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Short passing game emerges as storyline from spring

 

Matthew Stevens

 

STARKVILLE --Tyler Russell has finally figured out what being a quarterback is all about. 

 

The Mississippi State University fifth-year senior quarterback is more worried about making the simple play for positive yards than being responsible for the big mistake. It's this line of thinking that has kept Russell relying on his short options, either the tight end or the tailback out of the backfield, similarly to way he orchestrated the MSU offense forward in Saturday's Maroon-White spring game. 

 

"As I get older in my career it's about taking what the defense gives you - boy that sounds boring doesn't it?," Russell said with a smile, "It's true though because you don't have to force anything downfield. I get that now." 

 

Coming off a final spring scrimmage where he was part of a six-turnover day, Russell made it a point of emphasis to be more efficient in his final exposure to Davis Wade Stadium during the spring. In the Maroon-White game, Russell finished 13 for 24 for 179 yards and two touchdowns in only one half of action. 

 

"We wanted Tyler to get off and play well, play fast. Because we were only going to play him in the first half," Mullen said. "You know, we needed to get him those quality reps and I thought the first half was good." 

 

As the only healthy scholarship quarterback, Russell took the second half of the spring game 

 

Russell's favorite targets Saturday included tight end and former West Lowndes High School star Brandon Hill for both of his touchdown catches and tailback Josh Robinson out of the backfield on screens, swing passes and wheel routes. Hill's only two catches were the touchdowns on classic NFL style play-action plays at the goal line where the former three-star athlete found himself all alone in the back of the end zone because the linebackers were beat on the handoff fake. 

 

The dump off pass to the tailback in the flat could be major factor in the MSU passing game with senior LaDarius Perkins being the leading returner in receptions from this past season. Perkins was out of the Maroon-White spring game Saturday, as he'd sat for the final for precautionary reasons for concussion symptoms. When his fully healthy in the fall it appears he, Robinson and possibly converted wide receiver Brandon Holloway could be targets for Russell for plays to exploit yards after the catch possibilities. 

 

"When you check it down, you get five yards (so) isn't that the idea?," Russell said. "In my mind the spring is about taking the mistakes of last season and working on it, tuning it up and turning it into a positive for the upcoming season. My faults I think as a quarterback and as a passer were not finding those backs for those easy yards." 

 

Russell, who had four interceptions in the 34-20 loss on New Year's Day in the 2013 Gator Bowl against Northwestern University, focused most of the spring season on one single on-the-field item and a critical off-the-field element to help him prepare for his final season at MSU. As a fifth-year senior Russell certainly isn't satisfied with his 2012 season that included a school record 2,897 yards through the air and 24 touchdowns because it also included 10 interceptions. To counter those mistakes off the playing field, which included nine interceptions in his final six games, Russell has gone to the meeting room. With MSU coach Dan Mullen's supervision, Russell knows he needs to be not only be more prepared so the player-coach relationship has shortened a very thick playbook and constructed an offensive scheme that suits his skill sets. Throughout the NCAA-mandated 15 practices this spring, Russell spent more time taking the snap under center instead of in the preferred shotgun position with his tailback to his side. Now MSU fans and opponent's defenses, like they saw on Saturday will likely see Russell going from under center to the gun formation in a audible call that he'll have more freedom with in the 2013 season. 

 

"He's a great competitor, he's a great player," MSU defensive coordinator Geoff Collins said. 

 

In his first spring as defensive coordinator, Collins was asked to call defenses that would challenge Russell all spring so he'd have to either recognize that wouldn't work in the fall or change out of that formation or play this spring. 

 

"I've always been impressed with him being such a highly intelligent kid," Collins said. "All the things we do defensively he's sees them once. We might get him once, but it's hard to get him twice with some confusing looks. Just being on the same team with Tyler, it's a pleasure." 

 

On the practice field, Russell understands his next step of development as a leader of the offense starts now as he is in charge of developing a chemistry with his wide receivers this summer before fall practice begins in August. With the top five receivers from last season graduated, Russell must learn how to work with a new group of pass catchers that include junior Robert Johnson, junior Jameon Lewis, junior college transfer Jeremey Chappelle and sophomore Joe Morrow. 

 

If Russell wants to erase the memories of the last time he was on the field for game and more importantly, have a better finish to his final season than he is acknowledging the responsibility is on him. 

 

"We have got to get on the same page with those guys," Russell said. "We need to be out there with them throwing everyday and how they like the ball thrown to them. It needs to get to where I was with those senior receivers like Chad Bumphis were I knew everything about them."

 

 

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