April 16, 2011 11:12:00 PM
STARKVILLE -- When fall camp opened last season, Mississippi State wide receiver Michael Carr had no idea what was going on.
He hadn''t worked out with the team in summer while he finished academic work and awaited certification from the NCAA Clearinghouse.
He was out of shape, confused, and completely unfamiliar with the playbook and MSU''s up-tempo style of practice.
MSU coaches knew it was just a matter of time before Carr started to make an impact.
That''s why it wasn''t a surprise to the staff when Carr had his best game and first career touchdown in a 52-14 win against the University of Michigan in the Gator Bowl. Carr, like many of the team''s freshmen, put the bowl preparation month to good use.
"I stayed humble, and when you work hard you get opportunities like that," Carr said after the win.
Carr continued his steady development throughout the spring. He now is one of many young, talented options the Bulldogs can turn to in the passing game.
At 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, Carr gives quarterback Chris Relf a different target. Chad Bumphis, Arceto Clark, Brandon Heavens and Ricco Sanders are all 5-10.
"Mike''s gonna have to play this year, and play a lot some point," MSU receivers coach Angelo Mirando said. "With the ball in his hands he''s a dynamic kid, and he''s proven in practice he can go make a play. Now it''s just about making plays consistently, running your routes consistently, all the little things. But he''s become such a long way, so I see him contributing a lot."
Considering Carr missed summer workouts, he was behind when the team installed its playbook in the fall. Conditioning was one thing, but learning MSU''s complex route-running system presented a greater challenge.
"Different converges will determine what route you run and how you run a route," Mirando said. "In that aspect, nobody''s perfect, but Mike has improved a lot in understanding coverage concepts, understanding why we run this route versus this coverage, and how we can get you open. He''s come a long way from learning how to line up at the start of fall camp."
In MSU''s run-based system, blocking is a critical component of receivers'' responsibilities. And since the Bulldogs often run sets with three or four receivers, there''s a greater premium on perimeter blocking.
As one of the team''s bigger receivers, Carr can be a force against cornerbacks and safeties, but also against linebackers.
"I don''t know if blocking is a strength for any wide receiver we have right now," Mirando said. "It''s something that will be a strength before this season comes around. First and foremost, we''re gonna block. We''re gonna block the perimeter and do things teams need to do to be successful. Mike is a big, physical kid, and he has to learn how to use his body. You''ll see it on film. He''ll go attack a guy and pin him and do what he has to do, but it''s doing it consistently that he lacks. But he''s figuring it out."
Virges hopes to crack defensive tackle rotation
Coming off labrum surgery last season, MSU redshirt freshman defensive tackle Curtis Virges had an injury-free spring practice.
But he''s far from earning consistent game repetitions, MSU coach Dan Mullen said.
"(Virges) has a long way to go," Mullen said. "That''s something where he''s going to have to take a giant step this summer and fall before he hits that rotation and plays to the level of expectation we expect our d-line to play with."
The opportunity for repetitions is there, as the Bulldogs moved senior James Carmon to offensive line, leaving Devin Jones and Jeff Howie as second-team tackles.
Virges and Kaleb Eulls hope to add their names to the mix.
Virges didn''t go through fall practice, but he returned to practice during bowl preparation.
When he came back, he was unsure of how hard to push himself and shied away from using the shoulder off the ball. During the spring, he felt 100 percent and noticed an improvement in his quickness off the ball.
He hopes his strength, which has been the cornerstone of his game, can help him overcome his lack of experience.
"If I didn''t have this strength, I''d be bowled on out of there," Virges said. "Those guys are big and strong, and I felt like I was able to get off the ball better, shoot my hands better, and hold my ground.
"It''s up to coach how much I play, but it''s not going to change how hard I work. I know I''m a redshirt guy."