Spring football positional review and Spring Game video highlights

 

This afternoon, the final practice of the spring for Mississippi State football will take place, a more ceremonial affair effectively ending the first trimester of the offseason.

The big finish, of course, came in the Maroon-White Spring Game on Saturday as part of Super Bulldog Weekend.

We’ll do full-spring positional breakdowns below, but the above video and some quick stats ought to help in reviewing the scrimmage in Davis Wade Stadium.

With a final score of 41-38, it’s not hard to see that the offenses collectively had big days, which is likely a good sign. Defenses will always be relatively vanilla in these types of contests, so it can be concerning if the offense still can’t move the ball.

It’s also worth noting that it was a very pass-heavy game.

Highlights from the statistics –

Leading rushers:

  • Nick Griffin – Nine carries, 35 yards, one touchdown
  • Josh Robinson – Five carries, 22 yards
  • Dak Prescott – Three carries, 12 yards, one touchdown.

Leading receivers:

  • Fred Brown – 10 catches, 219 yards, two touchdowns
  • Robert Johnson – Five catches, 55 yards
  • Fred Ross – Four catches, 81 yards
  • De’Runnya Wilson – Four catches, 87 yards
  • Joe Morrow – Four catches, 68 yards, one touchdown

Leading passers:

  • Dak Prescott – 7-9, 131 yards, one touchdown
  • Damian Williams – 21-32, 347 yards, four touchdowns
  • Nick Fitzgerald – 17-26, 175 yards, one touchdown

Leading tackler:

  • Beniquez Brown, 10

Sacks:

  • (All had one) Preston Smith, Ryan Brown, A.J. Jefferson, Jordan Washington, Trent Simpson

Now, enough with the numbers. Let’s look at we learned and some big picture reviews from the spring in the positional breakdown.

Quarterback

KTZFSKZARUSTFKC.20140412220926MSU knew what it had in Dak Prescott, and him building on that and emerging from the spring without injury is the biggest key here. However, the improvement by sophomore Damian Williams and freshman Nick Fitzgerald stands out as a big positive. Williams made strides after getting so much experience as a true freshman, the results of which we saw in the spring game.

Having a quality backup, especially in the SEC and with a running QB, is important for Dan Mullen’s team.

Offensive Line

After each scrimmage and following the spring game, we never found ourselves talking much about the offensive line, which is the best compliment you can give them. Sophomore Jamaal Clayborn has done an outstanding job taking over at left guard for Gabe Jackson, being sandwiched nicely by seniors Blaine Clausell and Dillon Day at left tackle and center, respectively.

On the right side of the line, minor injuries have prevented us from getting the full picture, but those available (and there are several in this deep group) performed well over the course of the spring. Senior Ben Beckwith, the returning starter at right guard, was outstanding when thrust into the lineup last year, though players like Justin Malone and Jocquell Johnson, depending where they end up, could push him for that gig when healthy.

Running Back

Mullen told us day one that Josh Robinson entered the spring as the starter, and everything he’s done on the field has kept him in that position, but the emergence of finally-healthy senior Nick Griffin, the biggest back in the group, has shown it won’t be a one-man show.

Griffin was one of the breakout stars of the spring and has certainly carved himself a role in the offense.

A change of pace guy, speedy sophomore Brandon Holloway seems to have a found a good home for his particular set of skills. Not that others can’t catch the ball, but none in the backfield can touch his speed, while he’s also shown some shiftiness I didn’t know he had. He’ll be used in a multitude of ways and, like LaDarius Perkins often did, he’ll line up at receiver plenty. A few touches a game, in some form or fashion, may be all Holloway needs to make a big impact.

Wide Receiver/Tight End

Mullen said after the scrimmage Saturday that this is the best group of pass-catchers he’s ever had at MSU. I try not to argue with him anyway, but I wouldn’t even want to on this occasion.

Jameon Lewis looks like he’ll continue his pace of yards and scores in a variety of ways from last year, while true sophomore De’Runnya Wilson has already gotten better after playing as a true freshman. At 6’5” with speed, strong hands and a good vertical, Wilson can be the X-factor opposing defenses have to worry about.

