Playmakers Emerge During Tuesday's Scrimmage

MSU head footbal coach Dan Mullen came into the 3rd week of spring practice feeling pretty good about the defensive side of the ball but was still looking for playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. And he may have found some during Tuesday's practice.


Quarterback Battle

Many people were wondering if Tyler Russell had made headway in the quarterback battle after an impressive performance during Saturday's scrimmage. The answer to that question may be yes as Russell and Chris Relf split first-team repetitions in Tuesday's practice.

Chris Relf had the first turn with the first team during 7 on 7 drills, completing 9 of 15 passes. He connected on a nice wheel route to Leon Berry and barely missed Sheldon Evans on a deep bomb. He performed poorly, however, during 11 on 11's when he took repetitions with the second team. He connected on 6-16 passes but did complete his last few passes, possibly growing more comfortable playing with the second unit.

Tyler Russell started off with the second team during 7 on 7 drills, connecting on 9 of 17 passes. He performed about the same in 11 on 11's, completing 9 of 18 passes.

Overall, the shakeup is an interesting move by Coach Mullen.

Running Back

The question of who will replace Anthony Dixon is one of the significant storylines of the spring. Saturday's scrimmage did very little to answer that question but LaDarius Perkins made his bid for the starting job during Tuesday's scrimmage.

He took advantage of the extra reps during the practice, breaking several big runs and even hauling in a pass.

Vick Ballard took the majority of first team reps Tuesday. He seems to have taken a slight lead at the position, showing good hands (he caught a nice pass across the middle) and solid between-the-tackles running ability.

Robert Elliot had a few carries Tuesday but took a backseat to Ballard and Perkins.

Wide Receiver Development

The wide receivers are probably the youngest unit on the team and are still developing at this point. Wide receiver coach Mark Hudspeth found another receiver last week in Brandon Heavens who stepped up and started to play up to his potential. He is now trying to find a fourth guy to go along with Bumphis, Berry, and Heavens. And he may have found that guy in Chris Smith who made several plays during Tuesday's practice.

Chris Smith was the player who was pegged to possibly take over at the X position (backside receiver) after O'Neal Wilder gave up football this spring. He started off slow in the spring but Tuesday he had an impressive day, catching five passes, including an impressive play where he went up and fought the cornerback for the ball.

Chad Bumphis, Leon Berry, and Leon Berry all had good days also, combining for 15 catches. Another player to keep an eye on is Ricco Sanders who made a few plays during individual drills.


Defensive Line

The defensive linemen were the stars of Saturday's scrimmage, causing havoc for the offensive line and quarterbacks throughout the scrimmage. Tuesday's practice wasn't any different, as they were making plays and causing the quarterbacks to throw five interceptions.

The defensive line is taking shape as the possible anchor of the defense, making up for the lack of depth at the linebacker position.

Defensive Backs

The defensive backfield had begun to take shape during last weeks practices and continued it by performing well during Saturday's scrimmage. They played even better during Tuesday's practice, intercepting four passes.

Arceto Clark, who sat out last season, is beginning to show the ability that former MSU head coach Sylvester Croom saw in him when he called him the "secret weapon" of the 2008 football team. Clark showed during Tuesday's practice that he has a chance to be a weapon at cornerback, intercepting a telegraphed bubble screen by Chris Relf then taking it to the house for six. Clark is making a strong case to be in the cornerback rotation.

Nickoe Whitley is another player that has been showing big-time ability, solidifying a spot as the number two safety behind Johnthan Banks. Whitley made a few plays Tuesday, including an interception during an attempted intermediary pass play. Whitley is proving himself a capable replacement if Banks were to go down with an injury. He also could enable defensive coordinator Manny Diaz to use Banks as a nickel back in some passing situations.

Johnthan Banks continues to look like the freshmen All-American player he was in the 2009 season, causing havoc all over the field during Tuesday's practice. He intercepted one pass and took it in for six, then almost intercepted another. He is poised to have a big sophomore season and give SEC headaches like he did Tim Tebow last season.

The defensive backfield, as a unit, is coming into its own. If they continue their performance, I can honestly say that every position in the secondary could be two to three deep heading into the Memphis game.

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

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