March 20, 2013 6:27:58 PM
STARKVILLE - It's that time again.
Mississippi State conducted its first spring practice of the 2013 season with three new coaches and numerous new faces looking to establish themselves in several open positions left by graduating players.
The media got to speak with MSU coach Dan Mullen on the each of his fifth spring season since taking the job in Starkville in 2009. Mullen overlooks a spring depth chart, that is created by the media relations staff and never officially recognized by the MSU coaching staff, that has lots of youth including 10 sophomores and a redshirt freshman on it.
For Mullen and his newly constructed staff that includes familiar but new faces at wide receiver coach, defensive line coach and cornerbacks coach, the spring season represents a classroom atmosphere on the gridiron to teach younger players that it may be their moment to grab some veteran leadership on this squad.
"We showed the team there's a lot of tackles, a lot of pass break-ups, a bunch of sacks, a ton of interceptions to make up for," Mullen said. "I think over 180 receptions and over 2,200 yards; 22 touchdowns, all missing off of last year's team. So there's tremendous opportunity to become a starter, to become even a role player. There's a tremendous opportunity to become a star player. There's a tremendous opportunity for new leadership out there. Not just in the off-season, but as it goes more. Those opportunities are out there, they've been training; now they get the opportunity to go out there and earn some of those opportunities out on the field."
We'll have more in Thursday's Dispatch on what fans can expect to see in spring practices as MSU conducts 13 more practices before the Maroon-White spring game on April 20.
During the Wednesday workout, MSU offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Les Koenning had sophomore signal caller Dak Prescott throwing dump-off passes to running backs while the 230-pounder was sitting in a chair. Prescott, who combined for 312 total yards last season, had his left foot in a cast after having offseason surgery to repair the big toe on his foot.
"You guys come to practice you'll be scratching your heads sometimes like today, he'll be sitting on a box with his foot still in a cast, he'll be on a box with his foot up in a chair throwing," Mullen said. "He won't be very mobile in that position! But that's why he won't be doing any team stuff. A day like today, we're getting accustomed to it, he'll be doing more routes and one-on-one stuff, but there is the opportunity for us to do that in seven-on-seven as spring moves forward."
The other major injuries throughout the spring that will restrict certain players from participation are:
Junior TB Nick Griffin (ACL tear in right knee)
Sophomore CB Taveze Calhoun (shoulder)
walk-on redshirt-freshman RB Johnathan Long
walk-on redshirt-freshman WR Michael Hodges
Mullen confirmed guard Tobias Smith will sit out the spring practices as he still debates whether he will return for his sixth season of eligibility granted to him by the NCAA in January.
"He's going to be more in a coaching capacity right now in the spring with the O-linemen than the playing capacity," Mullen said about Smith's role in the spring. "Again the final decision on him won't be made until the summer. I don't anticipate him practicing, unless he just is out on the field and says 'Coach I've got to play, I want to get out there and do something'. The plan has been to make a decision on him later as we get closer to summer time."
The most difficult coaching job of the spring may be new cornerbacks coach Deshea Townsend as he must try to replace three seniors and two players with high NFL Draft stock in Jonathan Banks and Darius Slay from his position group. In the spring depth chart, MSU has former East Mississippi Community College transfer Justin Cox and junior Jamerson Love as starters but Mullen reminded everyone Wednesday afternoon that those playing time spots are wide open.
"What's really neat for (Townsend) in that role is these guys are coming back as first-year starters (and) he's coming in as a first-year coach," Mullen said. "So they're all kind of going through it together with us. I like that. I like the fact that in his mind there's no preconceived notions of any of these guys. There's no depth chart at that position. He could put anybody he wants on the field at any time, we've got to see who can do what. Really Jamerson Love is the only one with any experience coming back at that position, with Taveze being out this spring. He gets to come in and implement how he wants to do things and he gets to really start with all these guys from scratch without any preconceived notion of who is the returning starter or not a starter. He's developing all of them and we'll get together and make the decision of who the best guys to be on the field are."
The final interesting tidbit we were able to squeeze out of Mullen in the pre-spring media session was the idea that senior quarterback Tyler Russell will get a chance to showcase his input in the offense on a much more consistent basis due to his experience in the spread-option playbook.
"The great thing when you have a fifth-year senior quarterback, he is going to feel very comfortable in making his input," Mullen said. "I think some young guys sometimes they want to give input but they don't know they know enough to give input that makes sense. Where a Tyler Russell now, he knows our system, he knows our offense, he knows what we want to accomplish, he knows what he is comfortable with. That he is going to have a lot of input because I can trust his input. He's going to say hey, if I'm going to throw a fade to this guy I like this guy getting this matchup to the field, I like this guy to the boundary better. I like trying to lay it out for one guy or back-shoulder another guy. He is going to feel a lot more comfortable and be able to express that to us, to make sure we create the matchups as we put this offense together this year. In the spring again you have a thicker playbook, through training camp as the season comes starts to thin out more and more to what fits our personnel and what our guys do best."
All of the Dispatch MSU Sports Blog readers: feel free to follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/matthewcstevens for up-to-date Mississippi State coverage.
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