Which to players energized by that faster finish to 2016, is still a celebration of sorts. “I know we’re ready to get to work this off-season,” said Malik Dear.
Mississippi State is indeed already back to work. While Coach Dan Mullen was focused on recruiting’s home stretch and completing his 2017 assistant staff, varsity and redshirt Bulldogs are hitting the weights, the sprints, the training room and training table. Hitting it with fresh vigor, too.
That’s what turning a struggling season into a triumphant ending can do for a mostly-underclassman club, you know.
It is impossible to over-state just what a difference regaining the Golden Egg and winning a bowl game on a desperate play has done to revive all locker room attitudes. Oh, and for those sour few State folk and critics outside Bulldog Country who can’t let go of what might have been in 2016?
Change your own attitudes. These returning Dogs have.
Take what rising junior and two-year regular receiver Dear says of, say, the St. Petersburg Bowl experience. It kept the tradition of post-season play going, for one thing.
Besides, “I hear some players say if you’re not practicing in December then something is wrong. If you’re home in December something is wrong. So we just enjoy these times we have, have fun and make the most of it.”
Beating Miami-Ohio was fun, in the end, and that’s all that really mattered. Every returning/redshirt Bulldog arrived for that first team meeting feeling better about both themselves and the program’s potential.
Dear should serve as a leading example. His true-soph season produced nine starts among his dozen games played, with 23 receptions for 264 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Now the total numbers were barely better than what Dear did as a 2015 freshman; 22 balls, 217 yards, two TDs.
Watching Dear’s deeds on the field rather than reading them off paper though showed the difference. Dear’s improvement in all areas was evident, from running sharper routes to executing better blocks and more.
Plus, when all ’16 numbers were tallied, guess who was the third-leading receiver on that squad? Right. Now with top target Fred Ross moving on, Dear’s status will only rise in 2017 planning. He got the message during bowl camp, too.
Because while many of his fellow underclassmen with starting jobs got to take campus practices easy…there was Dear treated almost like one of the kids doing drills, taking snaps, working as hard as somebody trying to win a job. Yeah, that was a little tough to take at first.
“A young guy is supposed to get a lot of reps!” Dear smiled. “But I’m a young guy too so I was getting some of those reps. But you can’t complain about developing and getting better so I was going out there and having fun and getting better.”
Dear wasn’t the lone ranger in being treated so, though. There was Keith Mixon getting comparable turns…just like in the regular season. Remember that Mixon, a signing class-mate, had the luxury of redshirting while Dear was tossed right into the 2015 fire.
Mixon finished right behind Dear on the stat sheet with his 19 catches, 228 yards, and two scores. Both of course got to rush the ball frequently too, which keeps fans asking if maybe one or both ought be moved into the backfield?
No, Dear laughed, he didn’t lobby during bowl camp. “No, not yet! I’m just following the plan!” Having the multi-talented twosome in the slot spot has also been a good plan. Dear can’t say if there are spring plans to get both he and Mixon on-field together more often…but it is another fun idea.
“Right now It’s me and Keith, going out there and having each other’s back. But the way we teach our offense everybody needs to know every position. So anybody can get in our spot!” The real key is with the development of Nick Fitzgerald as a passing quarterback to balance out a real running game, versatile Dogs like Dear and Mixon should thrive.
“It’s just very fun really for both us,” Dear said. “To get the ball in open space, get to the ball into the playmakers’ hands, I guess that’s what Coach tries to do. So we just try to make the most of it.”
Based on how this offense finished one season, and the fresh energy going into off-season, the ‘most’ ge mentioned should be most exciting. All Dear needed to see really was how the other kids competed in bowl camp to know, this will be a productive spring semester in store starting Thursday evening.
“Then we get serious and do what we’re going to do.”
The complete spring practicing and scrimmage schedule will be announced this week.