As expected, veterans Robert Johnson and Joe Morrow had strong springs, while youngsters Fred Brown (a sophomore), Gabe Myles (a freshman converted from corner) and Shelby Christy (a freshman who also runs track) made big jumps.

Christy was part of one of the more impressive plays of the spring game, hauling in a diving touchdown catch from Damian Williams in the back corner of the endzone.

MSU also finds itself deep at tight end, where senior Malcolm Johnson is a known quantity, while junior Brandon Hill has been as consistent as ever backing him up. The surprise star of group for the spring has been sophomore Gus Walley. He’s never been healthy until now, but tight ends coach Scott Sallach compared him to Johnson in terms of what he can do.

Defensive Line

Senior tackles P.J. Jones and Kaleb Eulls were limited, but David Turner knows what he has in those two. He’s also got no lack of confidence in senior end Preston Smith, who decided to return for his senior season rather than the NFL Draft, and junior Ryan Brown, a rangy player who Turner praised as a lunch pail guy.

The star of the spring, in my eyes and Turner’s, was sophomore end A.J. Jefferson. He may not be as big as some others, but whenever he’s in, he makes plays. Turner called him the most consistent player of the spring and he’s seemingly taken hold of the role as No. 3 end.

Of course, not just the star of the spring but the star of the whole defensive line is sophomore tackle/end Chris Jones. Probably the most feared player in the group, Jones dropped a few pounds to bolster his already strong pass rush, and he’s finally learning the defense, figuring out how to play without thinking.

If he continues on this trajectory, he’s in for a big year.

One final story from the line is sophomore tackle Nick James. He played as a true freshman before redshirting last year, but the big-bodied and extremely talented player seems to have figured things out. He’s gotten himself in shape, trimming down and working on his endurance. If he meets his potential, he’s yet another stud in the group.

Linebacker

Talking to defensive coaches, I got a surprising answer to the most improved player: junior middle linebacker Benardrick McKinney. He chose to turn down the NFL for at least a year and return for another season, but the fact that he could be on an NFL roster right now is not hard to see when you watch him at practice.

Elsewhere, sophomore Beniquez Brown is grabbing strong hold of the starting spot at outside linebacker vacated by Deontae Skinner. He’s been one of the top playmakers this spring and looks primed for a good first season as starter.

One name which has kept popping up is that of freshman Dez Harris, who may be the next in line of freakishly athletic and long linebackers after K.J. Wright and McKinney. He may not be a starter as a freshman in 2014, but have no doubt he’ll be an impact player off the bench, and sophomore Richie Brown won’t be far behind him, taking a leadership position amongst the group and steadily improving with each practice.

Defensive Back

Both starting corners from last year – senior Jamerson Love and junior Taveze Calhoun – return for 2014, but the depth at this position has changed dramatically over the last 12 months. Junior Will Redmond may have made more big plays than anyone else in the secondary over the last several weeks and sophomore Cedric Jiles seemingly caught on fire the final two weeks of spring.

No matter who starts, all four will see the field frequently.

At safety, MSU has an odd mix of experience and inexperience. Senior Justin Cox made the move from corner to safety and it appears to be a much more natural fit for him. One of the fastest players on the team, and with good length to boot, he has breakout potential on the back line.

Senior Jay Hughes is the unquestioned leader of the group, and one of the leaders of the team, though he was very limited over the spring.

Junior Kendrick Market filled in well after injuries last year and clearly learned from the experience, showing maturity in the spring. Behind them at safety is sophomore Deontay Evans, who has shown tremendous potential and will push for playing time in 2014.

Special Teams

The biggest news of the spring came on its very last play when sophomore placekicker Evan Sobiesk nailed the game-winning field goal in the final seconds of the spring game.

Running backs coach Greg Knox has taken over special teams and the effects seem pretty clear. Sophomore Devon Bell, focusing solely on punting, has been near perfect with distance, hang time and placement and the return game shows potential with some speedy players back deep for kicks and punts.

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