Mississippi State Football: Position-by-Position Spring Practice Preview
The Mississippi State Bulldogs are set to start spring practice on March 21.
Dan Mullen and company will have the task of replacing 10 starters before the season opener against Oklahoma State on August 31 at Reliant Stadium in Houston. The next few weeks should provide the coaching staff valuable time to evaluate potential starters for the 2013 season.
Fans will be able to get a peek at the 2013 Bulldogs at the annual Maroon-White game, which is set for Saturday, April 20.
Here's a position-by-position preview of what Bulldog fans can expect to see this spring.
Tyler Russell enters this spring as one of the most decorated quarterbacks in Mississippi State history.
Russell had 2,897 yards on 231 completions in 2012—both Mississippi State single-season records. He threw 24 touchdowns last season, giving him 37 for his career, one shy of Derrick Taite's school record of 38. Additionally, he only needs 1,781 passing yards to become Mississippi State's all-time leading passer.
With a brand new starting receiving corps, it will be crucial for Russell to work on timing with his new receivers this spring.
Dak Prescott is also expected to see time at quarterback for the Bulldogs in 2013. Prescott amassed 194 passing yards and 118 rushing yards for a total of eight touchdowns in 2012. Unfortunately, the dual-threat quarterback will most likely be sidelined for the spring due to a recent toe operation.
This spring should give Tyler Russell the opportunity to further solidify himself as the team's leader going into 2013.
LaDarius Perkins enters this spring after an impressive 2012 campaign, in which he had 1,184 yards from scrimmage and 10 touchdowns.
Perkins has amassed 2,478 yards from scrimmage and 20 touchdowns during his tenure at Mississippi State.
Aside from Tyler Russell, the 5'10", 190-pound Perkins is the only returning offensive starter at a skill position. This could cause the Bulldogs to rely more heavily on Perkins initially. In addition to his typical load running the football, look for Mullen to get Perkins involved in other ways, such as screens and routes in the flats.
Also returning for the Bulldogs in 2013 are running backs Nick Griffin, Derrick Milton and Josh Robinson. These three combined to rush for 772 yards and four touchdowns last season. Similar production can be expected from them in 2013.
With Perkins as the clear No. 1, this spring should be a good time for the coaching staff to expand Perkins' role in the offense and continue to develop Griffin, Milton and Robinson.
The Bulldogs will enter this spring without their top three receivers from 2012—Chad Bumphis, Chris Smith and Arceto Clark—who combined for 141 receptions and 1,973 yards last season.
Robert Johnson, Jameon Lewis, Joe Morrow and Ricco Sanders will try to replace that production in 2013.
The 6'1", 220-pound Robert Johnson had an encouraging season last year with 17 receptions for 164 yards and two touchdowns. Additionally, the shifty 5'9", 185-pound Jameon Lewis had 10 receptions for 108 yards last year.
The 6'0", 175-pound Fred Brown, who was redshirted last year, is a talented player fans will get to see in the Maroon-White game for the first time since the former 3-star committed to Mississippi State.
Another player of interest in the Bulldog receiving corps is junior college transfer Jeremy Chappelle, who enrolled at Mississippi State in January. At 6'2", 212 pounds, Chappelle could immediately contribute in 2013.
This spring will afford these young receivers several opportunities to showcase their talents to the Bulldogs coaches and fans.
Expect Malcolm Johnson to be a go-to target for Tyler Russell in 2013.
With Marcus Green graduating, the 6'2", 230-pound Johnson becomes the No. 1 tight end. He had 10 receptions for 171 yards and two touchdowns last season, but expect that production to increase next season.
Brandon Hill will likely assume the role as the No. 2 tight end in the Bulldogs offense this spring. The 6'3", 224-pound Gus Walley and the 6'6", 250-pound Rufus Warren will be competing with Hill for the No. 2 tight end spot on the depth chart.
Mississippi State's offense depends on quick receptions from consistent receivers off play-action. This spring should be a good opportunity for Russell and Malcolm Johnson to improve their timing and comfort with each other heading into next season.
Additionally, with the Bulldogs' loss of their top tight end and top three wide receivers, Malcolm Johnson has the opportunity to build Tyler Russell's confidence in him as one of Mississippi State's most reliable options in the passing game.
The Mississippi State offensive line returns at least four starters from 2012.
Last season, the Bulldogs were tied for No. 2 in the SEC in sacks allowed and ranked No. 6 in the SEC in rushing yards per attempt.
The lone loss for the Bulldogs on the offensive line may be guard Tobias Smith. Smith was granted an additional year of eligibility by the NCAA in December, but as of February 1, he had not decided whether he would return next season.
Smith's replacement would likely be Justin Malone, who saw action in 12 of Mississippi State's games last year, including starting in four.
Blaine Clausell and Charles Siddoway are the returning offensive tackles for Mississippi State, while two-time all-SEC selection Gabe Jackson will anchor the Bulldogs' interior line at offensive guard next to Dillon Day, who returns at center.
