With the offseason officially underway, SDS will examine what’s next for spring football for all 14 teams. Next up, Mississippi State.
Mississippi State opens spring practice tomorrow, and the Bulldogs will host their annual spring game April 12th.
Sitting 4-6 with Arkansas and Ole Miss left on the schedule must have been daunting for Dan Mullen’s club. The Bulldogs had lost three straight to South Carolina, Texas A&M and Alabama and were threatening to miss a bowl game for the first time in three years. Thankfully, Mullen turned over the reins of his offense to Dak Prescott, aided by Tyler Russell’s injury, and MSU reeled off three straight wins. The core nucleus of the team’s best players returns, as does the coaching staff minus Les Koenning, who left for Texas. Mullen, however, called the plays toward the end of 2013, and he’ll call the plays this coming season, too. This could be Mullen’s best team yet, and this spring is crucial for his talented club.
Position of concern
MSU doesn’t have many big position concerns. Several position units can improve their play, but the one concern that jumps out is the offensive line. The unit does return left tackle Blaine Clausell, center Dillon Day and right guard Ben Beckwith, but it loses stalwarts in All-SEC Gabe Jackson and senior right tackle Charles Siddoway. The Bulldogs were strong at the point of attack this past season, and Jackson was an absolute mauler at the position. Justin Malone could start out at right tackle in an effort to get the best five linemen on the field, and watch out for Jamaal Clayborn to replace Jackson at guard. The transition to replace Jackson and Siddoway will be eased with three returning starters.
Position of strength
Dak Prescott has to be feeling great about his wide receivers this spring; the position is loaded with veterans and breakout candidates. Jameon Lewis returns as one of the best players you’ve never heard of, and he caught 64 passes for 923 yards and five touchdowns. He accounted for touchdowns three different ways – receiving, rushing and passing, and he’s an explosive weapon. Tight end Malcolm Johnson returns, and he caught 30 passes for 391 yards and two touchdowns. Robert Johnson, De’Runnya Wilson, Joe Morrow and Fred Ross, among others, all return. In fact, the Bulldogs return their top six receivers in 2014.
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Three signees who will get you excited
1. Aeris Williams, RB: With LaDarius Perkins having graduated, the running backs return Josh Robinson, Nick Griffin and Ashton Shumpert. But Aeris Williams is good enough to warrant carries as a freshman. He could make a splash in 2014.
2. William Coleman, DE: With Denico Autry graduating, it opens the door for another JUCO transfer end in William Coleman. At 6-6, 250, Coleman should slide into the defensive line rotation right away and become an asset.
3. Elijah Stanley, QB: You won’t find many 6-7 quarterbacks, and Stanley towers over everyone on the field. He likely won’t make an impact right away, but he’s an intriguing player to keep an eye on.
Spring’s primary position battle
The most intriguing position battle is the running backs. With LaDarius Perkins gone, returners Josh Robinson, Nick Griffin and Ashton Shumpert will provide a fun battle to watch. Robinson is the leading returning rusher with 459 yards and three touchdowns, and rising sophomore Shumpert logged 46 carries for 190 yards and three touchdowns. Although Perkins garnered most of the carries, I thought Robinson was a better total package. He could be special. Griffin has struggled to stay healthy. Derrick Milton asked for his release in January and is transferring.
Emerging spring player prediction
MSU will look to replace Gabe Jackson, and sophomore Jamaal Clayborn will rise to the challenge and solidify the interior offensive line. Clayborn played really well as a true freshman and was arguably the offense’s top surprise.
Offseason’s burning question
Will this be Dan Mullen’s best year at Mississippi State?
Bulldogs’ offseason crystal ball
Mullen knows this will be his best chance to beat a powerhouse team in 2014. He has a strong offensive nucleus returning with a leader in Dak Prescott, who will headline several darkhorse Heisman lists to start the year. With Prescott, Jameon Lewis, Josh Robinson and Malcolm Johnson, among others, the offense should be strong. The defense is led by arguably the SEC’s most underrated coordinator in Geoff Collins. The unit returns stars such as Chris Jones and Benardrick McKinney, and it will be sneaky good once again.
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