Thursday, March 22, 2012
Opening spring camp: Mississippi State
By Chris Low
Schedule: Mississippi State was scheduled to open spring practice on Thursday at 5:30 p.m. ET, but that practice was postponed because of rain. All 15 workouts will be open to the public. The Maroon-White spring game is scheduled for 6 p.m. ET on April 21, and will be part of Super Bulldog Weekend. A concert by Sugarland will follow the spring game.
What’s new: The Bulldogs didn’t have any changes among their nine position coaches, but Niel Stopczynski joined the staff as assistant recruiting coordinator, and Brett Elliott will be a graduate assistant on offense.
On the mend: Offensive guard Tobias Smith (knee), offensive tackle Archie Muniz (knee), and safety Nickoe Whitley (ruptured Achilles) will be limited this spring. Quarterback Tyler Russell won’t be 100 percent after banging up his knee during bowl practice, but he’ll be out there getting first-team reps.
On the move: Receiver Michael Carr has left the football team for a second time, and won’t be back.
Key battle: With Vick Ballard departing, there should be some serious competition at the running back position. Speedy junior LaDarius Perkins has made his share of big plays while backing up Ballard the past two seasons. Now, it’s Perkins’ chance to show he can be the go-to back. Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen has raved about 6-foot, 225-pound sophomore Nick Griffin and the dimension he brings to the offense. Had Griffin not torn his ACL last spring, he would have been a big part of the offense last season. When healthy, he’s looked like the complete package. A pair of redshirt freshmen will also make their case for playing time -- 5-9, 215-pound Josh Robinson and 6-foot, 205-pound Derrick Milton. Robinson was one of the stars of bowl practice last December, and the Mississippi State coaches are eager to see how he follows up this spring.
New faces: Three junior college signees enrolled in January and will go through spring practice. The headliner of the group is defensive end Denico Autry of East Mississippi Community College. Autry also had offers from Alabama, Miami and the USC Trojans. Offensive tackle Charles Siddoway played last season at Butte (Calif.) College after spending a year at California. Center Dylan Holley is a transfer from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. The Bulldogs’ top high school signee, defensive tackle Quay Evans of Morton, Miss., is also participating in spring practice after graduating high school early, along with offensive guard/tackle Justin Senior of Hargrave (Va.) Military Academy. Senior is originally from Montreal, Canada.
Breaking out: The Bulldogs lacked a big-play threat in the passing game last season. They simply didn’t have a guy who could consistently stretch the field and keep defenses honest. Redshirt freshman Joe Morrow might be that guy in 2012. At 6-4 and 205 pounds, he’s a big target with speed, and should be a nice complement to senior receivers Chad Bumphis, Arceto Clark and Chris Smith.
Don’t forget about: Chris Wilson’s defense played its best football toward the end of last season. This will be his second season in charge of the Bulldogs’ defense, so look for them to get off to a better start in 2012. The big loss was All-SEC tackle Fletcher Cox, who gave up his senior season to turn pro. But Autry should add some pass-rushing pop from his end position, and even though Evans is just a freshman, he’s somebody who should be able to help in the middle. Johnthan Banks returns as one of the top cornerbacks in the country, and there’s a lot of depth, period, in the secondary. All in all, it’s a defense that should be able to hold its own if the offense takes a while to find its identity in those first few games.
All eyes on: It’s Russell’s show now that Chris Relf has moved on, and it sounds like that show is going to be tailored around Russell’s ability to throw the ball from the pocket. Mullen said Mississippi State’s offense will look different with Russell under center. There was more of a run element to it last season, certainly from the quarterback position, with Relf starting the majority of the season. Russell’s forte is getting the ball down the field. He needs to show more accuracy and more consistency, but the Bulldogs are going to play to his strengths.