For the first time since December of last year, Dan Mullen spent as much time in a press conference talking about another team as he did his own.
With game week finally here, Mississippi State’s head coach shared a bit of his scouting report for Jackson State, as well as provide some depth chart and injury updates on his Bulldogs.
Notably, right guard Tobias Smith, recovering from a knee injury, is expected to start on Saturday, though he likely won’t play the whole game, Mullen says.
“I wanna let him break himself back in,” Mullen said. “I don’t know if he’ll play the entire game, but I want to see how this week goes with practice and how he holds up and how feels with that confidence. We’ve protected him a lot during training camp, even though he’s basically done every drill at some point, we haven’t gone on full, hundred miles an hour.”
It will be that confidence, according to Mullen, which will be important for Smith as he gets used to full-contact from opposing defenders again.
“The doctors say he’s in great shape, on track for everything,” Mullen said. “Hopefully, we can get solid play out of him, get him comfortable this weekend, but we don’t have the script of how far he’ll go.”
In other injury news, sophomore tight end Malcolm Johnson will be out this Saturday with a pectoral injury, and is doubtful “for the next couple games.”
Offensive lineman Templeton Hardy is also doubtful “with an ankle,” Mullen said, but the team is mostly healthy.
As for the Tigers coming to Davis Wade this weekend, Mullen believes they are not a team to be over-looked, particularly because of talent and experience on the offensive and defensive lines.
“Watching them and looking at their team, I’d be surprised if they don’t win the SWAC Championship this year,” Mullen said.
The JSU defense is led by preseason FCS All-American defensive end Joseph LeBeau, who had 22.5 tackles for loss last season.
“A lot of experience on that side of the ball,” Mullen said. “Big, big defensive linemen. They’ve got some skill on the perimeter. They’ve got pass rushing guys.“
Mullen also cited the veterans on JSU’s offensive line, saying several of them played against MSU on Scott Field back in 2009.
While the Tigers have a new quarterback and a new offensive coordinator, they did put up big numbers last season, something Mullen expects to continue.
“I know they love to throw the ball all over the place,” Mullen said.
On the home front, Mullen expounded on some of the changes to MSU’s depth chart, the updated version of which was released on Friday.
Freshman middle linebacker Benardrick McKinney was one of the movers, earning an exclusive spot as a starter. However, that doesn’t mean sophomore Ferlando Bohanna won’t play much behind him. Just that McKinney has been particularly outstanding in practice.
“A very, very close race with him and Bohanna, those two,” Mullen said. “I see Benardrick starting, but I think when you get to the end of the game and you count reps, it’s not gonna be as separated.”
There is very little separation at right tackle, as well, with sophomore Damien Robinson and junior college transfer Charles Siddoway listed as co-starters at the position. Robinson was the sole starter on the initial depth chart before fall camp, so it would appear the big-bodied tackle has improved.
“I think he’s picked it up,” Mullen said. “I think he’s gotten used to the speed. He had a good offseason. From when he got here to now, he’s put on about 15-18 pounds. He’s gotten used to what it’s gonna be like playing against SEC guys.”
Much like McKinney and Bohanna, Mullen said he plans to throw both tackles out there early and often to see how they do and get them acclimated to the game experience.
Elsewhere on the depth chart, Mullen said he expects to play “several” kickers this Saturday as they try to nail down who will start.
He’s also planning on some packages for backup quarterback Dak Prescott, a dual-threat redshirt freshman. Mullen said it may not even be a full series, but that they plan to get Prescott in the game here and there, giving him his first experience and seeing how comfortable and effective he can be.
The final change on offense came in a switch for senior receiver Brandon Heavens, who moved from the inside as a slot guy to the outside backing up fellow senior Arceto Clark.
Heavens has spent his career at MSU on the inside, but Mullen said he knows all the receiver positions and could even switch back if he had to.
“If not our fastest, [Heavens is] one of our fastest wideouts,” Mullen said. “He gives that deep threat going on the outside that he can vertically stretch the field with his speed. I think his experience makes it a very easy adjustment for him, because he’s played a lot of football.”