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Tuesday, May 4, 2010
Mississippi State spring wrap

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

2009 overall record: 5-7

2009 conference record: 3-5

Returning starters

Offense: 7; Defense: 8; Kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

QB Chris Relf, WR Chad Bumphis, TE Marcus Green, OT Derek Sherrod, DE Pernell McPhee, LB K.J. Wright, FS Johnthan Banks, SS Charles Mitchell

Key losses

QB Tyson Lee, RB Anthony Dixon, LB Jamar Chaney, CB Marcus Washington

2009 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Anthony Dixon (1,391 yards)

Passing: Tyson Lee (1,444 yards)

Receiving: Chad Bumphis* (375 yards)

Tackles: Jamar Chaney (90)

Sacks: Pernell McPhee* (5)

Interceptions: Corey Broomfield* (6)

Spring answers

1. Relf’s improvement: He was more of a specialty player last season, sort of a designated runner from the quarterback position. But junior Chris Relf was one of the Bulldogs’ most improved players this spring, in particular with regard to his passing. At 240 pounds, he’s one of those guys nobody wants to take on head-on when he takes off down the field, but he should be much more of a legitimate passer in 2010 than he was a year ago. Plus, throwing the football is what redshirt freshman Tyler Russell does best, so it should be a good combo.

2. Muscle in the defensive line: The Bulldogs struggled to stop people when they really needed to last season, which made defensive line play a priority this spring. Tackles Fletcher Cox and Josh Boyd are both bigger and stronger after playing as undersized freshmen a year ago, and junior college newcomer James Carmon is massive at 345 pounds. The bell cow of the group is senior end Pernell McPhee, who had 12 tackles for loss last season in his first tour through the SEC. He has a chance to be one of the best defensive linemen in the league in 2010.

3. Second time around: Now that Dan Mullen has laid the groundwork, he feels like the second season will go much smoother. There shouldn’t be any questions about expectations or how Mullen wants it done. He does have a few new staff members, notably defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. Look for the Bulldogs to attack a little more next season on defense and really go after the quarterback. The Bulldogs also played a bunch of freshmen on defense last season who are now battle-tested entering their sophomore seasons.

Fall questions

1. Finding Dixon’s replacement: Anthony Dixon was the heart and soul of Mississippi State’s offense last season. The Bulldogs leaned on him all year, and he delivered. They won’t be able to replace him with one guy. It’s probably going to take three, as nobody really jumped out there and won the job this spring. Junior Robert Elliott has the most experience, but junior college transfer Vick Ballard and redshirt freshman Montrell Connor will both factor into the rotation.

2. Development at receiver: Chad Bumphis had a nice freshman season, but Mullen still wants to see him become a more complete receiver. He was good once he got the ball in his hands. The next step is becoming more proficient at getting open and running better routes. Mullen thinks the Bulldogs are thin right now across the board at receiver, especially when you consider they’re running a spread offense. He wants to see more development, period, at the receiver position.

3. Winning the close ones: The Bulldogs took LSU, Houston and Florida to the fourth quarter last season, but couldn’t close the deal. Learning how to win those games is what separates teams in the SEC. With so many young guys on the field a year ago, Mississippi State found itself on the short end of the experience factor more times than not in crucial situations. We’ll see how much the Bulldogs have grown up and how much they learned about keeping their poise during those key moments in games.