(Malik Dear) Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page

Bulldog Receiver Expects to Expand his Sophomore Season Skills

Conventional football wisdom claims early-enrollment prepares a player to contribute immediately. True, but there’s a greater long-term benefit. Ask Malik Dear.

Because one spring in the Mississippi State system made the second infinitely more productive for this talented young receiver. “Last spring came at me kind of fast. I mean, when I got here I was like whoaaaa! It just blew me out of the way.

“Now I feel I was very prepared for it, I came out and worked hard. I knew what to expect when I came out this spring.”

After this second spring, not to mention that rookie fall on the varsity field, expectations are expanding for Dear. He will begin preseason camp a solid second in the slot receiver rotation, and likely first choice when Mississippi State’s scheme calls for four true wideouts on the field.

For now, Dear and Dogs are biding their summer time with unsupervised throw-and-catch drills. Oh, and a whole lot of very-supervised strength training, too. An update on the summer strength program is upcoming pending an interview with Coach Nick Savage.

Meanwhile Dear runs his routes and catches his passes. He also throws the ball back a bit, just as he did a few spring days with gadget receiver-passing plays. It’s not a regular deal, Dear insists.

“Not really. I just throw the ball around a lot. I guess I get better like that!”

There is clearly room for true sophomore Dear to get better in all sorts of ways. This doesn’t downplay what was seen as a true freshman. Dear was activated ASAP and played in 11 games, coming away with 22 catches worth 217 yards and a couple of touchdowns.

Dear also got some chances to take more direct handoffs, routing through the backfield. In 11 such chances he netted 110 yards…though nearly half of it came on one great big carry. Against Texas A&M he squirted 52 yards for a touchdown tote which had fans asking if this is a SEC-caliber running back, too.

While hardly a ‘final’ decision, Dear downplays speculation of a position switch based on spring ball. “I didn’t work too much at running back,” he said. As in, almost none. Partly because there were six full-time Bulldog backs to split snaps already.

“I think my boy Nick Gibson did a really good job. D-Lee, Train, all of those boys ran the ball hard. They work hard at practice. They go above and beyond and they try to be great.”

Also partly because Dear is still developing as a slot receiver. Though he agrees that when it’s a short pass coming his way, “I might as well!” be a running back taking a long overhand handoff. Fact is, getting Dear the ball already out in broken-field can be the faster track to success.

Besides, “If the ball is in my hands I just like it,” said Dear, who will lobby for a kick return role this fall as well.

Before we pile every imaginable duty on the second-year Dog, let’s do remember that Dear remains a work in progress. The hardest work is the most necessary: what he does without the ball. That, he said, was his spring priority.

“I think I got a lot better at my route running and my blocking. I came in not such of a great route-runner, and my blocking was up and down. I think I got a lot better at that.”

Dear and slot receiver-mates had more chances to improve this spring with starter Fred Ross sidelined. Dear would have enjoyed having the top Dog in the rotation, of course…but those extra spring snaps sure were welcome.

“I needed that. All of us needed a little bit more experience, a little bit of motivation to push ourselves. So I think that was a help, a little bit.” Now come August 1, Ross resumes as #1 with Dear and redshirt Keith Mixon behind.

“I think it was very fun,” said Dear of the spring camp. “My second year in the program, I think I was a guy that just came out and had a lot of fun. And in a competitive way.”

Summer work isn’t the same sort of competition of course. For a couple more weeks Dear is only competing with himself, preparing best he can for August camp. So this afternoon he’ll be back on the field running routes and catching balls.

Oh, and throwing passes himself? Forget running back, is there any chance we have a fifth quarterback in the corps?

“Naaah! But if that’s what it takes to win, then do what you’ve gotta do!”

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