Mostly, because what was seen of the 11-man lineups or the order of snaps taken in unit drills is not exactly definitive. Not this year at Mississippi State, more than usual.
For the lead example, as Coach Dan Mullen explained in the post-practice Q&A posted earlier, quarterbacks weren’t ordered by perceived playing status or experience. He used the spring grade point averages to set the rotation, at least initially. Junior Damian Williams, now back on active status after redshirting as a true junior, took the very first snap and with the #1 offense in pre-stretching drills.
But after stretching, in hurry-up offense, the order changed. Nick Fitzgerald moved up to #1, redshirt Nick Tiano to the second offense, and Williams ran the third group. Soph Elijah Staley did little on first day with a hamstring problem, so the fourth quarterback was walk-on Nate Gieb.
*A tougher spot to judge is the defensive line. With a new coordinator Peter Sirmon, and a new position coach come from nearly two decades in the NFL, speculation has been the Bulldogs are shifting to a more pro-schemed alignment. That being, an odd-front in general and 3-4 in particular.
Wednesday, yes, that was seen. But so was the same four-front of the past eight years as the Bulldog base, more so in drills than in 11-on-11. That was likely because full-team situations were entirely for passing plays.
And the 3-4 sets seen were something of a hybrid. Yes, there were nose guards and flanking ends. But there was also a small defensive end or a big linebacker playing several steps beyond the line as a rusher. This scheme has to be behind a couple of interesting position changes, or maybe adjustments is the better word, with 2015 end Will Coleman and redshirt tackle Anfernee Mullens working with the linebacker group.
For our depth chart we’ll use the four-front which is likely to be seen in first-down and likely run-play settings. But, it does add interest to that side of the ball this camp beyond just having new coaches.
*Staley should be able to practice by the time camp resumes March 22. But one notable Dog won’t be. WR Fred Ross, an all-conference receiver and the team’s top returning offensive player, had a groin procedure performed Wednesday. Mullen said Ross could have gone through camp as usual but it was collectively decided he could have the work done in March and be ready for summer workouts.
The only Bulldogs limited by health on day-one were S Deontay Evans and LB Dezmond Harris. They began the day in the rehab pit but joined their units soon. LB J.T. Gray also did some bike-riding in the early minutes but was practicing with the first unit the rest of the time.
*When the first offense got over the ball for the first snap, after quarterback attention immediately went to the line of scrimmage. Immediately it was noticed that A) veteran right tackle Justin Senior is now at left tackle; and B) redshirt tackle Martinas Rankin was running #1 at right tackle instead. He was ahead, too, of 2015 regular and two-game starter Elgton Jenkins. Though anyone who knows MSU’s practices on the front line understand this is a three-Dog rotation, and that Jenkins is not a #2 in anyone’s book.
*The other position switch of interest was at receiver. After two seasons working in the slot, WR Gabe Myles as at split end. This is doubly-interesting with #1 Ross out. But, it reflects two facts.
First, Myles is expected to play a much bigger part in his third varsity season as a wide receiver who can work in traffic or tightrope a sideline. Second…it promotes WR Malik Dear to more playing opportunity as (for now) the top slot man. And redshirt Keith Mixon is no slouch himself as the interior receiver, meaning there’s more than enough depth to shuffle some guys outside.
*For what it’s worth, here is the observed depth chart for the base offense and defense. Let the arguing begin!
LEFT TACKLE: Justin Senior, Jocquell Johnson, Lawrence Brown
LEFT GUARD: Deion Calhoun, Ronald Cochran, Rodney Lacy
CENTER: Jamaal Clayborn, Harrison Moon, Nick Proby
RIGHT GUARD: Devon Desper, Darryl Williams, Michael Story
RIGHT TACKLE: Martinas Rankin, Elgton Jenkins, Evans Wilkerson
WIDE RECEIVER: Donald Gray, Gabe Myles, #16 walk-on
WIDE RECEIVER: Fred Brown, Jesse Jackson, Jonnas Spivey
SLOT RECEIVER(S): Malik Dear, Keith Mixon, Deddrick Thomas, Christian Roberson, *Fred Ross
TIGHT END: Justin Johnson, Farrod Green, Dontae Jones, Aaron Hamaker
RUNNING BACK: Brandon Holloway, Ashton Shumpert, Aeris Williams, Nick Gibson, Dontavian Lee, Alex Murphy
QUARTERBACK: Nick Fitzgerald, Nick Tiano, Damian Williams, Nate Gieb, *Elijah Staley
DEFENSIVE END: Torrey Dale, Grant Harris, Tre Brown,
DEFENSIVE TACKLE: Nelson Adams, Braxton Hoyette, Kendell Jones
DEFENSIVE TACKLE: Nick James, Jonathan Calvin, Fletcher Adams
DEFENSIVE END: A.J. Jefferson, Cory Thomas, #93
MIDDLE LINEBACKER: Richie Brown, Gerri Green, Kelan Chairs
OUTSIDE LINEBACKER: J.T. Gray, Trevor Jung, DeAndre Ward, Josiah Phillips
OUTSIDE LINEBACKER: Leo Lewis, Tim Washington
RUSH LINEBACKER: Will Coleman, Anfernee Mullins, Allen Perkins
SAFETY: Kivon Coman, Mark McLaurin, Deontay Evans, C.J. Morgan
SAFETY: Brandon Bryant, Jamal Peters, Zak Neary, Hayes Walker
CORNERBACK: Tolando Cleveland, Jamoral Graham, Maurice Smitherman, #26 walk-on
CORNERBACK: Cedric Jiles, Lashard Durr, Chris Stamps, Chris Rayford