But then this is Mississippi State’s open-date week. So Dan Mullen is using it appropriately. While not giving the first and second teams a complete break, head coach and staff are using the more relaxed situation for some serious evaluations.
Meaning, this is a great week for reserve and especially redshirting Bulldogs to make good impressions for the future. With Mullen even allowing media to observe Wednesday’s entire practice, those younger players were objects of most interest.
It needs noting first that some of the specific positions following, particularly right and left side designations, are based entirely on one day’s watching. Come March several redshirts could well be flipping sides of the field, or even their positions entirely. That said…
*On the offensive line juco Martinas Rankin, the most interesting redshirt of the whole recruiting class, is still working at right tackle. That catches the eye as starting RT Justin Senior will be a senior in 2016. Maybe there will be a side-swap in spring. Or, maybe not.
Though he has started one game and played in most as alternate, Elgton Jenkins ran about as many snaps at left tackle as he did with the second unit. Meanwhile #1 Rufus Warren did more dancing to the practice-playing music than blocking, having an easy afternoon. LT Cole Carter was the backup on the left end.
The same sort of situation held for Deion Calhoun, backup at both left and right guard and one of the seven regular linemen State uses each week. He worked with the first and second squads extensively at right guard. Redshirting freshmen Michael Story and Darryl Williams, and second-year freshman Ronald Cochran are also practicing as guards in a preview of spring competitions.
Jocquell Johnson remains the #2 center, behind junior Jamaal Clayborn. There is another kid to watch though. Totday tackle-sized Harrison Moon was working at center, as well as practicing some deep snaps when his unit wasn’t running a play.
*Even QB Dak Prescott had to put in a good hour of work. It wasn’t so much to keep the All-SEC quarterback sharp, but so second and third unit receivers—and blockers—could benefit from his practice presence. Soon enough though the other quarterbacks took their turns, including redshirting junior QB Damian Williams. He was last in the line though, even behind true freshman Tiano. Who, it can be reported, threw some very nice balls in the vertical game but floated a couple aimed to the sidelines.
QB Nick Fitzgerald floated nothing. He was just on-target and usually on-a-string with his passes, long or short. Even one of his poor tosses ended up in the right man’s hands. QB Elijah Staley still showed some tendency to a really short wind-up, the ball not getting back past his shoulder, and throwing on arm strength alone. But fittingly on the day’s last play, when he went through the full cock-and-deliver motion, Staley put the ball right to freshman Spivey on the sideline.
All Spivey did was tightrope his way behind one block and take off for what would have been a 50-yard touchdown. Mullen liked that one well enough to blow the whistle and end the day.
Classmate WR Deddrick Thomas reported in spring of course and is building on that in a redshirting fall. So is summer-enrollee Keith Mixon, who is practicing at slot receiver. This newcomer had a series of impressive catches on well-run routes down the hashes, which could mean ridiculous depth at slot come 2016 assuming the return of WR Fred Ross, full-health of WR Gabe Myles, and of course keeping WR Malik Dear there.
So it was bound to catch attention when on a series Dear lined up as a back, and took a normal handoff to boot with the first offense. That was working in place of #1 RB Brandon Holloway.
Nick Gibson was the first of the two un-activated rookie running backs taking turns. It was classmate Alec Murphy who had the best run, when he plowed into and over S Brandon Davis in a physical display.
*One freshman tight end has been playing from opening night, TE Justin Johnson. This meant TE Farrod Green drew the redshirt card for 2015. While not a redshirt or a true recruit, Aaron Hamaker stood out as a ‘big’ tight end in drills, which is encouraging as TE Darrion Hutcherson will graduate.
*A key to increasing successes at State has been stocking up on defensive linemen. The news for 2016 is positive even with graduation and likely early-NFL entry expected to take some starters.
The regular line during today’s drills, with starters relaxing, was familiar enough; Will Coleman, Cory Thomas, Braxton Hoyette, Jonathan Calvin. The backup unit was intriguing, with DE Keith Joseph, DT Fletcher Adams, DT Kendell Jones, DE Anfernee Mullins.
At linebackers, freshmen Leo Lewis and Tim Washington were middle and strong-side respectively; with juco Traver Jung on the weak-side.
*There were four freshmen defensive backs signed and two have already played, both at safeties; they being Mark McLaurin and Jamal Peters of course. Though, in quite a few defensive sets for passing coverage it was a three-safety package with Peters moving up into something lots more like a linebacker position while McLaurin stayed in centerfield with veteran Deontay Evans.
The other two true frosh are both working with cornerbacks so far, Maurice Smitherman and Chris Stamps.
*Dan Mullen was in a jovial mood all day. While he did stay busy during unit drills, going to the various groups in no set order, during team on team periods he stayed about 30 yards downfield to watch the entire play. Several of which came his way, in fact.
One of them should not have, or at least not stopped in front of Mullen. To all other eyes the play looked perfect as Prescott hit his target open over the middle for a 20-yard gainer. Mullen though saw another receiver get farther downfield to the side. “You must hate touchdowns, 15!” the coach called to Prescott.
Soon afterwards WR Joe Morrow made an outstanding down-and-out catch on the left sideline, staying in fair ground just long enough to catch a wobbler thrown by Fitzgerald. Then, after the catch, Morrow had to hit the brakes hard to avoid running into a nearby retaining wall.
“I see you getting ready for the Arena League, Joe,” Mullen called.