Position Battles Heat Up on Thursday

The Mississippi State Bulldogs came into spring with hopes of filling holes created by the losses of seniors Jamar Chaney, Tyson Lee and Anthony Dixon. Thursday's practice definitely added fire to the positional battles expected coming into spring practice.


Quarterback Battle
The battle between Chris Relf and Tyler Russell was the biggest topic of conversation amongst many coming into the spring. Russell was expected to quickly overtake Relf during spring practice but Relf has taken control of the position in the first few practices. Thursday's practice may have been in Russell's favor though, thanks to some flashed shown by him in in the 7 on 7 drills, which saw him go 7 of 12 with 2 interceptions according to my unofficial statistics. Russell also looked sharp during the 11 on 11 drills connecting on 7 of 10 attempts. He also showed scored on a quarterback keeper on a zone read play.

Relf had a solid day also connecting on 7 of 10 passes during 7 on 7 drills. However, he only managed to connect on 3 of 6 attempts during the 11 on 11's. For Bulldog fans waiting for to see Tyler Russell start to emerge may have seen the start of that during the Thursday practice. You may even be able to say the battle has officially began.

Running Back Battle
The loss of Anthony Dixon, Christian Ducre and Arnil Stallworth left a big void at the running back position. There are four candidates for the starting running back position - Robert Elliott, Vick Ballard, LaDarius Perkins and Montrell Conner. Elliott and Ballard have taken the early lead to start spring practice with the two running co-number ones. Vick Ballard had a very good practice Thursday with seven touches that resulted in two impressive touchdowns. Ballard scored on a 20-plus yard scamper where he broke several tackles including Charles Mitchell's. He also scored on a goal line rush on an impressive second effort. Robert Elliot managed to score twice, although not quite as impressively as Ballard's effort on his touchdowns.

Wide Receiver Development
The wide receiver position was a focus of the coaches coming into the spring with Chad Bumphis and Leon Berry being the only proven receivers. And the coaches were still searching for another guy to emerge after the first few practices. Thursday, however, saw the emergence of Brandon, Heavens who had five total catches during the 7 on 7 and 11 on 11 drills. Included among the catches were a few nice gainers on middle screens.

Another guy who had a good day was Chris Smith who had three catches. Coach Mullen stated once that if a spread team has four good receivers then they are off to a good start. If they keep performing as they did Thursday, Smith and Heavens have a chance to be the third and fourth guys.

Tight End
The Tight End position hasn't received much talk during the course of spring with Marcus Green entrenched as the starter and Kendrick Cook a solid number two. I would be remiss though if I didn't highlight the good day Brandon Henderson had catching the ball with five total catches, including a touchdown.


Defensive Line
Defensive line coach Chris Wilson is in the process of deciding who will replace Charles Burns, Kyle Love and Brandon Cooper. James Carmon and Josh Boyd threw their name into the mix with both showing signs of dominance. Carmon had a rock solid day in the middle with with two tackles and one tackle for loss. He also managed to break up a pass and recover a fumble that he returned a few yards.

Boyd had a slow start to spring practices but dominated Thursday with two impressive tackles for loss including a leaping take down of Chad Bumphis.

The starting linebacker slots seem solidified at this point with Cameron Lawrence, K.J. Wright, and Chris White holding down the three starting spots. Players who are still battling for the backup spots include Deontae Skinner, Brandon Wilson, Emmanuel Gatling and Jamie Jones. Of those four, a player to watch is Jones, a guy who possesses enormous talent but hasn't put it all together at this point. During Thursday's practice, a glimpse of that potential showed through when Jones received some reps with the second team at middle linebacker. At that position he made a couple of nice tackles. Maybe the new attacking style of the Manny Diaz defense is exactly what the doctor ordered for the talented youngster.

Today's practice was very spirited thanks in large part to the coaches beginning and ending the practice with one on ones. Overall, it was a very good practice with several players moving up the depth chart.

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Jeremiah Short is a columnist who covers various Mississippi State sports for GenesPage.com. He can be reached by email at moot2005@yahoo.com

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