Pre-camp football roster breakdown: offense

With humidity making a trip to the mailbox wetter than a day at the water park, you can’t exactly feel football in the air, but I can feel it coming in my bones. I can hear the beat of Sandstorm kickoff music in my heart. Or something. You get the idea.

Football is almost here. The season doesn’t kickoff until September 1, but the first team meeting of the season is tomorrow, and the Bulldogs begin fall camp on Thursday. Dan Mullen’s fourth team at Mississippi State might be his best one yet.

As we get ready for practice to begin and breathlessly wait for updates and information, we’ll take a look at MSU’s roster on each side of the ball, using the recently-released depth chart as our guide.

Today, we’re breaking down the offensive side of the ball.

Offensive line

Starters on depth chart: Left tackle: Blaine Clausell. Left Guard: Gabe Jackson. Center: Dillon Day. Right guard: Tobias Smith. Right tackle: Damien Robinson.

Bob’s take: If this starting five holds, it’s a pretty solid group. Despite losing three players to the NFL off of last year’s line, every player except Robinson has starting experience. The key, in my mind, is Smith. He didn’t practice in the spring as he recovered from his injury sustained early in the 2011 season, but when healthy, he’s one of the top two linemen on the team. Behind him are Ben Beckwith and Justin Malone. Malone is bigger and probably more athletic, but the coaches are high on Beckwith, a tough-nosed lineman who walked on at MSU and looked like more-likely starter exiting spring practices

Behind Robinson is junior college transfer Charles Siddoway, and I’m almost surprised he’s not listed as a co-starter. If I’m guessing now (and I am) I think Siddoway could end up being the starter, with Robinson the primary backup at both tackle spots. In addition to those two, 6’5”, 290-pound sophomore Archie Muniz is a talented player who will provide good depth at both tackle spots.

As a junior, Jackson will likely be the leader of this group and he is likely the best offensive lineman on the team. MSU will also be counting on Day and Clausell improving as sophomores after getting thrown into the fire last year after injuries wreaked havoc on the line. If they can prove reliable, John Hevesy’s unit should be in good shape.

Quarterback

Starter on depth chart: Tyler Russell

Bob’s take: Perhaps even more-so than the spots held by Johnthan Banks and Cam Lawrence, Russell is the no-brainer, sure-fire starter at the position. A fourth-year junior, Russell will be the leader of the team and Mullen said he’s putting the season on Russell’s shoulders. Redshirt freshman Dak Prescott is the only other scholarship quarterback on the roster, and Mullen said he expects to have packages for the mobile passer. Don’t expect it to be like last year, however. There will be no two-quarterback system. It’s the Tyler Russell Show now.

Tyler Russell

Unlike previous years, most are expecting MSU to pass the ball frequently, taking advantage of Russell’s big arm and accuracy. And while he’s got more ability than many want to give him credit for, Russell is not a runner. He’s a pocket passer and Mullen intends to use him that way.

The emergency third QB might be a receiver or cornerback, but freshman walk-on Jamil Golden is a quarterback with a lot of talent, particularly as a runner, who was recruited by several big schools before deciding to take a non-scholarship spot on MSU’s roster.

Running back

Starter on the depth chart: LaDarius Perkins

LaDarius Perkins

Bob’s take: This is, easily, one of the two most competitive spots on the roster for MSU. Vick Ballard carried the load for the last two years while Perkins complemented him as the change-of-pace back. Now, the 5’10”, 190-pound junior speedster wants to be the feature back on Mullen’s offense. He will have every opportunity to do so, and as the only one in the backfield with significant game experience, he will be the clear starter on day one. However, there are three more backs behind him who are talented, hungry and ready to get on the field.

Sophomore Nick Griffin looks the part of an every-down back at 6’0”, 225 pounds, and he is the only other one who has played in a game, though it was limited action last season as he recovered from a knee injury in spring practice of 2011. If he’s back to full speed and full health, Griffin is as talented as anyone on the team. Redshirt freshmen Josh Robinson and Derrick Milton look like another pair of studs, with Robinson having the appearance of a bowling ball as he rumbles surprisingly quickly down the field and Milton showing flashes of speed combined with a frame similar to Griffin’s.

We’ve written about this position plenty over the last month and change here on the HailState Beat, and my best stab at a prediction is this: Perkins and Griffin will get the bulk of the carries, both will be used frequently as receiving options out of the backfield and both will have success, while Robinson and Milton have plays sprinkled in to help them get some experience. Ultimately, I think Griffin finishes the season with the most carries, but no matter who the leader is, MSU is in good shape.

Wide receiver:

Starters on the depth chart: Arceto Clark, Chad Bumphis and Chris Smith

Bob’s take: Have you ever seen ‘19 Kids and Counting’ (or however many it is)? Like the Duggars and their dozens of children, Tyler Russell has a lot of mouths to feed. The three listed were MSU’s top receivers as juniors last year, with Clark and Smith hauling in the most catches, yards and touchdowns. However, the case could be made that all three are on the hot seat entering the season. Not because they’ve done anything wrong, but because of all the talent coming in behind them.

Jameon Lewis

Sophomore Jameon Lewis might be the most exciting player to watch on this team, and he will be providing Bumphis (who had a down year in 2011) some fierce competition at the slot position. Lewis appeared to have solved his fumbling issues in spring practice, so all that’s left is for him to prove in a game that he can hold on to the ball. If he does that, it’ll be hard to keep him off the field.

Russell will have another young and new weapon in redshirt freshman Joe Morrow, the tallest receiver on the team at a listed height of 6’4”, with a wingspan that might be even longer. The Bulldogs have lacked a downfield and red zone threat the last few years, but Morrow and his big frame may be able to rectify that problem. Even as a true freshman, Morrow could be seen beating Banks for deep touchdowns down the sideline in practice. I hesitate to put too much pressure and expectation on someone who has never played a down in college, but if he can get the nerves behind him, Morrow may end up being a serious weapon and X-factor in this offense.

And we haven’t even mentioned senior slot man Brandon Heavens, big-bodied sophomore Robert Johnson (who had an impressive spring) junior Ricco Sanders, the pair of true freshmen or even the option of giving Banks some snaps on the offensive side of the ball, which he said he wants to do.

Russell certainly won’t be lacking for options.

Tight end

Starter on the depth chart: Malcolm Johnson

Bob’s take: Obviously, Johnson won’t be the starter, as he has been injured since the release of the pre-fall depth chart. A converted receiver, Johnson was primed to be a breakout star in the SEC, but he may not be available until mid-season for the Bulldogs. However, the depth remaining will do just fine.

Marcus Green was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA, so the versatile tight end will offer a wealth of experience and leadership to the team. He was one of Chris Relf’s most dangerous weapons early in the Mullen era and he split the load almost 50/50 with Johnson last season. He’s not quite as dynamic as the injured star, but Green is a very athletic tight end with a proven ability to both block and catch the ball downfield. He had a few drops last season coming off of an injury, but if his hands return to their previous reliability, Russell will have a safe target in the middle of the field.

The most natural tight end on the roster is redshirt freshman Rufus Warren, listed at 6’6”, 250 pounds. He has a huge frame and showed a knack for catching the ball in traffic in fall camp last year as a true freshman. Obviously, he has no game experience, but like his receiver counterpart Morrow, he offers something MSU doesn’t have much of: size.

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