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Young Receiver Finally Has Time to Tune Tactics for Sophomore Year

Conventional wisdom is the game ‘slows down’ for second-year players. Jamal Couch approaches things from the other angle. After a varsity season in the system, Couch believes he is speeding up here in spring.

“Yeah, I feel like it has,” the rising-sophomore receiver said. “It feels like I have a lot more tools, and I’ve learned a lot more from playing here early.”

Earlier than expected, for sure. By all rights Couch ought be going into his first spring camp as a redshirted freshman, working his way into the receiver rotation. Nope.

He’s one of the young veterans on this 2017 roster and hasn’t even finished the full freshman year of college. “I pretty much got thrown right into the heat.”

True. The benefit is now Couch is growing into a position he can put the heat on others. Four practices into this spring camp he has certainly warmed to the veteran status.

“It’s going fine. I feel like I’m still learning as I go through it.”

That’s a key point here. Rather than approach off-season and spring as if playing ten games at X-receiver earns any right to relax, Couch is making up for lost teaching time. Fun as it is to go straight from high school graduation to lining-up on the college field without delay, Couch is kind-of-behind one curve.

As in, he didn’t have the same detailed instruction classmates Reggie Todd and Osirus Mitchell received. They worked on techniques. He studied gameplans.

“Yeah, I pretty much rolled with the flow,” Couch said.

His results weren’t huge. Ten games played with eight balls for 113 yards. Though, averaging 14 yards each reception is a hint of big-play potential. What mattered was, and is, in one aspect Couch is a step or two ahead of the young wideouts pack.

Put another way, where the redshirts are finally applying scout-team experience to the Bulldog schemes Couch is taking what worked and what failed for-real and learning.

A lot. He already sees it this spring.

“I use my hands a lot better. And I use a lot of my strength and speed.” A lot, not quite all quite yet. Coach Billy Gonzales continues to grind away the rough spots and polish the positives. “Coach G is a really great coach. He’s taught me how to utilize my body, and get open and make more plays.”

Right. The body. Not that Couch looked feeble his first fall, of course. This is a kid who played outside linebacker as well as wideout at Central High of Phenix City, Ala.

Still adding seven pounds to the 6-4 frame looks like even more muscle than the scale shows. Couch says he didn’t need coaching push to get stronger anyway. Not after learning first-hand just how vicious SEC safeties and corners can be out in the open field.

“Yeah, it shocked me a little bit when I first got here. It was pretty much easy in high school because I was bigger and faster than everyone. I expected it to catch up with me. It pretty much humbled me a little bit.”

But Couch could be a bit proud of instant activation. Now, everyone knew one of Mississippi State’s three new 2016 receivers was going to play. Make that have to play based on numbers of split ends available. The competition came down quickly to Couch and Todd, a late summer arrival but obviously gifted.

“It was just both of us pushing each other every day, seeing who could catch the most balls and make the most, best blocks,” Couch said. Then the contest settled itself as a minor injury put Todd farther behind. “I told him I had to step up for him, go on through everything for him,” Couch said.

Now Todd, healthy and the better for a redshirt fall, is making his own name in camp. For that matter his bowl camp play caught more attention than some regulars. Couch thought Todd was taking out a few frustrations on teammate-defensive backs some days.

“He’s going as hard as he can every play, doing whatever he can. He’s really fast, he used to play basketball. And they can’t hold him when he gets open on the go route.”

Couch has his share of go-long routes out of the X-side, which also happens to be where Donald Gray calls home. It’s an odd coupling of the 5-10 senior and 6-4 soph. It’s also a matchup headache for defenses. And where Gray burns coverage long, Couch can beat them high.

High-pointing, that is, a tactic he and quarterback Nick Fitzgerald practice daily. “I’m high-pointing the ball much better, not letting it come down to my hands. When Nick sees me I point up at the sky and tell him that’s the level I want him to throw it at.”

Dan Mullen has been telling all Dogs something else. Specifically, don’t go enjoy spring break too much. The coach will be proud of Couch’s own plans.

“I’ve got some training set up with my high school coach at an indoor facility. I’m going to catch a couple of balls, do some drills and be ready to come back. He stayed on us that we’ve got 12 days away from football so we have to keep our heads in the playbook, and stay in shape.”

Mississippi State returns to practicing on March 21. The schedule is a bit flexible as only ten more dates are set as of now, including scrimmages March 25 and April 1 with the spring game on April 8.

Scrimmaging will give a better idea of what the spring depth chart is, or isn’t, compared to practice. The defense in particular is in-flux under new coordination; and the offensive line has been shuffled after winter procedures that have sidelined a couple of starters.

Also, the slot receiver rotation will need adjusting after last week’s injury in drills to starter Malik Dear. No official confirmation has been given on severity or timeframe for return in 2017 or not.

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