The Mississippi State Bulldogs held their annual Maroon and White Spring Game on Saturday, and while we can only learn so much from what was effectively a glorified scrimmage, we were able to get our first look at a team that is replacing a plethora of starters with fresh faces.

Overall, a solid day for the Bulldogs. Certainly not perfect, and there’s plenty of film to highlight for coaches the areas that still need work, but a solid day. Perhaps most important, there were no major injuries, which was obviously the No. 1 goal entering the day.

There were many things I liked during the Bulldogs spring game, but here are three that stood out the most.

3. Defense still has teeth

State’s defense was arguably the best in the country last year, but many of the key players have moved on. I was very curious to see how the new unit would look and I thought they looked pretty good overall.

The line did a nice job getting after the quarterbacks and was strong against the run (aside from a glaring touchdown run up the middle in the second half). The linebackers predictably looked like they’ll be the strength of the unit. The secondary did a pretty good job containing the receivers (who, other than Austin Williams, struggled), and were consistently jumping passing lanes.

What I was probably most impressed with was the second unit, which played well against the starting offense in the first half. Perhaps this is more of an indictment against the starting offense, but I think the defense is going to have depth this year, and we’ll see plenty of rotations in all three levels.

2. True freshmen look legit

Two early enrollees I was very eager to get a look at were quarterback Garrett Shrader, a 4-star who was considered the No. 7 dual-threat in the 2019 recruiting class, and LT Charles Cross, a 5-star ranked as the No. 27 player in the country. And boy, they did not disappoint.

Shrader was the first handpicked quarterback recruit by Joe Moorhead, and you can see why he wanted him so badly. Not only does he have the wheels that Moorhead likes to run a multi-dimensional offense, but he has a terrific arm. No, he wasn’t perfect, but no one was expecting him to be. I’m sure Moorhead would like to redshirt Shrader this year to give him some more seasoning before thrusting him into the hornets’ nest that is the SEC West, but the young signal-caller will be a very enticing option this year if the passing game gets bogged down again.

Cross is an absolute stud. I knew he had good length and athleticism, but I was very impressed with his feet and flexibility while going against the starting defensive line. He needs to get thicker and stronger in his base to become a more powerful player at the point of attack, but that’s not surprising for an offensive lineman who was in high school just a few months ago. I’m pretty much convinced by now that he’s going to be an All-American at some point, and I’ll be shocked if he’s not an early round draft pick in 3 or 4 years.

1. Quarterbacks showed improvement

Going into Saturday’s spring game, it’s no secret that all eyes would be on the quarterbacks, not only to see who looks the best in the ongoing battle to replace Nick Fitzgerald, but to see if any showed the kind of passing aptitude to help take the offense to the next level.

Keytaon Thompson ran with the starters and he got off to a rocky start, making poor reads, throwing into coverage, overthrowing receivers, etc. The sloppy field conditions didn’t help, and neither did the ridiculous number of drops by the receivers. However, as the game went on, he started playing better and got into a rhythm, connecting for a couple scores while showing improved ball placement.

Each of Thompson’s two primary competitors for the starting job, Jalen Mayden and Shrader, also impressed. Mayden arguably showed the most consistent accuracy, and did so while going against the starting defense, and as stated above, Shrader is flashing All-SEC potential. Overall, this group far from a finished product, but Moorhead has some talent to work with in this group.

Garrett Shrader cover photo via @HailStateFB