No college program can avoid eventually losing its most talented players, but it’s how the program replaces those players that determines its long-term success.

Mississippi State lost two stars from a year ago in tailback LaDarius Perkins and safety Nickoe Whitley, both of whom are trying to make NFL rosters this preseason. Perkins had been the team’s No. 1 back each the last two years and Whitley was a force in the Bulldogs’ secondary, intercepting five passes last season in addition to making the game-winning strip of Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace in last year’s Egg Bowl.

Which begs the question, who will be the players tasked with replacing Perkins and Whitley in the Bulldogs’ lineup this season?

At tailback it appears Josh Robinson has a leg up on the field in the competition for the starting job after earning the nod on Mullen’s first depth chart of the summer. Robinson began to emerge last season as Perkins regressed from a 1,000 yard season in 2012. Robinson finished the season third on the team in rushing with 480 yards to Perkins’ 593, although Perkins needed nearly twice as many carries to attain his numbers.

With a full workload, Robinson has the potential to be Mullen’s fourth different 1,000 yard rusher in six seasons, joining Anthony Dixon, Vick Ballard and Perkins.

Whitley will be much more difficult to replace after putting up some impressive numbers in 2013: 55 tackles, five interceptions, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. He finished his career at Mississippi State with 15 interceptions, good enough for third in program history, and no one remaining on the roster has shown the ball-hawking abilities Whitley became known for during his days in Starkville.

Taveze Calhoun and Jamerson Love return as the starting corners on the outside, and Kendrick Market will compete with Jay Hughes to keep his starting job at strong safety, meaning the secondary should maintain some consistency.

But it will likely be Justin Cox who is asked to replace Whitley at free safety. Cox, a former four-star recruit, played in all 13 games last season, primarily as an extra defensive back  in obvious passing situations. He took advantage of his time on the field, intercepting a pass, breaking up three more and recording 31 tackles.

The Bulldogs also lost their second-leading tackler from 2013 to the NFL in linebacker Deontae Skinner, but do return their leading tackler in linebacker Benardrick McKinney. Beniquez Brown and Matt Wells are likely to take on a larger role in Skinner’s absence after earning the starting nods at outside linebacker on Mullen’s initial depth chart.

Other noteworthy players lost from last year’s team include quarterback Tyler Russell, tailback Derrick Milton, wide receiver Artimas Samuel and defensive lineman Denico Autry.