The first in-season depth chart for Mississippi State football just came out (the entirety of which you can see at HailState.com) and in our football excitement, let’s look at what it means position-by-position.
We knew Dak Prescott would be one and Damian Williams would be two, So nothing too groundbreaking here. I’d expect Nick Fitzgerald to be the emergency No. 3, having spent extra time in the offense after arriving early back in December.
Again, Josh Robinson as the one is no surprise. Seeing senior Nick Griffin in the No. 2 spot is nice. He’s torn both his ACLs and seems to finally be healthy for the first time. He could push Robinson for carries, though as the season goes along, sophomore Ashton Shumpert will get in that mix as well following a strong fall camp.
Big story here is how the line has shaken out following graduation and injuries. Senior Ben Beckwith is at left guard (backed up by sophomore Jamaal Clayborn) while junior Justin Malone has right guard and sophomore Justin Senior is the starter at right tackle. There was speculation Malone could have switched to right tackle when senior Damien Robinson went down, but Senior has apparently shown enough in practice to prove to coaches he’s deserving of the starting gig.
Injuries aren’t good, but following the loss of Robinson, this was the ideal scenario for O-line coach John Hevesy and helps him to get his five best players on the field, which he’s stated often is his goal.
Again, the starter (Malcolm Johnson) we know, but it’s the rise of sophomore Gus Walley we take note of here, who is listed as the third tight end. He’s entering a season healthy for the first time and has taken advantage of his lack of injuries. In an offense which plans to utilize tight ends (and often two at a time) Walley will see the field plenty. Junior Brandon Hill serves as Johnson’s back-up following a consistent and strong fall camp.
No shocker here that sophomore De’Runnya Wilson has established himself as a starter along with seniors Robert Johnson and Jameon Lewis. Elsewhere, freshman Gabe Myles has earned the backup spot behind Lewis in his first season as a receiver and he’s looked impressive in practices. He’ll play a fair bit. Fred Brown has been a camp standout, as well, as we see by his listing as No. 2 behind Wilson. Sophomore Fred Ross isn’t on the two-deep, but I’d still expect him to have a big role, too.
Senior Preston Smith and junior Ryan Brown were the presumptive starters entering the season and they maintained their roles, but not without a push from sophomore A.J. Jefferson, who had a great spring and an even better fall. Also interesting to see sophomore Nelson Adams – all 300 pounds of him – earning a No. 2 spot at defensive end. The switch from tackle has worked for him.
No, Chris Jones isn’t listed as a starter. Yes, he will play as many if not more reps as any other defensive lineman on the team. This is a good opportunity to remind that MSU’s coaches take very little stock in what depth charts say, especially on defense. At this point, being called a “starter” is no more than the honor of having your name on the video board when the lineups are announced.
Behind seniors Kaleb Eulls and P.J. Jones as the “starters,” sophomore Nick James has pushed himself into a co-backup role with senior Curtis Virges, a good sign for the talented tackle.
Once more, the starters are what we expected with Benardrick McKinney, Matt Wells and Beniquez Brown serving as the top three. Behind McKinney, sophomore Richie Brown is the backup MLB and may be the first linebacker in off the bench. He’s done very well in the fall and will be the one to spell the All-American when he needs a break. On the outside, Christian Holmes is back on the defense for his senior and serves as primary backup to B. Brown. he’s been a special teams ace regardless of position and coaches have been impressed with him through camp entering his final year.
Another name to watch which isn’t listed: freshman Dez Harris. Coaches love him both for his athleticism and his intelligence. He’s someone to keep an eye on this year.
We knew who the top three would be with starters Taveze Calhoun and Jamerson Love and nickel corner Will Redmond. The question was who would step into the role as the fourth and we seem to have the answer in sophomore Tolando Cleveland, who earned reps as a true freshman last year.
Early returns appear to indicate senior Justin Cox’s switch from corner to safety to be a success. He’s earned the starting role at free safety, while senior (and newly-elected team captain) Jay Hughes is listed as ‘OR’ with junior Kendrick Market, who teammates consider the hardest hitter on the team.
Sophomore Evan Sobiesk finished last season as the starter and will likely get first crack at it again this year, but he’s listed as ‘OR’ with freshman Westin Graves, who made a push down the stretch of the preseason to make it a sincere battle for the job of kicking field goals.
MSU’s kickoff returners are returners from last year – Jameon Lewis and Robert Johnson – as are the punt returners, with Lewis and speedy sophomore Brandon Holloway taking the one and two spots there. Guys like Will Redmond and Justin Cox could find their way into those roles, as well.