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[Premium Article] Football.
Ok, since football is about to start getting serious with the SEC football media days this week and the pre-season practice to start a week from today, here's my opinion as to who will be the starters and their backups for MSU's first game of the season, Oregon game.
OFFENSESplit End - Senior Justin Jenkins lays claim to this position. The real competition will be who wins the second spot. Is junior Antonio Hargro finally ready to show the SEC why he was so highly recruited or will sophomore Brandon Wright take the spot and leave Hargro on the bench?
Left Tackle - Sophomore Richard Burch was coming on like gamebusters until he broke his leg. He wasn't able to do much during the spring due to his rehab and a surgery complication but the talent is definitely there. In fact, Coach Sherrill thought he was going to be a Freshman All-American. His injury kept that from happening. Look for redshirt freshman James Redmond to back him up. Don't leave out freshman Parade All-American Donovan Davis as a backup if Redmond can't handle the job.
Left Guard - Junior Brad Weathers will be the starter. His backup will come from junior Will Rogers or spring surprise Otis Riddley, a redshirt freshman. Coach Sherrill really likes what he saw from Riddley during the spring.
Center - This position will see a fierce competition between senior Blake Jones and sophomore Chris McNeil. While Jones has the SEC experience and has been a two-year starter, McNeil is a very talented youngster who has phenomenal strength and is bitting at the bit for a starting position after suffering an injury that cut his redshirt freshman season short. It's anybody's guess who will win this spot.
Right Guard - The coaches really like sophomore Johnny Wadley at this position. Johnny has lost a lot of weight this summer, which has made him quicker. If that translates to the field, MSU will be set for the next three years at this position. If McNeil doesn't win the center position and Wadley doesn't pan out, the the starter could be McNeil, who was a starter at this position a few games last year. Riddley could factor in here as well.
Right Tackle - David Stewart is set at this position. Coach Sherrill has gone on record as saying Stewart is as good as any right tackle in the SEC. His backup may wind up being Avery House, although freshman Parade All-American Donovan Davis could be a factor.
Tight End - Starting at tight end should be senior Aaron Lumpkin. While Coach Sherrill seems to be more concerned about this position than any other position, Lumpkin has the physical tools and smarts to be a solid SEC tight end. Finding a backup and a second tight end for the times when MSU will run a two tight end set seems to be what is worrying Coach Sherrill the most. He definitely is going to have a lot to choose from, including former basketball player Lincoln Smith who comes in at 6-10 and 300+ plus pounds. Tight ends coach Terry Lewis liked what he saw of Smith in the spring. Redshirt freshman defensive end Stephen Arant has been moved to tight end for the start of the pre-season practice. Stephen is now up to 260 pounds. Having played wide receiver in high school, he has the hands to play tight end. His blocking will be the big question mark. Then, you have senior Tommy Ferrill available, but he weighs in the 235 to 240 range so his blocking is suspect. Redshirt junior Kyle Wiley has the size, strength and speed, but was injured last season so the coaches will have to wait to see what he does during pre-season practice to see where he fits. Redshirt freshman Blake Pettit could also be a factor due to his speed and hands, but his blocking is still something that needs to be worked on. Even freshman defensive end Deljuan Robinson has been mentioned as a factor here, but I don't see that happening.
Flanker - Although he has been injured quite a bit during his career, junior Ray Ray Bivines goes into the season as the starter. However, there is a logjam of players who could be his backup, including sophomore Tee Milons, McKinley Scott and Milas Randle. Milons has good hands and speed, but Randle showed great toughness catching the ball over the middle, so keep an eye on him.
Quarterback - York or Fant? Who will be the starter? Fant has been a starter for one and a half seasons, but due to personal reasons, did not practice or even attend the second half of spring practice. This allowed York time to really learn the new offensive system. Because of that, Coach Sherrill has said that York is now number 1 with Fant number 2. Although that is how you would expect it to be due to the circumstances during the spring, the bottom line is you have to play the guy who can do the best job on the field. I see Fant winning the starting job back.
Tailback - Who will start? Will it be junior Fred Reid, spring sensation Nick Turner or the beefed up Jerious Norwood? Or, will MSU use a rotation like they have in years past? When you have two former high school Parade All-Americans who showed signs of brilliance their freshman season, you better use them. So, I see either Norwood or Turner as the opening day starter. However, both should receive a lot of carries. Reid will be a solid backup who will also receive carries each game. Coach Sherrill even thinks freshmen Jason Jude will be used this year. While some folks might say that MSU needs to stick to one tailback, history will show you that is is very difficult for one player to remain healthy in the SEC if he is the main back. Plus, think about having a fresh stable of running backs going into the 4th quarter, especially when two of them are lightning-quick Norwood and Turner.
