"We're trying to create the chemistry, get everything going and have a new, exciting year where we show the fans what we've been working on," summarizes McRae.
Those fans are certainly eager to see McRae, the transfer from Morehead State who spent 2006-07 in a redshirt role. That did not prevent the sophomore earning notice from teammates for how he practiced with the varsity or operated on the scout team. Then this past spring McRae wasted no time vaulting to the top of the depth chart at ‘X' (the weak-side) receiver, allowing former #1 Jamayel Smith to move over to strong-side wide receiver with Tony Burks. When the Bulldogs line up on August 1 for pre-season McRae will be the first ‘X' running a route. Not bad for a guy yet to see the field in a real D-IA football game.
"I'm ready to show people what I can do," McRae says. "I'm ready just to ball-up, I'm hoping for the best. I have to prove them all right."
Anyone watching spring work is convinced McRae is the right choice to start somewhere in this system. He showed the hands, the size, and the general talent to both go long or slice through middle coverage. Not that McRae believes he is a finished product by any means. Take his off-season priority in these afternoon sessions.
"The main thing I try to work on is quick feet, because I know it's hard for cornerbacks to guard receivers with fast feet. That's what I try to work on the most, my speed and getting on my cuts quick."
Understand, when quarterbacks and receivers get together these summer afternoons they are not supervised nor taped, per NCAA off-season regulations. The extent of coaching involvement is to hand them a list of things that it might be helpful to work on; from there, it's up to players to coach themselves. Fortunately this maturing bunch of Bulldogs is increasingly capable of doing so, even to the point of maybe hurting some feelings at times.
"Yeah, while we're going we critique each other," says McRae. "Even if it makes you mad you've got to let them know what they did wrong, so we develop a bond that we can tell each other and correct things."
Speaking of bonds, Mississippi State's pass-catchers have certainly been developing a stronger link with the pass-thrower. Not only is Mike Henig fully-healed from two breaks of the left collarbone last fall, but the free-spirited slinger has also managed to avoid the sort of off-field incidents such as that absurd shattered toe of last summer. Having the starting quarterback around full-speed and full-time is a 2007-plus, McRae says.
"Mike's throwing the ball great lately. He's bigger, he's stronger, he probably got a little faster! But Mike's looking good so far. He's got a little touch now, he puts a lot of air under the ball and stuff." Yes, it's true: Henig is increasingly able to take a few m.p.h. off his throws and lob the ball right into a receiver's gloves on the shorter patterns. Make no mistake, though, the fastball is always available.
"He can still burn it, though," McRae says. "He should be number-one in the SEC in quarterbacks, probably the strongest arm." At the same time Henig has his own competition to deal with come fall camp from Josh Riddell, the junior transfer who got immersed in the offense in spring. "Josh puts a great touch on the ball, and he's got a little pop on him too. He's going to be good."
Mississippi State definitely intends to put a good passing game on the field this fall. A healthy Henig, a much deeper and more skilled group of receivers, and an overall better awareness of the complete playbook raise the opportunities for—and expectations of—this 2007 offense. McRae notes that there are more tools to work with and targets to throw to, or there should be if everyone gets the work done this pre-season.
"We're just trying to work to get the chemistry and stuff, teach guys like Co-Eric Riley the plays. And Tony and Aubrey are still teaching me because I haven't learned all the offense really. We're all getting it and working hard." Working within the constraints of summer rules, that is, un-coached and un-defended for that matter. McRae still expects the receivers to come out on top in August when there's a Bulldog cornerback in their facemasks.
"We're going to abuse them, no mercy!" he laughs. "We're going all-out!" More seriously, though, McRae and Mississippi State's catching corps truly are focused on the job at hand. Even if it means spending July afternoons working on plays instead of playing at work. Or even if it means no one wideout piles up huge stats in the season so State can utilize the talents of the entire group in a broader gameplan.
"We're all comfortable with that. We just want to win, we're trying to get a SEC Championships. If that means sacrificing catches and touchdowns we're willing, we just want to win."