That’s What He Said: Reviewing MSU’s offense after spring football

It may seem as if it just began, but spring is now over at Mississippi State, at least for the football team. Spring practices concluded this weekend with the annual Maroon-White scrimmage in Davis Wade Stadium, meaning we’ve got a long few months of waiting and speculating before fall camp begins in August (still summer, if you ask me or the sun).

LNYCMJOHUVCTRZT.20150418221646Things will certainly change between now and then, and they will surely change some more between the start of camp and the first game of the season at Southern Miss, but we learned a lot about where MSU stands over the course of the spring, so we’ll break it down by position with some general observations and thoughts from coaches.

We’ll start with the offense today and come back with the defensive side of the ball tomorrow.

Offensive Line

Can a group lose three starters and be better? At least in terms of depth, that seems to be the case, though we’ve got a while until we see how it pans out with the starting five.

Exiting spring, it appears to be athletic senior Rufus Warren at left tackle, senior Justin Malone at left guard, junior Jamaal Clayborn at center (moved over from guard), junior Devon Desper at right guard and junior Justin Senior at right tackle. That group performed very well, and it speaks to the talent of the two tackles that Martinas Rankin, the No. 1 junior college tackle in the country, hasn’t been able to crack the starting lineup.

That’s What He Said: Dan Mullen on MSU’s offensive line – “They’re coming along. We’ve got a long time until they play. If you look, we’ve got a lot of good offensive linemen, we’ve just got to get them experience. They can’t get enough reps, we could have 15 more practices and be happy. There’s only two of them that have had legitimate bunches of game reps.”

Quarterback

I’ve got a good feeling about this Dak Prescott guy, really think he’s got a chance to be decent. Really though, everyone knows what MSU has in Prescott, but it’s the emergence of redshirt freshman Nick Fitzgerald that’s been the big story. 6’5” and 225 pounds with a big arm, he’s rocketed up the depth chart, looking like the first option behind Prescott while junior Damian Williams and freshman Elijah Staley have been sidelined with injuries.

Short term, Williams would be the first player in if Prescott were sidelined for a few plays. But if Prescott were sidelined long-term, and certainly after he graduates following this season, I have a feeling Fitzgerald is the next man up.

That’s What He Said: Dan Mullen on what Dak Prescott is working on this offseason – “You want to see his ability to get to second, third and fourth progressions, make throws, make off-balance throws, throws on the run, unorthodox throws, changing arm angles to get around linemen. Things that take some experience. The biggest one right now is here’s a guy that knows what it takes on the field to go out there and win.”

Wide Receiver

Similar to the offensive line, this may be the most talent at the position in the Dan Mullen era, and truthfully it may rival any team at MSU all-time in terms of ability.

De’Runnya Wilson is the star (as written in this space Saturday) but the story from spring was true junior Fred Ross. Injuries slowed the first couple years of his career a bit, but Ross seems to be the smoothest and most consistent receiver on the team. He catches everything, runs routes perfectly and has enough speed and size to compete with anyone.

Moving Ross to the slot seemed odd to me at first, but the more I watched it through the spring – and the more I heard the rave reviews from former slot star Chad Bumphis – the better a switch it seemed. Wilson getting attention on the outside and Ross moving the chains from the slot and even out of the backfield will be a tough tandem to cover, all while 6’5” senior Joe Morrow (who doesn’t seem to have received enough credit for his consistency and improvement the last 12 months) patrols the third spot.

Throw in Gabe Myles, Fred Brown, Donald Gray, Jesse Jackson, plus pass-catching tight end Gus Walley (another spring star this year), and MSU has more weapons than ever.

That’s What He Said: Dak Prescott on what he and De’Runnya Wilson will work on in the offseason – “He should know what I’m thinking from the moment I drop back based on what the coverage is, and vice-versa.”

Running Back

With Josh Robinson off the to the NFL, rising junior Ashton Shumpert entered the spring as the presumed starter after a strong finish to the 2014 season. He exited the spring seemingly still holding on to that spot, but his grip appears much more tenuous as redshirt freshman Dontavian Lee was one of the breakout stars on the offensive side of the ball.

Lee may be the least-recruited running back of the group, but he seems to be the most well-rounded. He’s got the size to run up the middle, as well as the hands and the speed to catch passes out of the backfield or bounce runs outside. It was his running that set up the White team in the redzone for its first score of Saturday’s scrimmage and his five-yard touchdown run that tied it up later in the second quarter.

That’s What He Said: Dan Mullen on Dontavian Lee – “He runs the ball really hard. He’s done a real good job of picking up the offense. That’s important for young guys. You recruit him to put the ball in his hand and let him go run, but there’s so much more than that.

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