So. There it is. Don’t show up at Davis Wade Stadium this weekend expecting to see #22 lining up beside or behind Dak Prescott. Or is it not yet?
Only Mississippi State coaches really know what the long-term ideal position for this flashy freshman will become. Maybe even they can’t say today either. What Coach Dan Mullen and staff do know, and say, is this is a pup who can be a really big Dog in the gameplans as a slot receiver, as a situational runner, or maybe a full-time Bulldog back.
Maybe. For now, “I really don’t get any reps at running back,” Dear said of this week’s practices. “It’s just sometimes I motion to the backfield. So that’s how I end up in the backfield.”
Ending up in the backfield though was how Malik Dear ended up scoring his first college touchdown, at Texas A&M. On a second-quarter play Prescott handed his slot receiver the ball as Dear motioned left-to-right. It’s a play familiar to Bulldog fans. Since arriving in Starkville, Mullen has loved getting receivers involved with reverses, end-arounds, sweeps, any way to create a single matchup at the edge.
Thanks to right tackle Justin Senior there wasn’t an edge. There was a truck-size lane opening inside. Credit the kid for recognizing it on the run and changing direction immediately. As Dear said, “Anything to get into the end zone. Play smart and hard. If he’s outside I’m going to cut up inside where ain’t nobody is at.”
Dear didn’t meet anybody until around the 20-yard line, and that lone Aggie wasn’t in good tackling position. Wideout De’Runnya Wilson took care of the other last-chance tackler so Dear could finish a 52-yard touchdown tote. It was a great big play for which the true freshman had a great short comment.
“Great,” he smiled. “I’ve been waiting on it for a long time now.”
Well, maybe not that long. He is after a true freshman. Most SEC rookies, even those with Dear’s sparkling prep resume, would dream of getting on a conference scoreboard in just their fifth varsity game. Dear is a Dog on a faster track.
The conventional thinking is because Dear worked to graduate from Murrah High School ahead of schedule, and as able to enroll for the Mississippi State spring semester, he has been able to work his way into immediate action. Dear sees it differently. Even if he had not been baptized with spring practices, he is convinced he would be playing just the same.
“I honestly thing I probably would. Because I’m the type of player that if I really want something I’m going to go after it. if I have to go home and look over everything and make sure I know everything, so I can put myself in a better situation, that’s what I’m going to do.
“So I feel like I would have been playing.”
There was one obstacle to freshman activation though. Or two related items, his condition and his weight. Dear knew he had to raise one and lower the other. And once his senior season at Murrah was done his coaches encouraged winter workouts.
But upon January arrival, Dear brought 236 pounds into the Seal Complex weightroom. The strength staff’s response…was not college freshman fun and games at all.
“I hated it, man,” Dear said. “More than anybody I had to be up here every morning and sometimes after everything. I think it all paid off in the end, though.” No pun intended, the ‘end’ still packs a few more lbs. than idea for a speed-position guy. But Dear said as of this week he’s at 220 pounds and staying there.
He’s also apparently staying at receiver, primarily at least. Dear did catch a couple of passes Saturday for 23 yards to go with the big run. One quick post-game question to Mullen was why not more touches after this show of skills. The head coach mentioned Dear was a bit banged-up during the game.
Dear confirmed this week that a leg muscle tightened-up during the game. “It was nothing serious.” But enough that the staff didn’t want to risk a real pull or anything that might sideline Dear any length of time. Nor are there any toughness questions.
Because after one of his Saturday catches Dear was put down. Hard. His response? Get up, flip the ball to the ref, get back to the line for the next play.
“To me it was just a regular hit. Sometimes it may seem like it’s a big hit but to me it was just a normal little hit. I didn’t feel anything, I popped up and got back ready.”
Dear said he’s also ready for any assignment he’s handed in this offense. Which again rouses hopes among State fans that maybe, hopefully, he might be one answer to a running game which hasn’t produced as expected? Dear handles the questions like an old pro.
“I’ve been hearing it a lot, people keep telling me I should. But I still don’t know what I want to do yet,” he said. “I’m just here to do whatever the coaches ask me, and execute whenever they ask me.”
As for this week, there’s the added complication of injury to alternate slot-man Gabe Myles. What looked like a serious left leg injury Saturday has turned out to be relatively routine. Still it’s assumed Myles can take the Troy game off, both to rest the ankle and let others take turns once the game is under complete control.
If Myles does take a break, Dear’s snaps would increase automatically working in rotation with Fred Ross. State is also using more true four-wides sets without a tight end these days and a scheme with Ross and Dear in opposite slots presents all sorts of possibilities.
But, so would putting Dear in the backfield without need of motion.
Whatever happens, Dear will accept the assignment and the ball and go for the goal again. “I’m ready for the role and I’m ready to see what Coach wants to do with me.”
As is all Bulldog Country.