Print and Go Back ESPN.com: SEC [Print without images]

Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Opening camp: Mississippi State

By Chris Low
ESPN.com

Schedule: Practice starts Tuesday at 10 a.m. ET for the first group and 5 p.m. ET for the second group. The first day in full pads is Sunday (Aug. 8).

What’s new: While Mississippi State isn’t switching to a 3-4, the Bulldogs will have a completely new look defensively under first-year coordinator Manny Diaz. Chris Wilson comes over from Oklahoma to coach the defensive line and serve as co-defensive coordinator.

Sidelined: The Bulldogs don’t have any major injury problems, although freshman receiver Malcolm Johnson is out for the start of practice with a foot injury.

Key battle: Pernell McPhee is entrenched at one end on defense, but Sean Ferguson and Nick Bell will slug it out for the starting spot opposite McPhee. The Bulldogs like their talent and depth up front defensively. Redshirt freshman Johnathan McKenzie also showed in the spring that he will be able to help. He’ll enter the preseason as McPhee’s backup, but could play his way into a starting role at the other end.

New on the scene: Junior college defensive tackle James Carmon, all 345 pounds of him, adds some serious muscle to the middle of the defensive line. Junior college newcomer Vick Ballard will compete for the starting running back job. He and Robert Elliott were neck-and-neck in the spring. Redshirt freshmen Montrell Connor and LaDarius Perkins will also factor into the running back rotation. True freshman Ferlando Bohanna may end up being the starting strong side linebacker before it’s all over, and Dan Mullen is always looking for more receivers. So keep an eye on true freshman Robert Johnson.

Breaking out: Tight end Marcus Green was the second leading receiver on the team last season as a sophomore. He has All-SEC potential and could prove to be a key target for whoever wins the quarterback job.

Don’t forget about: Senior Maurice Langston was suspended for the first four games last season after getting into trouble off the field. But he cracked the Bulldogs’ starting lineup at cornerback the last five games and should be a steadying presence back there this season.

All eyes on: Junior quarterback Chris Relf and redshirt freshman quarterback Tyler Russell. Relf is the runner, and Russell is the thrower. They will battle it out for the starting quarterback job this preseason. Relf has improved as a passer since last season when he was more of a specialty player, and there’s a good chance the Bulldogs will end up using both players. They complement each other well.

Quoting: “We didn’t win the close games last year. That sticks with you. Everything we did this offseason was about finishing games in the fourth quarter.” – Mississippi State safety Charles Mitchell