“I mean, I was telling Coach Mullen today he needed to go ahead and put a wildcat package in for me!”
Let’s set aside for the moment that many more than this freshman Bulldog have had the same sort of notion. From the first time Malik Dear took a pitch in spring camp it’s been clear this true freshman has so much more to bring to Mississippi State’s playbook than his prime role at slot receiver.
What matters right now is simply that Dear gets back in the game this weekend. An unspecified injury sidelined him for contests with Missouri and Alabama.
“I’m so ready to get back on the field,” Dear said. “It’s been so long. I’ve never missed two games, I’ve never been off a football field for that long. So I’m so ready to be back on the field.”
Dear thought he was going to be ready last week, to the point of going through a few initial drills. “I tried to warm-up a little bit before the game.
“It just wasn’t the feeling I had that I needed to go out there and perform. So I said I wasn’t going to go out there.” But Dear did not just go sit on a bench as the Bulldogs battled Alabama.
“At that point you just have to be a motivator for the team. Sometimes it might come to that role. So I think I went and did that.”
Now, Dear gets to do what he really likes. He agreed Wednesday when asked if he was 100%; “Oh yes, most definitely.” Receivers Coach Billy Gonzales had said the day before he also expects having Dear’s skills back in the scheme for Arkansas.
The question changes to how Mississippi State might make use of said skills. Or how much. It needs reminding that Dear has been #3 in the slot receiver pecking order this rookie season, not surprisingly. Team-leading receiver Fred Ross naturally gets first turn and has 59 catches with 662 yards to show for it.
Ross’ reliability has been that much more important lately as second slot man Gabe Myles is just now coming back from his own ankle injury. Dear’s return brings that part of the lineup back to full-strength. It also allows Gonzales to script plays with more than one H-receiver on the field, if it meets a matchup need.
Dear describes just what he and Myles can do to create the miss-matches, even.
“Speed and power. Me and Gabe, he’s probably a shiftier guys than me. But I’ve got a lot of power. So you’ve for to prepare for us both in different ways.”
Dear has 16 catches for 160 yards in the eight games played, a nice, neat 10.0 average though he’s looking for that first receiving touchdown. He already has a rushing score on the resume, on that 52-yard jaunt at Texas A&M which showed exactly why Dear is a different sort of Dog. He has no complaints with the quota of snaps received so far.
“I think they’ve been doing a pretty good job trying to get me the ball,” Dear said. “But I’m just happy to do whatever they ask me to do. Play lineman, fake the ball, get it off the ground, that’s what I’m going to do.”
OK, that’s something State will NOT be asking Dear to do. But it does remind how versatile this kid can be, and what the future should hold as Dear develops. Which, he said, is his ambition for the remaining regular season.
“Just come out and perform and do what Coach brought me here to do. And come out and execute in the last two games. There’s never nothing more to learn. So I’m just going to continue to learn.”
He’ll learn how healthy he really is Saturday evening. Cold weather has a way of reviving aches and pains and the Fayetteville forecast isn’t friendly. Even un-bruised Bulldogs expect to get back on the plane sometime in the wee Sunday hours feeling the results of a physical football game.
“Arkansas is a great defense,” Dear said. “They come out and play really hard and they won the last four or five games. That means they’ve been doing something right. So we have to come out and execute and follow the gameplan.”
Oh, and speaking of gameplans… Just how did the head coach respond to Dear’s suggestion of a special wildcat package?
“He was just laughing,” Dear said. “Saying make sure that I get everything that I need to know now down-pat.”