Steve Robertson -

Bulldog Mini-Features as Preseason Winds Down Ahead of Weekend Break

THE JOKER: Offensive line play is a deadly-serious business. So to do it well requires a healthy sense of humor. At least Devon Desper thinks so.

And he has taken it upon himself to be the class clown, of sorts. “I’m more of a joker, not like a cheerleader,” the senior guard said. “I definitely don’t do that.”

So, Desper is more ha-ha than rah-rah. Though they can serve the same purpose, he figures. “You could ask a lot of the guys, I keep a lot of them going.

“I try to be funny, I try to mess with everybody and keep everybody’s energy up. Because I know half the times I come in here yeah, you’re tired, you don’t feel like doing anything. But you have to try. Even if I’m not going myself maybe they’ll help me out later in practice. That’s just how it works.”

Fortunately Desper knows when to clown around, and when to crack the whip. Lack of effort is the trigger.

“If someone is not going, that makes me mad. I’m not going to sit there and say you’ve got to go. You should already go.”

Otherwise, Desper likes keeping things light in what to all appearances is a no-fun-allowed position. Seriously, when did you last see an offensive lineman smiling in the huddle? Or during blocking drills? Still, if a comic touch is needed, here’s Desper.

“I mess with a lot of people, that’s what I do.”

Alright then. If Desper is the joker…who is Mr. Serious in the meeting room? We all can guess the answer.

“Senior,” Desper said. “It’s definitely Senior, he’s about as dry as it comes.” Maybe it’s being a native Canadian and a different sense of humor or something. But right tackle Justin Senior is the dry guy of the group. Yet, Desper lines up directly beside him.

“It is an odd couple. Senior is an odd person! But he’s funny too in his own way I guess.”


D-BACK SHUFFLE: Though officially unconfirmed, it’s known that Mississippi State is down a couple of veteran cornerbacks going into the season after practice and scrimmage injuries to seniors.

There are more cornerbacks ready to move up the depth chart, like junior Jamoral Graham, transfer Lashard Durr, soph Chris Rayford. It’s unlikely, but in a huge pinch a true freshman like Cam Dantzler could be called upon.

Fortunately there is an alternative. Though he has spent preseason at safety, redshirt Maurice Smitherman spent all spring at cornerback. He even expected to return to corner after the first scrimmage, though coaches kept him with the safeties for another week. Now, it might be necessary to bring Smitherman back outside.

He even thinks the time playing middle-field will serve him well covering split ends again. “Basically knowing routes, knowing what he offense is trying to do. At corner I just have to know what you are going to do. It’s studying the game even more.”

This, added Smitherman, expanded his awareness of…everything. Especially because he practiced both field and boundary safety; just as he has worked both of those corner assignments. Now Smitherman figures he can, say, read run plays better from the outside spot and know when to support…or when to stay on his man.

“Just better instincts,” he said. Playing fast.”


BOMBS AWAY: They were true, all reports of Elijah Staley’s sheer arm strength. The guy could heave a football to remarkable ranges. So much so that, as reported here before, when unable to run during spring camp he would literally throw punts for return men to practice. You had to see it to believe it.

Staley of course has departed for junior college football. He’ll attend Tyler CC in Texas, play a season and still have two more seasons at another senior college. That’s what he would have had anyway with a straight-across transfer.

But just because Staley has moved on, this doesn’t mean the remaining Bulldog quarterbacks lack for distance on throws. Or that wide receivers have shortened their routes. Not according to Donald Gray. In fact he wishes Nick Fitzgerald, Damian Williams, and Nick Tiano would lose a little length sometimes. But as for whose passes are hardest to run down?

“Hoooo, right now I’d say all of them!” Gray said. “Towards the end of practice when you’re tired, your legs lock up and it seems like Aaron Rodgers or somebody out there! I mean them boys can throw that ball! They throw I’d say 300 balls a day and I just don’t understand how they still have the arm-power towards the end of practice, towards the end in camp they’re still able to maintain some of those throws.”

Gray isn’t exaggerating about the number of passes. Sometimes requested quarterbacks for post-practice interviews show up with icepacks strapped to their right shoulders.


SHINE AND BITE: The single stand-out feature of coordinator Peter Sirmon’s overall defensive scheme is the ‘viper’ position. As fans learned during spring scrimmages, it is a hybrid of a defensive end and outside linebacker. And indeed, the bodies plugged-into viper have been just that, lanky Dogs with some size and reach who might be too small for defensive end in a straight 4-3; or not as all-field mobile in coverage as regular strong-side linebacker.

Fortunately, Mississippi State already had several Dogs who seemed designed to be vipers; Jonathan Calvin, Gerri Green, Trevor Jung, Anfernee Mullins, and more. All should be equally capable of playing close to the tackles in run sets or flanking out a bit for better blitzing angles.

Now, here’s a twist. The strong-side linebacker is now called a ‘star’. And while nobody will confuse 197-pound J.T. Gray with 272-pound Calvin…

“Star and viper fit a lot alike,” middle linebacker Richie Brown said. Alright, then. Explain how such dissimilar sized Dogs play comparable roles? Or better what are the differences? “One’s in the boundary, one’s to the field most of the time,” Brown said.

That confirms why in early-camp drills the vipers and stars would be in one set of drills; while the middle and weak-side linebackers were in their own group. For that matter, Brown said, the mike and will positions are almost the same roles, too, as inside linebackers.

“I think the only difference would be the spacing as well. Most of the time the will is to the weak side of the field and the mike to the strong side. And the mike is usually a little more in the middle. But yeah, they’re very similar. A lot of defenses they go hand-in-hand, what one side is doing you can learn from the other side. So you have to pay attention to all of them.”

So fans, memorize this. And come game-day impress everyone around you with technical descriptions of what those four Dogs are doing.

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