More on Russell’s development, Alex Smith comparisons and the new offense

If you missed today’s story on Tyler Russell, you can check it out here on The feature focuses on Russell’s development as a quarterback, his journey to being a starter and the seemingly-enormous amount of pressure that has been and will continue to be on him.

Those topics were covered pretty thoroughly, but there is a bit we never got to that bears discussion. If you read our coverage of SEC Media Days, you may recall Dan Mullen saying that Russell reminds him of the quarterback he had at Utah – Alex Smith, the former No. 1 overall NFL Draft pick. That was a comparison most haven’t heard, though we did explore it briefly here on the HailState Beat a couple weeks ago.

We’ll re-post some statistical comparisons at the bottom, but for now, we’ll check in with what Mullen and Russell had to say about it.

Tyler Russell

I asked Russell about the comparison back at SEC Media Days, and he said he can see it. Russell said Mullen has had him watch cut-ups of Smith’s highlights at Utah and that they have similar frames and throwing styles.

Some will say the difference between Smith and Russell is Smith’s propensity to make big plays with his legs, but Mullen said that shouldn’t throw anyone off when he was asked if Russell reminds him of any of his former signal-callers.

“He’s probably a lot like Alex Smith, who was really a pure, drop-back passer,” Mullen said. “I think everybody thinks of Alex [as a runner]. Alex really worked on his athleticism throughout his career, but you’d never mistake him for a running quarterback. Statistically, no one got to watch him much where we played out there, weren’t in the national spotlight. You look at the stats, he put up rushing yards, he would run an option play, no one would tackle him, run down the field for 70 yards, which Tyler can do. If you don’t get near him, he’s fast enough; he can run in a straight line.”

Alex Smith at Utah

Unfortunately for Russell, he’s spent his entire career on the same team as Chris Relf, a quarterback built like a tight end, who the ran ball frequently. Perhaps it was because of Relf’s presence that Russell’s ability to run was ignored. But as Mullen said, he can get the yards if he needs to.

“I look at Tyler a lot that way,” Mullen said. “Where Tyler, if he’s in the open field, he’s fast enough. He’ll run and he’ll get some yards. His strength is gonna be in the pocket throwing the ball. A lot like Alex Smith. His No. 1 strength was throwing the ball. When you look and compare those, you don’t wanna say he’s gonna be exactly like an Alex Smith was, but he’s gonna be much more in that mold than a Chris Relf or Tim Tebow.”

As for the change with Russell at the helm, Mullen said up to 30 percent of the offense could be new this year, attributing the change to both Russell’s abilities and the experience at wide receiver.

“I think every year, you take your playbook, you take what you have in your playbook, and you’re not going to use one hundred percent of it,” Mullen said. “You have to take whatever percentage, 60, 75, 80, whatever, fits that year’s team. I’ll be honest, I’ve said 30, but there might be 40 to 50 percent of your playbook that this is what you’re going to do. You’ll adjust it to maybe only 30 percent in that year’s team. Our philosophy won’t change, but you’ll see differences in this year’s team utilizing Tyler’s passing abilities. Five wide receivers this year, which we might lean more or use 30 percent more of the offense that we haven’t used as much the last couple years.”

So, for that Smith-Russell comparison. Both of them stand at 6’4” tall, while Russell weighs in at 220 pounds and Smith checks in at 217.

We don’t have numbers to compare, as Russell hasn’t had a season as the starter yet, but Smith’s numbers would seem to be fitting. He was the starter at Utah for two years before leaving early for the NFL, and Russell will (presumably) have two years as the starter at MSU.

Smith’s numbers in those two seasons:

  • 2003: Completed 173-266 passes for 2,247 yards, 15 touchdowns and three interceptions. Rushed 149 times for 452 yards and five touchdowns.
  • 2004: Completed 214-317 passes for 2,952 yards, 32 touchdowns and four interceptions. Rushed 135 times for 631 yards and 10 touchdowns.

So, maybe this is what to expect from Russell. With Mullen, we can certainly guess that he’ll have a few tricks up his sleeve.

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