Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen will lead the Bulldogs program through his sixth spring practice since taking the job in Starkville. The Bulldogs return 17 starters for a team that finished 7-6 in 2013.
March 18, 2014 1:38:03 PM
STARKVILLE - Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen continually stresses that college football teams have a shelf life of one year. Therefore, today marks the birth of the 2014 MSU team as they prepare for their first practice of the spring.
With just hours until the MSU team takes the field for its first action since a 44-7 victory in the 2013 Liberty Bowl over Rice, The Dispatch MSU Sports Blog wanted to highlight five important angles to the spring and fans will want to pay attention to over the next month.
NOTE: THE 2014 MISSISSIPPI STATE SPRING TWO-PAGE ROSTER IS IN THE TOP LEFT CORNER OF THIS POST.
1) How will MSU junior quarterback Dak Prescott react initially to his new position coach and his head coach publicly stating he'll be the play caller for the offense?
MSU returns 17 total starters from the 7-6 squad but none more important than Prescott. As my Bulldogs Sports Radio co-host Joel Coleman said on The Full Court Press Monday, he'll be texting me only one question after every spring practice: "Is Dak healthy after today?". Prescott tossed for 1,940 yards on 156-of-267 passes with 10 touchdowns. He added a team-best 829 yards on the ground with 13 rushing scores. Prescott leads all returning Southeastern Conference quarterbacks with 17 career rushing touchdowns.
"There's a lot of external expectations but I can tell you that nobody is harder on himself than Dak when it comes to getting what he wants accomplished," MSU new quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson said. "He already holds himself to a extremely high standard. So it's just a matter of him going out there each and every day focused on the necessary things to get better."
Prescott will have his entire receiving group back from the 2013 season and will likely use this time to get comfortable with the style changes from his new position coach in Johnson.
"When you see (Prescott), you can tell he's a quarterback," Johnson said. "He carries himself with a certain demeanor, very charismatic and very good with people. I'm excited to get to work with him and get to refine and develop those tools to get him to reach his maximum potential."
it'll be interesting to see the dynamic of Mullen balancing the primary play caller duties with his head coach responsibilities. In the 2013 season, Mullen called the plays from the sidelines but made it publicly known on National Signing Day in February that with offensive coordinator Les Koenning heading to Texas, the offense would be his personal responsibility in 2014.
"I called all the plays for us last year. I spent a lot of time with the quarterbacks," Mullen said Feb. 10. "The two quarterbacks who are coming in (as freshmen) know that I was sort of the quarterback coach anyway. "Along with Brian's addition, (wide receivers coach) Billy (Gonzales)and (offensive line coach) John (Hevesy) will continue to develop our offense, which was the most explosive in school history last season," Mullen said.
2) Where are the players who suffered season-ending injuries last year physically in their rehabilitation?
In a 2013 season that was revenged by injuries, MSU will welcome back veterans Jay Hughes and Justin Malone to the team after suffering devastating season-ending surgeries. Hughes, the starting strong safety in the 2013 opening game loss to Oklahoma State, went down in the first drive of the season to an achilles injury. He'll now try to slowly work back into a safety rotation with the two players that two over his position in a platoon role in Dee Arrington and Kendrick Market.
Malone, the projected starter at right guard, was lost in the Oklahoma State game to a season-ending leg injury and will try to find chemistry and depth with returning seniors Dillon Day, Blaine Clausell and Ben Beckwith on the offensive line.
"It's a position that we had some depth coming into the season but has just been devastated by injury," Mullen said last October. "Now that depth we had going in is no longer depth when you start getting banged up."
3) Will MSU offensive line coach John Hevesy finally build depth up front?
The MSU offensive line returns three senior starters (Dillon Day at center, Blaine Clausell at left tackle and Ben Beckwith at guard). The Bulldogs also bring back spot starter Damien Robinson at right tackle. It'll be interesting to see who the coaching staff initially tabs to replace projected draft pick Gabe Jackson at left guard. With four-star prospects Jake Thomas and Kent Flowers coming off redshirt years mixed in with sophomore Jamaal Clayborn and converted tight end Rufus Warren, Hevesy might be able to finally rotate 6-8 offensive lineman in games after five years of being afraid of one injury setting back his plans.
4) What wide receivers step forward in year 2 of Billy Gonzales coaching the position?
Every wide receiver from MSU's 2013 season returns. Yes, read that sentence again and then, go back up to question 1 to see why Prescott is considered an early All-SEC first-team favorite. De'Runnya Wilson made a surprise impact in his freshman season with 26 catches and three touchdowns in 13 games. Prescott will also have veteran targets in Jameon Lewis, Robert Johnson and Joe Morrow to throw the football to and will look for improved numbers as Gonzales, who was promoted to co-offensive coordinator with Hevesy this winter, has much more experienced group in 2014.
5) Will Chris Jones be at defensive end or defensive tackle?
Ask Chris Jones what he is and he'll say defensive end. The fact is however, the former five-star recruit from Houston, Miss., was kicked inside to tackle for the 2013 season in order to get him on the field early.
"I'm not a defensive tackle," Jones said Sept. 7 after the victory over Alcorn State. "I'm a defensive end that is playing defensive tackle for the moment. Hopefully my label and position is going to change."
Jones had 32 tackles, a team-high seven tackles for loss and three sacks at defensive tackle but with a void at defensive end with the graduation loss of Denico Autry, it's conceivable all 300 pounds of Jones could be back at his favorite position this spring.
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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