Post-Spring Lineups Show Few Surprises

The video has been reviewed, the coordinators and assistant coaches have submitted their suggestions, and he head Dog has assembled his choices. Now Bulldog players have a better idea of just how they stack up with peers-by-positions, based on the post-spring depth chart published today.

Coach Dan Mullen signed-off on a formal two—or in a few cases three—deep lineup for the 2009 Mississippi State squad based on their spring practice performances. Provided by media relations director Joe Galbraith, it was also to be published on the State sports website today. While hardly a definitive lineup for opening game, this depth chart does provide a look at where Bulldogs stand going into the summer season.

And a real season it is for the varsity as they will return on May 31 for the first summer semester. Mullen told Dawgs' Bite this week that he hopes to have a couple of February-signed freshmen enrolled for the June semester as well, though their being admitted also hinges on when their high schools officially graduate. The rest of the eligible newcomers are to report in July pending NCAA clearances. None of those of course are on this summer depth chart.

Those who are, in most cases match up close with the lineups reported here daily during spring camp. The exceptions, almost all on the respective lines of scrimmage, are interesting in that they affirm Mullen's spring comment about having as many linemen as possible able to play with "either hand down." That is, prepared to play both left or right of the football. Such is certainly the case at offensive guard(s). For the first three weeks former starting right tackle Quentin Saulsberry was the #1 right guard, his more natural position; with redshirted freshman Tobias Smith at left.

Then for the final four practice days including the spring game they flipped sides. And this is how they will start August camp, with Smith now at right guard and Saulsberry left. Also, veteran right guard Craig Jenkins is now the backup left guard and two-game starting tackle Mark Melichar the second right guard. The other three slots on the line did not change sides or in two-deeps all camp save for late classes or minor injuries. Perhaps the best part is that no lineman came out of spring hobbled for summer.

Such wasn't the case at running back, where by week-two only senior Anthony Dixon was 100%. Not surprisingly he is still first choice to tote the ball, or catch it, or as shown later in camp even throw it. Classmate Christian Ducre was held out of most contact to protect a bum right shoulder and is #2. Interestingly, though, Mullen is listing Arnil Stallworth third halfback despite tearing a knee ligament after one week of work. He not only missed the rest of camp but isn't projected to practice full-speed until mid-August at the earliest. Before the injury Stallworth actually looked most at-ease in the new offense both running and catching.

Third-fall soph Robert Elliot isn't on the official chart but would be #4 for summer. He practiced as much as allowed on a still-healing right knee where two ligaments were torn in October. Elliot is supposed to be full-speed by July now, though he was quick enough in drills to work with both back and receivers daily.

The official chart lists no fullbacks, though Mullen told Dawgs' Bite that walk-ons Patrick Hanrahan and Sylvester Hemphill will be playing those positions come fall after good spring efforts. What this chart does list is a new-for-MSU ‘H' back/receiver position. The first week of camp Terrance Davis and Delmon Robinson did indeed practice the hybrid job as running backs, then the last three weeks it was all-receiving. Tight ends also got plenty of work in the mixed role with Kendrick Cook the best combination of receiver and blocker as often noted. That shouldn't take away from a really good spring for veteran Brandon Henderson who made strides as a receiver, and transfer Thomas Webb who is a natural in multiple-receiver sets coming out of a slot or off the line.

As for ‘true' wideouts, Mullen's faith in Brandon McRae is obvious as despite being held out of contact to protect the leg snapped in the Egg Bowl the senior looked fine running from a split-out position. He gets listed ahead of the impressive—when healthy—junior college transfer Leon Berry, who is also the top choice for both return jobs. Davis and Robinson rotated in split or slot jobs too, as did spring game start O'Neal Wilder. If there was any surprise here, it was that after getting the first turn at his spot for over three weeks Tay Bowser fell to third at the ‘Z' spot in the post-spring evaluation; while after some rough weeks Charles Bailey worked up to second.

