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Long List of Questionable Personnel offers Opportunity for October Lineup Shuffles

The questions were directly about injuries. The in-direct answers might have been more about how Mississippi State can make use some health situations—and an easy home game—to do lineup adjustments already pending.

At Monday’s press conference, Coach Dan Mullen updated the condition of several Bulldogs who either limped off Kyle Field Saturday night; or in one case did not get on the field at all. The most serious case came up first, as Mullen confirmed S Kendrick Market is done for the year. And his career.

“He tore his acl,” Mullen said. “Which is a big loss for us.”

Senior Market was injured ten seconds into the second quarter at Texas A&M, on a pass play. Mullen said that with the injury coming in game-five, Market is not eligible for a medical redshirt.

As for the rest, “Everybody else is going to be questionable this week,” Mullen said. It’s a long list of everybodys, all in the top rotation and in the case of OT Rufus Warren, CB Will Redmond, and TE Gus Walley starters.

Warren was hurt on the play QB Dak Prescott scored State’s fourth quarter touchdown. He stayed on the sideline and was limping badly going to the locker room at game’s end. Mullen said today it is an ankle; how serious he could not say.

Redmond’s injury was to the left foot/ankle as well, judging by the boot he was seen wearing Monday when leaving the Seal Complex. Rotation WR Joe Morrow had an arm injury of some sort early in the game and did not return.

Mullen said those three were held out of Sunday’s practice. The Bulldogs were off Monday. So Tuesday, “We’ll see how they feel. We rested a lot of those guys yesterday.”

Walley was rested over the weekend already. A hand injury during practice last week kept him from playing at Texas A&M, though “He was on the edge,” Mullen said. “We just decided not to put him out there. So he’ll have the chance to come back this week.”

The most serious-looking of all the Saturday injuries was to WR Gabe Myles, as his left leg was caught at a bad angle in a tackle pile-up in the third quarter. He was seen on the sideline on crutches and in a boot for the second half. As it turns out, the ankle injury wasn’t as bad as feared initially. So Mullen gives some chance Myles, the second man in the slot receiver rotation, could play.

“But the only one that is a significant injury is Kendrick. Our trainers felt pretty positive about everybody else.”

Were this a conference game week, or a major non-conference contest, there would be greater urgency to answer the ‘questionable’ status of everyone. Fortunately for Mississippi State it is a struggling Troy (1-3, 0-1 Sun Belt) team coming to campus. The Trojan program has fallen far from the 2012 team which took State to the wire and has a first-year coach in former Kentucky coordinator Neal Brown.

Mullen said all the right things about the opponent publically. Privately, the Bulldog staff has to see this as coincidental opportunity. Not just the matchup, either, but the personnel situations.

Keeping ‘questionable’ regulars out of action not only rests them for Louisiana Tech and then Kentucky; it allows free use of backups and even newer players without hurting the feelings of already-hurting bodies.

Such as the left tackle situation. For one example, fifth-year senior Warren has had his struggles as a full-time tackle, all agree. To be fair there are professional tackles who would be challenged by Texas A&M’s brilliant defensive ends, or those at LSU.

Regardless, redshirt freshman Elgton Jenkins has gradually seen his snaps increasing. Now if Warren is held out Jenkins can not only make a start, but against an opponent less-likely to show him up and damage his development. There is the alternative theory that this is a now-or-never week to activate redshirting Martinas Rankin, rated by one service the #1 juco tackle recruit in the country.

That seems unlikely at this point. Still, Rankin does dress for games. Should Jenkins or RT Justin Senior be knocked-out of a game that would make sixth-year senior Damien Robinson the next tackle up for a job, then junior Cole Carter. Warren’s injury does remind of the fragility at both ends of the Bulldog line this season.

A more positive report on Myles does ease a serious concern. Not that the slot is in bad hands. Starter WR Fred Ross is not only the team’s leading receiver, his 31 catches in five games exceed his whole 30-receptions total for 13 games last season.

But Myles was his top alternate and at times paired with him in a four-true wideouts set, especially when Walley was not on-field. Plus Myles served in kickoff return. So this isn’t a loss to dismiss lightly. The bright side to it?

This should give more snaps to WR Malik Dear. For that matter Dear’s 52-yard touchdown rush at Texas A&M should have him taking more snaps anyway. “You put the ball in his hands, good things usually happen,” said Mullen. So why has the true freshman been limited in snaps through five games? It has to do with all other aspect of slot receiver; the blocking assignments, full knowledge of all routes involved, and so on. Though he did practice in spring there is much left for the ultra-talented rookie to learn.

Plus, Dear is not in ideal shape, with more pounds to be shed that he added as a high school senior. If that touchdown burst was done at something like 90% speed, imagine Dear’s potential when he is full-velocity and condition?

“But he’s becoming more comfortable with how he’s blocking, running some routes and catching some balls,” Mullen said today. And, a Troy team ought present Dear more opportunities to make plays…not just running routes and blocking and receiving, but as an outright runner.

State has no shortage of proven wide receivers and cornerbacks already taking turns. So sitting Morrow and Redmond if necessary shouldn’t impact this week’s plans. Market himself was rotating and missed the Northwestern State start, with Deontay Evans taking over.

Redshirt freshman Brandon Bryant has been getting about as many plays as Market or starting free safety Kivon Coman. And at A&M true frosh Jamal Peters worked into the rotation, where classmate Mark McLaurin has also seen real action. All the three youngest safeties are equal or superior athletes to the elders, it is only experience lacking. That they can get more of now.

The real loss is Market’s smarts and intangibles and pure leadership. Mullen went so far to call him “the best football player on the team” regardless of position. Still that was going to have to be replaced in 2016 so this is an unplanned jump-start at safety spots.

All the questionables will benefit from extra rest, and it will allow State’s staff to give more players more live game turns. In fact, “I think as a whole we’ve got to play more players, offense and defense,” Mullen said.

The head coach noted that it’s easy for position staff to lose track of how many snaps the younger players do or don’t get. So he’s not blaming anyone, just making it clear that the rotations and substitutions are about to increase. Which would obviously again reflect the opportunity these next couple of non-SEC home games offer.

“It’s our job as coaches to make sure we put them in a position to be ready to go do those things,” Mullen said. “So the more we get those guys in the more we can evaluate them in a game. And hopefully they’re playing well enough to earn more reps each week.”

Hmmm, did the head coach just declare open competition at mid-season for several positions? Maybe. More likely Mullen was pointing to another improved aspect of Mississippi State’s roster.

“How we’ve built the program with some depth. I think when you do have an injury the drop-off in talent is not going to be as big as it was when we first got here six or seven years ago.”

Now that, is not a questionable comment.

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