Second Week Of Spring May Answer Questions

The first week of Mississippi State spring practice has come and gone with some of the bigger questions of who will be the quarterback, who will they be throwing to and who will be the players they emerge over the course of the spring yet to be answered. The Bulldogs now enter their second week of practice hoping to answer some of those questions.

Tuesday's practice focused on more positional work with the team split mostly into groups most of the practice. The team worked on the return game a little with two new faces, Maurice Langston and LaDarius Perkins taking some kicks.

The team did manage to get some 11 on 11 work in to end practice where observers keyed in on the quarterback battle between Chris Relf and Tyler Russell. Both quarterbacks looked better today thanks in part to not having to deal with the less than ideal weather conditions of last week's practices.

"There are going to get better everyday as they get in the flow of things," said Mullen. "We're still installing so there is a lot of thinking going on. Their comfort in the offense and the speed in their decision-making should improve."

The quarterback battle may get the lion share of the attention but who they are throwing the ball to could aid in their development. Chad Bumphis and Leon Berry are the only receivers returning who received significant touches last season so finding some depth behind them is paramount.

"They are real young and we're not that deep," said Mullen of the wide receivers. "We have to keep them healthy and we have to go out and recruit some receivers. We need to get a whole bunch of them in here so we can feel good about the position."

One player who could have helped at the receiver position is sophomore receiver O'Neal Wilder who decided to leave the football team to concentrate on track full time.

"It just decreases your depth," said Mullen of the loss of Wilder. "He wanted to concentrate on track. Some guys can play multiple sports but in college that's not for everybody and it's going to be a tough duty for certain guys.

"When we took over the program there weren't any receivers here. So it's going to take us a couple of years to get it to where we want it. We need to do a good job recruiting the depth."

The offensive line will be key no matter who the quarterback of the team is. The unit returns four starters led by Derek Sherrod and J.C. Brignone who helped Anthony Dixon rush for over 1,300 yards. They will be counted on again to anchor things on the offensive side of the ball. But the depth behind them worries Mullen.

"We still need some depth on the offensive line," said Mullen. "You will see our number one offensive function pretty well and then you have a lot of young inexperienced guys going in with the twos. We don't even have threes on the offensive line. It's going to take us a couple of years to get some of those big guys in here and build our depth."

Tobias Smith is a player who is expected to step in and start at right guard. Smith has been penciled in as the starter at guard the past two season but injuries have prevented him from seeing the field on a regular basis. If he is able to stay healthy, an already strong offensive line could become even stronger.

"Yes, it's good for him to get back really in the flow of things," said Mullen. "He feels healthy. We were counting on him being a starter last year and if we can keep him healthy he'll be back in that role this season."

Another unit that does their work in the trenches, the defensive line, will be key to the success of the team next season. The new defensive line coach Chris Wilson is charged with determining who will be replacing the three starters that were lost - Charles Burns, Kyle Love and Brandon Cooper. All-SEC performer Pernell McPhee returns as the only returning starter on the unit. Some potential players that could play alongside McPhee are Fletcher Cox, Josh Boyd, James Carmon, Johnathan McKenzie.

"They are all coming along," said Mullen. "But they still got a long way to go. They are all getting used to a new coaching style with a new coach out there and (defensive line coach) Chris (Wilson) is doing a great job out there."

One player who is making a bid to answer one of the spring questions Nickoe Whitley. Whitley was running with the second team in 7 on 7's and 11 on 11's.

"Yes, he did a good job," said Mullen. "He was a scout player last year and did a real good job on the scout team. I think he learned a lot getting to play against the offense all last season. It's really prepared him to step to that next level."

The Bulldogs will try to answer some more of those questions Thursday at 3:45 when they return to the practice field.

Jeremiah Short is a columnist who covers various Mississippi State sports for He can be reached by email at

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