Gene Swindoll -

Rankin Working as First Right Tackle; Three-Man Defensive Line Developing; More Ground Game Emphasis?

Mississippi State re-started spring football practices Tuesday, almost two weeks after having a single day’s work back on March 9. Coach Dan Mullen has two more sessions this week, with a 3:40 practice Thursday and 2:30 Friday before the Easter break.

LINE-ING UP: When camp opened two weeks ago, it was immediately noticed—though apparently only reported here—that a switch had been made on the offensive line. After two starting seasons as right tackle, Justin Senior was working at left tackle. He was still there for the second practice, backed by Jocquell Johnson.

Taking over as #1 right tackle wasn’t veteran Elgton Jenkins, who started three games due to injuries last season. It was and still is now redshirted juco Martinas Rankin, the high-profile spring 2015 signee who did not play as a transfer.

This of course is far from a final assignment for everyone, as State seeks to develop three sure tackles to rotate as needed. The difference this spring is now the focus is fitting which tackle for his best side; and now finding a fourth, something two-spring juco Johnson may be ready to fulfill after frequent moves around the second team.

The three-deep on the offensive line was unchanged from day-one.


QUARTERBACK ROTATIONS: Mullen was proud on day-one to announce the quarterback order is being set by grade averages. Which does add some intrigue to the competition this spring, naturally.

The eye-test, now, provides some degree of status check. When the Bulldogs lined up for full-team periods, 11-on-11, it was Nick Fitzgerald taking the first turn with the first team. After the second and third units had their scripted series, the #1s returned with Damian Williams.

That meant redshirt Nick Tiano and soph Elijah Staley taking the second and third units by-turn. Staley missed much of the work on the first practice with a hamstring, but Tuesday was ready to go. And throw, as he was really sharp in pass-skel (the 7-on-7 period) passing. Though one time he pushed his luck by throwing for WR Jesse Jackson in traffic, and was lucky LB J.T. Gray only knocked the ball away without picking it.

Williams on the whole seemed more consistent in the 7-on-7 play. Once into 11-on-11 play though, Fitzgerald raised his game a bit better than the others. With a corner-blitz coming off his left side (something the defense practiced a good bit) Fitzgerald waited long enough for TE Justin Johnson to float into the vacated zone for a lob and catch. A period later the defense tried blitzing again and Fitzgerald found WR Gabe Myles open.

In particular Staley struggled during full-team play with the middle-range throws. Staley also ‘Newtoned’ one running play. When the handoff was fumbled, he watched the ball roll where LB Will Coleman could fall on it. He wasn’t the only quarterback miss-handling an exchange though as Fitzgerald and Alec Murphy lost the handle and LB J.T. Gray dove on it.

Tiano has no lack of arm strength on the short and middle patterns. A receiver found this out the hard way. #16, not listed on the roster yet, turned around too late on a sideline route…and had Tiano’s throw smack right into his facemask.

However late in the day Tiano made the mistake when rushed to try, going backwards, throwing down the middle. #3 MLB Kelan Chairs made the interception.


GOING LONG: Moving Gabe Myles from slot to wide receiver looks like a winner. He’s noted more for burst off the line than top-gear speed, but on one deep pattern (Williams throwing) Myles muscled between a pair of defenders for a big-time catch. And kept his balance to run in for the touchdown.

*Senior slot WR Fred Ross is out for spring after surgery prior to the break, to address a nagging groin issue. He came out to Tuesday’s practice on crutches.


MORE GROUND GAMING? As to be expected seniors Brandon Holloway and Ashton Shumpert remain even as top backs; with sophs Aeris Williams and Dontavian Lee the second group. And yes, in one period these were really paired.

That was in a split-back set for drills, and in them Holloway and Williams got the handoff while Shumpert and Lee played what to old eyes surely looked like a fullback role. Or at least, a blocking back. Either way it was an efficient pairing each time against the dummy obstacles. This set wasn’t seen in 11-on-11 work where single backs were again the norm with four receivers…but word is Mullen really wants to bring back power running to the 2016 playbook. This would appear a productive way to pound the ground again, even if it means giving up a receiver.

Related to this, there were several full-team plays where the quarterbacks ran into the middle without looking to throw. Another hint of a shift in offensive emphasis with the new quarterbacks in charge?

Lee, by the way, wears 28 now instead of 33.


MIX AND MATCH: For the 11-man period, the defenses were mixed. The #1 line, three guys, worked with the second unit of linebackers and secondary; then the #2 line worked with the first unit behind them.

It was interesting that for the first period of defensive line drills Will Coleman, Anfernee Mullins, and walk-on Allen Perkins were with that group and Coach Brian Baker. They soon left though and joined the linebackers.

Former d-end Coleman has taken the lead as the ‘viper’ linebacker, with redshirt linebacker Trevor Jung next and former redshirt end Mullins next.


Tuesday’s utterly-unofficial depth chart:

RIGHT TACKLE: Martinas Rankin, Elgton Jenkins, Evans Wilkerson

RIGHT GUARD: Devon Desper, Darryl Williams, Michael Story

CENTER: Jamaal Clayborn, Harrison Moon, Brett Armour

LEFT GUARD: Deion Calhoun, Ronald Cochran, Rodney Lacy

LEFT TACKLE: Justin Senior, Jocquell Johnson, Lawrence Brown

WIDE RECEIVER: Fred Brown, Jesse Jackson, #16

SLOT RECEIVER: Malik Dear, Deddrick Thomas, Keith Mixon,

TIGHT END: Justin Johnson, Farrod Green, Dontea Jones, Christian Roberson

WIDE RECEIVER: Donald Gray, Gabe Myles, Jonnas Spivey

QUARTERBACK: Nick Fitzgerald, Damian Williams, Elijah Staley, Nick Tiano

RUNNING BACK: Brandon Holloway, Ashton Shumpert, Aeris Williams, Dontavian Lee, Alec Murphy, Nick Gibson

TACKLE: A.J. Jefferson, Jonathan Calvin, Grant Harris, Kendell Jones

NOSE TACKLE: Nick James, Nelson Adams, Tre Brown

TACKLE: Torrey Dale, Cory Thomas, Braxton Hoyette, Fletcher Adams

OUTSIDE LINEBACKER: J.T. Gray, DeAndre Ward, Allen Perkins

MIDDLE LINEBACKER: Richie Brown, Gerri Green, Kelan Chairs

OUTSIDE LINEBACKER: Leo Lewis, Tim Washington, Josiah Phillips

VIPER: Will Coleman, Trevor Jung, Anfernee Mullins

SAFETY: Brandon Bryant, Jamal Peters, Deontay Evans, C.J. Morgan

SAFETY: Kivon Coman, Mark McLaurin, Zac Neary, Hayes Walker

CORNERBACK: Tolando Cleveland, Jamoral Graham, Maurice Smitherman, Brandon Davis

CORNERBACK: Cedric Jiles, Lashard Durr, Chris Stamps, Chris Rayford

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