ailments, as was true frosh Thomas. It was hard to get a good gauge on the mid-year enrollee but insiders like him lots.
And as if these spots weren’t deep enough, three more receivers are inbound with summer qualifying.
LEFT TACKLE: Rufus Warren SR-2L 13-0; Cole Carter JR-1L 11-0, Elgton Jenkins FR-RS.
LEFT GUARD: Justin Malone SR-2L 12-11; Michael Story FR-HS.
CENTER: Jamaal Clayborn JR-2L 4-0; Jocquell Johnson JR-RS; Nick Proby SR-SQ 1-0.
RIGHT GUARD: Devon Desper JR-2L 11-2; Deion Calhoun FR-RS; Jake Thomas SO-1L 2-0.
RIGHT TACKLE: Justin Senior JR-2L 13-13; Damien Robinson SR-3L 0-0; Martinas Rankin JR-TR; Ronald Cochran FR-RS.
Summarizing quickly: with Warren getting comfortable during spring-two as a blocker, State’s baseline of three tackles ready to play either side is 2/3s complete. If Robinson can really turn it on as a senior, or more likely Rankin show why he was a juco star, things are in good shape. Oh, and both Jenkins and Cochran are proving to be better prospects than their signing day ratings.
Malone and Desper have started games, Calhoun has played, so the guards trio is just about set. Story is going to surprise a lot of folk down the road, and the June transfer of #2-for-now guard Kent Flowers seems solid evidence. If Flowers gets everything together in juco, a re-recruitment might be coming...unless State wants to give that grant to another.
And at the key position, Clayborn really looked like he was going to make himself into a SEC center after all. As for '14 juco transfer Johnson, the unintended redshirt looks like the best bad break that could have happened for him and for the line.
Only real games will show if State has the right line to let alllllll the excellent skill guys use their, well, skills. Maybe it's just summer optimism but opinions on this group are trending more positively, too.
LEFT DEFENSIVE END Ryan Brown SR-3L 13-12; Will Coleman JR-TRrs; Grant Harris FR-RS.
LEFT TACKLE Chris Jones JR-2L 13-0, Cory Thomas FR-RS; Braxton Hoyette FR-RS.
RIGHT TACKLE Nick James JR-2L 13-0; Nelson Adams JR-2L 13-0; Lawrence Brown JR-SQ.
RIGHT DEFENSIVE END A.J. Jefferson JR-2L 13-0; Torrey Dale JR-1L 11-0; Jonathan Calvin JR-TR; Brian Houston JR-RS
At tackle, only the coaches know if James’ mid-camp promotion to first team is an individual achievement; or if it means they like having one proven player (Jones, Adams) with a less-seasoned partner (James, redshirt Thomas). We sorta suspect the latter case but either way this is a fine two-deep. Along with redshirt Hoyette and a couple of walk-ons, if the signees get eligible then the roster is really set up for coming seasons. And, to absorb expected early NFL departures; no tackle is a senior this year.
There is senior-ity at end with Brown who is quietly working his own way towards the NFL future. Jefferson should replace some of the graduated pass-rushing, though post-spring talk is this kid might become a tackle, too. It is an interesting idea, too, adding some quickness inside for matchups. Depth is even better outside than inside anyway, though after now-maturing Dale it’s all new. But jucos and redshirts ought to be ready to rotate by September.
MIDDLE LINEBACKER: Richie Brown JR-2L 13-0; Gerri Green FR-RS; Kelan Chairs SO-1L 7-0.
Which is exactly how they began spring. Brown isn’t the same physical freak as his predecessor but can become an even better ‘quarterback’ of this defense. Green, yeah, he’s a p.f. Reckon there’s a scheme taking shape to have him on the field along with the regular starters in some sets?
OUTSIDE LINEBACKER: Beniquez Brown JR-2L 13-12; J.T. Gray SO-1L 6-0; Quadry Antoine JR-SQ 9-0.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKER: Zach Jackson SR-3L; Deandre Ward JR-1L 13-0; Josiah Phillips FR-RS; Dezmond Harris SO-1L 6-0
There was no change at the top of either side. Not that anyone expected Brown to be challenged as he’s on the All-SEC fast track. Maybe more, too. Plus, he’s just as capable of directing this defense as is his maroon-blood brother. It was interesting though how in camp the second and third ‘fast’ linebackers worked behind Brown more often than not.
Whereas, Zach Jackson, successor so far to Matt Wells, was backed by the bigger guys. One of them anyway; Ward is a quality backup and special teams specimen. Harris would be pushing for a top job had he not been lost to fall injury though and he’s still on the comeback trail having not practiced in spring. Speed is so much of his game that only time will tell if he’s able to get it all back.
And just like the d-line there is fresh depth coming in, only more of it if everyone qualifies. Forget them climbing the depth charts, kicking coverage teams are only going to get better with these guys.
SAFETY: Deontay Evans JR-2L 13-2; Zac Neary FR-RS; Kendrick Market SR-3L 12-4
SAFETY: Kivon Coman JR-2L 13-0; Brandon Bryant FR-RS.
By contrast safety depth is…not. Or not yet. Not until old Dog Market’s return from November injury is complete; and a touted new kid gets into camp. That’s not to say though State won’t begin August and maybe even September without a couple of seasoned hands starting.
Evans can certainly hit, and has made a coverage play or two. Consistency is the question against air games. Coaching word is they’re quite comfortable with Coman first-team going into the season, fortunately. The experiment of moving corner Jahmere Irvin-Sills was brief; after spring weeks of looking for a landing spot he found one and transferred this week.
All that said, player’s word has been that redshirt Bryant is the one to watch. He might or might not start opening game, but he will take over full-time in time. And of course hopes are ridiculously high for incoming freshman Jamal Peters. Rushing a new kid into the lineup is always iffy, but hey…it worked out fine for John Banks. We’ve heard just about equal expectations of classmate Mark McLaurin though only real college competition will tell.
LEFT CORNERBACK: Will Redmond SR-2L 12-0; Chris Rayford FR-RS; Boderick Oliver SO-SQ.
RIGHT CORNERBACK: Tolando Cleveland JR-2L 13-0; Cedric Jiles JR-1L 0-0; Jamoral Graham SO-1L 9-0; Taveze Calhoun SR-3L 13-13;
Two obvious facts. This is Redmond’s year to secure his NFL draft status. So moving into the starting lineup at last ought be all the opportunity he needs. If, that is, he can become a reliable tackler and not gamble on highlight plays when routine coverage is sufficient. Redmond seemed to have it under spring control.
Second fact. Calhoun is going to get his job back. He missed spring in rehab though he sure did a lot of coaching-up his backups in practices and coaches love his leadership. Also coming back is Jiles from a bad August knee injury, which still slowed him just enough eight months later that he couldn’t quite take first-team. Cleveland isn’t to be pushed aside easily, either, he’s proof why veterans count in this league.
Rayford still has time to develop but the bigger, stouter body is something State needs. And for sheer athletic ability Graham fits the DB bill. He even seemed to like the new job in spring. Nobody will say so on record but maybe ’15 would be a good time to make up for the missed redshirt year what with seniors at both spots?