Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page

Senior Receiver Setting Pace Again but Likes Giving Youngsters Their Snaps Too

How serious is Fred Ross about winning? This. Another big game, another touchdown, more steps up the career records lists, yet this Bulldog left Baton Rouge blaming himself for a loss.

All because of one third-quarter ball Ross did not come down with. “I should have caught it,” he said. “I catch that, we win the game, simple as that.”

It’s a noble notion. And it’s not true. No single Mississippi State player was at fault, least of all a wide receiver who made more than his share of big plays. But this is why Ross is a 2016 team captain and tone-setter.

And, why statistics aren’t success to Ross.

“I feel some plays I left out on the field and moving forward I’ve got to make those plays and we’ll be fine.”

Safe to say the senior wideout will be making more plays. He’s made plenty already through three games, with a team-topping 17 catches for 162 yards and touchdowns against both South Carolina and Louisiana State. Yes, that’s worth noting: when in SEC action, Bulldog quarterbacks look for #8.

SEC and non-conference defenses certainly know to track Ross closely. He came into 2016 a marked Dog after smashing the single-season record with 88 catches last fall. He’s the SEC’s active leader in career catches right now, in fact.

Back to the Mississippi State record book, Ross currently stands fourth in career catches, tied for seventh in yardage, and tied eighth for touchdown receptions at 12. So, he’s a sure-thing to rewrite the records before graduating to the NFL, right?

Maybe. Maybe not. But it won’t be defensive attention limiting Ross’ opportunities. He has competition from his own receiver rotation-mates. For one thing junior Donald Gray has ten catches and more yards, 179, through three games.

Then there is the growing list of other receivers, split or slot, taking turns each weekend. Ross does not object at all to giving them snaps, even whole series.

He likes it this way.

“It’s big-time. Because I know I’m not going to be able to play 100 snaps a game. It’s not possible to go hard and play every snap like that. So having those guys ready and them being fresh and excited guys bringing some explosiveness to the game helps.”

There’s another potential source of pop to the passing game. He didn’t have a big night at LSU but tight end Jordan Thomas added two short catches to his SEC tally. Ross is no small guy himself, but looking over at the 6-6, 290-pound Thomas can’t help but impress.

“He’s a beast, he’s been doing good,” said Ross. Doing good things for the whole offense, he means, drawing attention to tight end again.

“It’s big-time, it opens it up for everybody. Not just me, it opens it up for the outside receivers and the run game having a guy that big that runs like a deer.”

Thing is, State’s run game hasn’t exactly opened-up. Or not the running backs per se. Nick Fitzgerald and Damian Williams have been forced to set that pace. Until and if a real ground game develops, the quarterback(s) will have to mix the run threat with passing plays.

Coach Dan Mullen maintains Fitzgerald is top Dog, though Williams remains in the mix especially with his knack for hurry-up situations. “He came in and gave us a spark,” said Ross of Williams directing two fourth-quarter touchdown drives at LSU.

Still the taller, faster, stronger-armed Fitzgerald is rightly regarded as best for the overall offense and the long-term outlook as well. Besides, Ross sees a sophomore growing up on the job.

“Nick always has played with that confidence. I don’t think he changed from week-one to week-two. He’s been practicing hard and doing a good job.” And anyway, Ross is comfortable letting the coach make these choices.

“My job is just to catch the ball, no matter how it comes or who’s throwing it.”

Speaking of quarterbacks…any ’16 State triggerman still plays in the long shadow of Dak Prescott. Because the Bulldogs have practiced the past two Sundays, Ross has not been able to watch his former partner in throw-and-catch at his NFL job.

But he’s not a bit surprised to see Prescott already a winner at the NFL level. Ross also stays as much in-touch as events allow for each. This time next year, of course, he expects to be comparing professional notes when Ross makes his own roster-spot in the League.

“It’s a blessing saying I could. But I have a couple more games left in college I want to have some good games and finish strong.”

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