October 1, 2012 10:02:29 PM
STARKVILLE -- The football coaches at Mississippi State University have been pointing to this first road Southeastern Conference game at the University of Kentucky for the return of injured tight end Malcolm Johnson.
MSU coach Dan Mullen said Monday he is hopeful Johnson will make his 2012 debut this weekend right on track with the rehabilitation plan.
"We've got to see what (Malcolm) can do," Mullen said. "He hasn't done any live stuff yet so he still has some recovery time left with the adaptation time to get back in it. He hasn't played any football since last April. So I think it will be a slower process, it's not like we're saying 'hey get back in there and go'."
The redshirt sophomore tight end suffered an undisclosed injury to his pectoral muscle in early July before fall camp. Johnson, a 6-foot-2 and 225-pound tight end was one of 33 players selected to the 2012 John Mackey Award watch list, given to the nation's best tight end, that will be presented Dec. 6.
Johnson finished last season with 206 yards receiving on 11 catches but had quickly formed a bond with junior quarterback Tyler Russell as the duo combined for two touchdown combinations including one when MSU (4-0, 1-0 in SEC) traveled to Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington last year. as the starter behind center in the middle of the 2011 campaign.
The Bulldogs depth at the position quickly thinned out to just Marcus Green, who was granted a sixth year of eligibility, and redshirt sophomore Brandon Hill. Hill, a West Lowdnes High School graduate, is coming off a ankle injury that has hampered his ability to get in the action of the passing attack.
Green had three touchdowns through the first two games but a tight end hasn't caught a single pass.
"Basically his training camp has started now and everybody else is halfway through the season," Mullen said. "It's huge for us because (Malcolm) is a playmaker and tough to match up on."
MSU waiting till Saturday to determine playing status for OG Tobias Smith: MSU coach Dan Mullen is in no hurry to determine if senior offensive guard Tobias Smith and his surgically repaired knee will be ready for Saturday at Kentucky (11:21 a.m., SEC Network).
Mullen said he, the coaching staff and the Bulldogs training staff will have a ruling during warmups before the game if the Columbus native will miss his third straight game of the season.
"If he feels really confident and 100 percent, then you probably go with him," Mullen said. "Either way, he has to get practice. Sometimes after practice he's really sore and you think, 'OK, well, he might not be ready for the game' but we've got to get him into practice to see how it is and see if he feels great about going.
The rehabilitation process has had the senior from Columbus not see any action in the last two games against Troy University and the University of South Alabama. Mullen confirmed this week was the first they thought they'd see Smith return to the lineup when the surgery first took place last year.
"This is getting close to the time we expected him back," Mullen said. "We originally thought, with the trainers, that this was about as close as we thought about getting him back (but) he came back early for the Auburn game and I don't think it set him back any."
Justin Malone, who has been substituted for Smith during periods of the first two contests of the 2012 season, got the start at right guard in the last two games with the rest of the starting MSU line staying intact.
To be honest, I'd like to see if he could go multiple weeks in a row, and we give him a little bit of rest," Mullen said. "It's such a play it by ear deal."
Smith has been limited in fall camp because of multiple ankle surgeries and now the completion of rehabilitation from his knee injury.
Running back depth chart still not determined: MSU tried to structure practice during the bye week to make sure a backup running back was figured out for the stretch run of their 2012 season. However, a go-to figure between Nick Griffin, Josh Robinson and Derrick Milton wasn't determined.
"We hoped that one would step forward but something interesting happened because it was one different guy each day last week," MSU running backs coach Greg Knox said. "I'd say it's a bit frustrating right now because we're looking for consistency."
Mullen said the tailbacks rotation including all four players including starter LaDarius Perkins would continue throughout the season including a situational determination for playing time.
Milton, who is second on the team in rushing, has 111 of his 133 yards this season in the second halves of games where he is averaging 7.4 yards per carry. Robinson has twice as many carries in the second halves of games when MSU has been looking to rest Perkins and Griffin has 5.29 yards per carry on first down touches.
"Last year (Kentucky) put nine guys down at the line of scrimmage (and) no matter if you're good or bad rushing, it's hard to run the ball when they've basically got two guys unblocked every play," Mullen said. "They're going to be a pretty good run defense and they gave us the pass game and we were able to make some plays in the air on them."
Kickoff for Tennessee: Mississippi State's Oct. 13 home game with Tennessee will kickoff at 8 p.m. and will be broadcast nationally by ESPN2, the Southeastern Conference announced Monday.