The durable Clausell, Siddoway, Jackson and Day managed to start every game for the Bulldogs last season. With the addition of Justin Malone, the Bulldogs' imposing offensive line would average a height of 6'6" and a weight of 308 pounds.
Mississippi State's experienced offensive line should be one of the Bulldogs' strengths heading into the 2013 season.
The Bulldogs defensive line will only have to replace one starter from last year—NFL hopeful Josh Boyd.
Mississippi State's rotation at defensive tackle should consist of Quay Evans, Curtis Virges and Nick James, while Denico Autry, Kaleb Eulls, Preston Smith and Ryan Brown will rotate at the Bulldogs' defensive end positions. Eulls should see time at defensive tackle—in addition to defensive end—depending on how the rotation works out.
The Mississippi State defensive line has consistently been one of the most respected units in the SEC the past few years. However, the Bulldogs were only able to get to the quarterback 18 times last season, which ranked them at No. 13 in sacks in the SEC.
New defensive coordinator Geoff Collins will be attempting to remedy the Bulldogs' lack of pressure by implementing a more aggressive style of play this spring.
Defensive tackles Quay Evans—a 6'3", 300-pound former 5-star recruit—and Nick James—a 6'4", 330-pound former 4-star recruit—will play a much more significant role in 2013.
At defensive end, the 6'5", 255-pound Denico Autry and the 6'6", 245-pound Preston Smith combined for 8.5 sacks and 15 tackles for loss last season; expect them to build upon this success in the spring. Chris Jones, the Bulldogs' 6'6", 255-pound 5-star commit from Houston, Miss., may work into the defensive end rotation in the fall as well.
With the experience Mississippi State has returning on the defensive line, expect this spring to be this defensive line's first step to becoming a much better unit than last year's, despite the absence of Josh Boyd.
This spring, the Bulldogs will look to replace their leading tackler in 2012—Cameron Lawrence.
Starters Deontae Skinner and Benardrick McKinney, who combined for 164 tackles last season, are returning for the Bulldogs in 2013. The 6'2", 245-pound Skinner could see an increased role in blitzing packages as the team looks to make up for the loss of Lawrence's sack production.
The most likely replacements for Lawrence are Matthew Wells and Chris Hughes. Wells and Hughes both saw plenty of playing time in 2012, accounting for 34 and 31 tackles, respectively.
Additionally, Ferlando Bohanna, who amassed 26 tackles last season, should serve a similar role in this upcoming season. The Maroon-White game will also be many fans' first time to see redshirt freshman Beniquez Brown in the mix, as he could also work into the rotation in the fall.
The next few weeks will be an optimal time for defensive coordinator Geoff Collins to evaluate each linebacker's individual skill set. Collins, who looks to implement a more aggressive defense in 2013, will be evaluating his linebackers' abilities to recognize offensive sets, blitz and drop back into coverage.
This spring should give Collins and his staff the opportunity to adjust the linebacker rotation to account for specific skill sets and a more aggressive style of play.
The Bulldogs secondary contains the most questions heading into spring practice.
Johnthan Banks, Darius Slay and Corey Broomfield made up one of the most talented secondaries in the SEC last year. The most difficult task for the Mississippi State coaching staff this spring will be finding their replacements in the secondary.
At cornerback, the competition looks to be between Jamerson Love, Taveze Calhoun, Will Redmond and Cedric Jiles. Love and Calhoun saw action in 12 or more games each last season, while Jiles only played in three. Furthermore, Will Redmond was redshirted last year, so fans will get their first opportunity to see the highly touted former 4-star recruit in action this spring at the Maroon-White game.
Nickoe Whitley—the lone returning starter to the Bulldogs secondary—will be the only incumbent among the defensive backs heading into spring practice. Jay Hughes, Dee Arrington and 4-star junior college transfer Justin Cox will likely battle for the other starting safety position.
However, due to the high number of spread offenses Mississippi State will face in 2013, all eight of these players will likely see a significant amount of playing time next season.
Other defensive backs that could emerge in the spring as potential candidates for significant playing time include Quadry Antoine, Zachary Jackson and Kendrick Market.
Spring practice will serve as an evaluation of the defensive backs for the allocation of playing time in the Bulldog secondary.
Devon Bell will be returning as the starting place-kicker for the Bulldogs in 2013.
The Mississippi State kicker went 14-21 in 2012, with a long of 47 yards.
Bell will be looking to improve his consistency from long distance in 2013. He went 6-of-10 from 30-39 yards and 4-of-7 from 40-49 yards last year.
Baker Swedenburg returns to the Bulldogs in 2013 for his third season as a starter.
Swedenburg punted 57 times last year for an average distance of 41.1 yards per punt. With 18 punts inside the 20 and only three touchbacks, his accuracy was a weapon in the Bulldogs' field-position battle in 2012.
Fans can expect the same consistency from Swedenburg this spring that he has showcased in his two previous seasons as a starter.