That left/right shuffle was more notable on the defensive front, with the last-week switch of transfer tackle Pernell McPhee from left to right; and an almost daily flipping of right and left ends that made practice updates challenging. The actual top two ends wasn't a big surprise though. Before an elbow injury Brandon Cooper was impressive and he was able to come back and claim the top spot--for now at right end--before camp ended. It wasn't easy with young talents like Trevor Stigers and Devin Jones (not listed by the coach) in the mix. The four-sack day Sean Ferguson had at the spring game was just the highlight of a really good spring, reminding why he started a couple of games last fall at left end. Not that Nick Bell made it easy to hold the job as many days he took the first turn there. August will be interesting in seeing, or as much as Mullen allows, what sides these ends line up at.

Ditto the tackles. What stands out in this is that only two are listed at either spot. Not the top two, McPhee and Kyle Love, though Charles Burns did get at least as many first-turns at left tackle as did the Love Boat. But this is a truly deep chart for State in '09 since it does not show such backup as LaMarcus Williams, Josh Jackson, and Reggie Odom. An encouraging spring story was the return to first eligibility of Rodney Prince, then his work in winning a place in the two-deep behind McPhee.

The official chart does not show State's ‘special' defenses of course, as the three-man front often used in drills was as much to test the offensive line in pass protection as to prepare for real games. But it has to be helpful for the defensive staff to know guys like Jones, McPhee, and others got turns as a ‘nose tackle' in spring in case such sets are needed for real someday.

The big news in the other seven slots is…the almost complete lack of spring news. All three linebacker jobs, both safeties and each cornerback, remained unchanged over four weeks with two exceptions. One, at middle linebacker where Bo Walters hurt a leg and for a week was supplanted by Jamie Jones. Just for a week, that is. And after being bumped down to second team for a day, Damein Anderson responded by regaining his first job at left corner the rest of camp. While it was often hard to tell based on how they lined up, now it is confirmed that Zach Smith is indeed still a free safety as last year when he was a backup; and Charles Mitchell the strong safety. Also, though Wade Bonner is listed behind Smith, he for all intents is the backup at both spots as well as the first ‘nickel' safety in special sets.

As for special teams, transfers Sean Brauchle and Heath Hutchins did what mid-year junior transfers are supposed to: they won their respective jobs at placekicker and punter. However after he did almost all the placekick snapping in camp, tackle Addison Lawrence isn't listed there now with veteran Aaron Feld still #1. It would have been a story line, and ultimately might be anyway, to have one Lawrence hiking to another as younger brother Cameron Lawrence is already the first holder. C.Lawrence practiced at quarterback, wideout, and finally safety which is probably his ultimate destination.

OFFICIAL POST-SPRING DEPTH CHART

OFFENSE:

X Receiver – Brandon McRae, Leon Berry

H Back – Terrance Davis OR Delmon Robinson

OLT -- Derek Sherrod, Chris Spencer

OLG – Quentin Saulsberry, Craig Jenkins

OC – J. C. Brignone, D.J. Looney

ORG – Tobias Smith, Mark Melichar

ORT – Addison Lawrence, Phillip Freeman

Y (Tight End) – Kendrick Cook, Brandon Henderson OR Thomas Webb

Z -- O'Neal Wilder, Charles Bailey, Tay Bowser

RB – Anthony Dixon, Christian Ducre, Arnil Stallworth

QB – Tyson Lee, Chris Relf

DEFENSE:

DLE – Sean Ferguson, Nick Bell

DLT – Kyle Love, Charles Burns

DRT – Pernell McPhee, Rodney Prince

DRE – Brandon Cooper, Trevor Stigers

MLB – Jamar Chaney, Bo Walters, Jamie Jones

SLB – K.J. Wright, Michael Hunt

WLB – Chris White, Terrell Johnson OR Karlin Brown

RCB – Marcus Washington, Corey Broomfield

LCB – Damein Anderson, Louis Watson

SS – Charles Mitchell, Emmnauel Gatling

FS – Zach Smith, Wade Bonner

P – Heath Hutchins, Baker Swedenburg

KR/PR – Leon Berry

PK – Sean Brauchle, Derek DePasquale


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