Receivers and defensive backs highlight positions to watch in open bowl practices

Since April, we’ve seen Mississippi State practice twice. Over that time, Dan Mullen has welcomed a slew a new freshmen, put them through of summer of Matt Balis workouts, gone through fall camp, jumped off to a 7-0 start, been selected to a bowl game and seen many of his stars given postseason honors.

Now that we get another look into the operations of his football team, there’s a lot to keep our collective eyes on. I’ll be doing just that as MSU opens bowl practice this week, Wednesday through Saturday, with a pen and a pad in hand, taking notes, making observations and trying to learn a little bit.

425014_483240348355119_1187940702_nWe’ll have all of that, as well as plenty of interviews and the like, here on the blog in the coming days.

As we prepare to venture onto cold, damp practice fields, here are the names and positions I’ll be watching.

Christian Holmes

The sophomore linebacker is switching to tight end/fullback in what Mullen termed an experimental move. If it goes well, the switch could stick, and I think it may. The change was considered in the preseason, but Holmes stuck on defense. His build is a bit similar to graduating tight end Marcus Green, and Holmes is big, smart and athletic. He seems like a natural fit for the H-back position and would pair well with Malcolm Johnson, a converted receiver who has a frame more appropriate for his former position. Whenever Holmes got on the field this year, good things tended to happen. This may be a good way to ensure he spends more time inside the lines than out.

Young Receivers

I’m particularly excited to see true freshman Brandon Holloway, who redshirted this year and is smaller than most of the kickers. He was a running back and track star in high school in Florida, and his teammates have said he might be the fastest player not only on the team, but in the state. I saw him burn more than a few defensive backs in the little of training camp I got to see, the only concern was his handling of the ball. As often as he got open, he struggled catching the ball.

“Whenever he gets the ball in his hands he’s good, so we just gotta get him the ball,” senior receiver Chad Bumphis said. “If we have to hand it to him, whatever it takes. He played running back in high school so he never really caught passes.”

With Bumphis and four other senior pass-catchers leaving, Holloway and a few others taking a big step will be important. “Smooth” Fred Brown is another one of those, a freshman receiver who redshirted this year and plays on the outside. He got the nickname, Bumphis said, from being so smooth in his routes. For a freshman, he’s impressed the veterans with his knowledge of the offense.

I’m also anxious to see how redshirt freshman Joe Morrow has progressed the last few months. At 6’5”, he’s the tallest receiver on the team, and he’s fast, too. We saw him get past even Johnthan Banks for touchdowns in the spring and fall, but he wasn’t quite ready to play significantly this season. With Chris Smith and Arceto Clark leaving big gaps on the outside, Morrow will have plenty of opportunity in his sophomore season to get on the field and have a quick impact.

Pretty Much Every Non-Starter in the Secondary

I hope that’s unspecific enough for you. But with Johnthan Banks, Darius Slay and Corey Broomfield graduating, there will be a lot of new faces in the defensive backfield for MSU. The one guy I’m most excited to see?

“Tiger Jiles,” Broomfield said. “Cedric Jiles, no doubt. From camp, day one, we all said it. Like, wow, he can really play. If he wasn’t playing behind a Thorpe Award winner, a second-team All-SEC guy and a four year starter, maybe he would’ve played this year. But when you’ve got those guys in front of you, it’s kind of hard to get on the field.”

We saw a fair bit of guys like Jamerson Love and Taveze Calhoun during the season, though I would like to see how well they do assuming a starting role – at least temporarily – in bowl prep.

Another guy we’ve seen almost none of is Jiles’ fellow freshman Will Redmond, who redshirted this year. He was one of the most sought after recruits in the 2012 signing class and brings as much athleticism and length to the secondary as Johnthan Banks did when he got on campus. He could end up as either a corner or a safety, again like Banks, and he stands to make a quick impact, presuming he’s got the mental part of defense wrapped up.

Kendrick Markett is another name, this time a safety, I’ll be watching for. He’s another uber-athletic guy who was highly thought of coming out of high school, and all reports indicate he’s tough and smart, too.

The Browns

I considered making a horrible ‘Meet The Browns’ joke here about Richie and Beniquez Brown, but they’re not related and I won’t stoop so low. That said, the pair of freshmen linebackers (along with a few older ones) will be competing for the outside linebacker spot vacated by Cam Lawrence when he graduates. Word on the street is Richie has caught the eyes of coaches and been impressive in practice on scout team throughout the season. He was a tackling machine in high school and an extremely smart player, both similar to Lawrence at MSU.

D-linemen Everywhere

Between freshmen tackles Nick James and Quay Evans who played sparingly this year, freshmen ends Ryan Brown (also played) and Torrey Dale (redshirted) and sophomore playmakers Preston Smith and P.J. Jones, there is a ton of talent on the bench for MSU and defensive coordinator Chris Wilson. With three tackles, and two of them starters, graduating this year, I’m curious to see who among the young pups steps up and challenges for a starting role.

And as Wilson always says, no one’s job is guaranteed. Slay was able to get the starting corner job from Broomfield this year, and it’s not unreasonable to think someone like Smith or Brown could steal a few starting nods from one of the returning ends.

“We’ll have a lot of new faces on defense next year,” Mullen said.

Yes he will.

On offense, MSU likely returns its top eight linemen, as well both quarterbacks and four running backs, so receiver remains the position to watch on that side of the ball. However, Mullen did say last week he’s anxious to see the two younger running backs, redshirt freshmen Derrick Milton and Josh Robinson, who earned some reps in the first half of the season but didn’t see a ton of time over the final stretch.

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