Fullback - Junior Darnell Jones is a big bruising fullback who will be solid if he remains healthy. Nick Signaigo, who sat out last season after transferring from Alabama, looks to be number 2 at this time. He looks like he can be a great blocker. The only question mark is his receiving skills. In the Morris Watts offense, everybody needs to be able to catch the ball, even the fullbacks.
DEFENSEDefensive End - Senior Tommy Kelly won the starting job during the spring. This is a guy who can be one of the best in the nation if he performs up to his abilities. His backup, redshirt freshman Roosevelt Tate, is a player defensive line coach John Blake believes has a lot of potential.
Defensive Tackle - Junior Ronald Fields, a 10-game starter last season, will line up next to Kelly. Coach Blake believes Ronald is another player who can be as good as he wants to be. Redshirt freshman Markell McKinley will back him up. However, Coach Sherrill has said several true freshmen will play this season, so look for Corey Clark and Devrick Hampton to also factor in.
Defensive Tackle - Senior Kamau Jackson, if he is ruled eligible by the NCAA, will be the starter after an impressive spring. Senior Lennie Day will back him up. Once again, freshmen Corey Clark and Devrick Hampton could be factors.
Defensive End - Sophomore Willie Evans, after starting out at fullback last season, won the defensive end position and will be a mainstay here for the rest of his career. Junior Robert Spivey is penciled in as his backup. Freshman Deljuan Robinson, if he can get into shape, may factor in for some playing time.
W-Linebacker - Sophomore Marvin Byrdsong, another of those six high school Parade All-Americans dotting the MSU roster, will be the starter. Byrdsong has the talent to be another in a long line of All-SEC linebackers that linebacker coach Jim Tompkins has produced during his career at MSU. Sophomore Rico Bennett is set to back him up. Keep an eye on freshman Michael Heard. He is a guy that Coach Tompkins really likes.
M-Linebacker - Senior T. J. Mawhinney, a 12-game starter last season, returns. The second-leading tackler last season for MSU, looks to be ready to earn All-SEC honors this coming season. His backup will be spring sensation Kenny Kern.
S-Linebacker - Senior Jason Clark, a 11-game starter at defensive end last season, will start at this position. Sophomore Clarence McDougal, after rehabing the past two season, showed during the spring he is ready to be a contributor on the field. Look for big things from him this season as Clark's backup.
Left Cornerback - After an injury-plagued season last year, Odell Bradley had a great spring and won the the left cornerback position. While his backup is listed as senior Demetric Wright, don't be surprised if one of three defensive back newcomers earns the backup position. Pay particular attention to Parade All-American Quinton Culberson, Jeramie Johnson and Adrian Griffin, all freshmen.
Free Safety - Sophomore Darren Williams, another former Parade All-American, is the starter and has a chance to be one of the best to ever wear the Maroon and White at this position. Junior Gabe Wallace is listed as his backup, but watch out for juco transfer Eric Fuller.
Strong Safety - Believing he is a better fit as a strong safety, the coaches moved sophomore Kevin Dockery, a 7-game starter at cornerback last season, to strong safety during the spring. While he will start out as the starter, watch out for juco Chris Swain. Chris looked very impressive during the spring. Even if he winds up remaining the backup, look for him to receive a lot of playing time.
Right Cornerback - Junior Slovakia Griffith is listed as the pre-fall starter. However, the coaches have said this position is still unsettled, so don't be surprised if one of two freshmen, Quinton Culberson or Jeramie Johnson, is the starter when Oregon comes rolling into Starkville.
SPECIALISTSPunter - Junior Jared Cook has started 18 of the 21 games he has played in. He will be the starter. Backing him up will be senior Robert Wallis, a five-time starter the past two years.
Placekicker - Senior Brent Smith will be the starter once again after converting 16-of-20 field goals last season. Redshirt freshman Keith Andrews will be his backup.
Snapper - Redshirt freshman Russell Cook looks to be the starter at this position. Junior Reggie Harris backs him up.
Holder - Junior Joe Judge looks to be the holder for the upcoming season. Sophomore Brett Morgan will back him up.
Kick Returner - Fred Reid and Jerious Norwood look to be the starters here.
Punt Returner - Nick Turner, who showed signs of brilliance as a returner last season, will start here.
More football news....
SEC media days are this week. MSU's contingent of Coach Sherrill, Justin Jenkins and T. J. Mawhinney will represent MSU Thursday.
MSU's Fan Day will be August 23rd in Humphrey Coliseum. The football team will be available for photographs and autographs.
MSU veterans and newcomers report to campus on August 3rd.
The first practice is August 4th.
Fall classes begin at MSU on August 20th.
Have a great Bulldog week!
Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. The URL for Gene's Page is http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com. You can contact him by emailing email@example.com