Heavens, Wideouts Making Spring Gains

Don't think any Bulldog receiver is glad to see #24 take his ground-pounding game to the pro level. Still the backfield's loss should open opportunity for this group's gain. Make that, gains. "You know, we don't have Anthony Dixon any more," Brandon Heavens says. "So we're going to have to throw the ball a lot. I think we're going to have to step up and make plays for us to be successful."

Heavens is thinking right along the same spring-time lines as his coaches. With big Dog Dixon gone, Mississippi State is committed to expanding the offensive repertoire for 2010. Oh, regular running will hold a hefty proportion of play-calling. But the ball will also be in the air more often…and someone will have to catch those throws. Just like Heavens and his camp cohorts have been doing this spring.

"It's been going pretty good so far," the sophomore said. "It's a lot of competition among all the wide receiver positions. So we just have to keep working, and when a play comes your way you have to make the play."

Play-making in the passing game has been a welcome sight in practices and scrimmages alike these three weeks. In this past Saturday's major scrimmage, the last one truly pitting offense-vs.-defense, Bulldog quarterbacks Chris Relf and Tyler Russell were a combined 24-of-49 passing for 330 yards. As encouraging as the nigh-50% throwing was, just as much encouragement was provided by the guys catching those passes. True wideouts—whether X, Y, or H guys—accounted for 14 of the grabs.

For his part Heavens got just two of those catches in full-field situations, for eight yards. Ahhh, but the soph played a bigger part in the scrimmage attack than this. Twice he was given the ball in red-zone offense and each produced touchdowns, on a 13-yard reverse-handoff and later a 17-yard ‘pass' that was as much a pitch as throw. Both times Heavens was able to outrun containment to the pylon, showing both how Dan Mullen is expanding the 2010 playbook…and what this still-developing kid is expected to contribute.

"I think I've been doing pretty good, contributing to the team, making catches and stuff," said Heavens. What sort of stuff would that be? "Blocking for the running backs and other receivers." Yes, among all the work spent getting Heavens and his cohorts more productive with the ball in their hands, State's offensive staff never lets-up emphasizing that they are just as much blockers as any guy with 60s or 70s on the jersey.

Heavens is a bit better-equipped to do that duty this spring, too. He's tipping the scales at 175 these days, up five pounds from his reporting size last August…but still shy of his ideal. "I want to be at 180," he said, which wouldn't cut into his trademark speed a bit. His first spring under Coach Matt Balis' care has put Heavens on, so to speak, a faster physical track and given the kid (he turns 19 on April 28) a veteran's appearance already.

Of course, he is a veteran. Heavens earned that first varsity letter right out of the proverbial box, thrown into instant action and playing every 2009 season game. He even started once, against Georgia Tech. Working as an alternate in the wideout rotation he caught seven balls for 36 yards…not a huge total, yet the second-most receptions for any true frosh in '09.

And Heavens has no regrets at all about getting on the field immediately. "I'm happy I played last year. Because I got to see it, I got to experience it. So now in the spring I know the coverages and all that. I think I'm doing pretty good."

Good enough that Heavens would seem to have earned a place in the first rotation group, at least when the play calls for three true wideouts. In other sets there is one obstacle to Heavens: his classmate Chad Bumphis, who was not just the top rookie receiver of '09 but State's leading pass-catcher overall. So if a classic depth chart were posted today Heavens would be listed under Bumphis. And for the record, above walk-on E.J. Buford.

"We did have Jamal Gandy," Heavens said, "But he moved to X so now we have E.J." Such shuffles came after impressive walk-on redshirt Sam Williams was lost with a knee injury. The real news inherent in this is that Heavens and Bumphis are working more as H-backs than farther out in the slot-spot. Based on how Heavens converted two totes into scrimmage touchdowns, it would seem a smart move by Mullen and coordinator Les Koenning to use these receiver/runners in such roles.

Oh, and as for the obvious follow-up question? Yes, Heavens said. "We've got some plays where we're both on the field at the same time. And we rotate like every two plays, so it's not competition forever. It doesn't matter who starts." It only matters who can and will make plays happen in this scheming. And just because Bumphis was the go-to guy last fall it doesn't mean there won't be a lot of other balls for distributing in 2010.

"We know Chad is going to get a lot of double-coverage this season because he had a good season last year. So for me, Leon, Chris, Ricco, this year it's out job to step up so we can have everybody covered one-on-one. So we can all make plays."

They expect to get their chances, too, based on which direction the play-calling has leaned through the first three spring weeks. "Man, Tyler and Chris are throwing the ball great this spring," affirmed Heavens. "Still we're going to have to cut down on mistakes and stuff, but on the whole they're throwing the ball great." For that matter to this Dogs' eye a whole lot has been great in camp.

"The offense has been clicking as a whole, and the defense has been outstanding. So it's going pretty good, so far." Which indicates Heavens and the rest of his squad know there is unfinished spring business to take care of in the three remaining practices (Tuesday, Thursday, Friday) and the Maroon-White spring game Saturday. This wideout wants to give Mississippi State fans more reasons to come back in fall to watch the pass-catching fun at Scott Field.

"I see everyone is going to touch the ball more. So, everyone who touches the ball has to make plays just like Dixon."

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