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MSU's Russell named to another watch list


Matthew Stevens



HOOVER, Ala. -- Mississippi State University senior quarterback Tyler Russell added another honor to his preseason haul Wednesday when he was named to the 2013 Davey O'Brien Award Watch List. 


Six other Southeastern Conference quarterbacks, including University of Mississippi junior Bo Wallace, joined Russell on the 34-player list. The Davey O'Brien Award, which is given to the nation's best quarterback, has been won by NFL first-round draft picks Robert Griffith III, Cam Newton, Sam Bradford, and Tim Tebow in recent years. 


Russell broke 11 single-season school records as a junior, completing 231 passes for 2,897 yards and 24 touchdowns. He is MSU's all-time leader in passing efficiency (136.38), and is one passing touchdown away from the tying the school record (38) held by Derrick Taite from 1993-96. 


Russell and MSU coach Dan Mullen spent their final spring session together trying to perfect a pro-style offense that will put the fifth-year senior under center much more. 


"As I get older it's about taking what the defense gives you. That sounds boring doesn't it?" Russell said after the Maroon-White spring game April 23. "It's true, though, because you don't have to force anything down field. I get that now." 


Russell, who had four interceptions in a 34-20 loss to Northwestern University in the 2013 Gator Bowl, focused in the offseason on developing his timing so he can make the most of his final season at MSU. 


"The great thing when you have a fifth-year senior quarterback, he is going to feel very comfortable in making his input," Mullen said. "He knows our offense, he knows what we want to accomplish, he knows what he is comfortable with, so he is going to have a lot of input because I can trust his input." 


Wallace, a junior and former junior college national player of the year, passed for the third-most yards (2,994) and fourth-most touchdowns (22) in Ole Miss history last year en route to capturing the C Spire Conerly Trophy as the state's top collegiate player. The Pulaski, Tenn., native finished in the top five in the SEC in points, total offense, and passing yards in his first season in Oxford. 


This year's list, which was compiled by a subset of the Davey O'Brien National Selection Committee, features 34 of the nation's best college quarterbacks who were selected based on player performance during the previous year and expectations heading into the 2013 college football season. 


Texas A&M University's Johnny Manziel, who won the 2012 Davey O'Brien Award and the Heisman Trophy, which is given to college football's best player, and 2012 finalist Braxton Miller (Ohio State University) join five 2012 semifinalists on the Watch List: Tajh Boyd (Clemson University), Teddy Bridgewater (the University of Louisville), Marcus Mariota (the University of Oregon), AJ McCarron (the University of Alabama), and Aaron Murray (the University of Georgia). The University of Missouri's James Franklin and the University of South Carolina's Connor Shaw also were on the watch list. 


Appearing on the Watch List is not a requirement to win the Davey O'Brien Award. Quarterbacks from all 125 NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) schools are eligible for the award until the field is narrowed to 16 semifinalists on Nov. 4. The Foundation and the Selection Committee will announce three finalists Nov. 25. The winner will be announced Dec. 12 on The Home Depot College Football Awards. 




Perkins likely to be MSU's primary punt returner 


The number of times senior LaDarius Perkins touches the football will be a key statistic this season. 


Another way MSU will try to get the senior tailback involved will be on punt returns. 


"I'm used to the pressure of doing all that stuff, but you have to remain focused on the field," Perkins said. "I've been going back and forth between offense and special teams my whole career." 


Perkins confirmed Monday in a informal meeting with the local media that he likely will be the Bulldogs' primary punt returner this season. MSU lost its primary punt returners -- Chad Bumphis and Johnthan Banks -- in 2012 to graduation. 


The 5-foot-10, 195-pounder has been involved in the run game, the passing game (as a slot receiver), and special teams (on kickoff returns) in his first three seasons at MSU. However, it appears Perkins, who is coming off a season in which he was the ninth player in MSU history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season, will work on the punt team instead of the kick-return team. 


"I talked with coach (Dan) Mullen about this and he told me to just get with coach (wide receivers coach Billy) Gonzales and get prepared to do that," Perkins said. "You'll see me slide out to wide receiver and catching the ball out of the backfield as well." 


The only time Perkins has returned a punt at MSU was against the University of Mississippi in the Egg Bowl on Nov. 27, 2010, in Oxford after Bumphis broke his clavicle in the game. His punt return was for 16 yards in a 31-23 victory. 


Perkins, who leads a depth chart at tailback that includes Josh Robinson, Derrick Milton, and Nick Griffin, was named to the watch list for the 2013 Maxwell Award, which is given annually to the nation's top player. He also was named preseason All-Southeastern Conference by Athlon Sports and Phil Steele. He is sixth all-time in school history with 3,463 career all-purpose yards. 


"Our depth helps out a lot because if I'm doing punt returns and I need a breather, then you could have Josh, Nick, Derrick, and (freshman Ashton) Shumpert out there because we don't know his (redshirt) situation," Perkins said. 




New Auburn coach Malzahn impressed with Smith's tutelage of Banks 


New Auburn University football coach Gus Malzahn was more than happy to talk Wednesday about why he hired defensive backs coach Melvin Smith away from MSU last December. 


Malzahn, who is beginning his first season as the head coach at Auburn, hired Smith on Christmas Eve before MSU faced Northwestern University in the 2013 Gator Bowl. Malzahn said the biggest key to Smith's hire was his development of Johnthan Banks at cornerback. Banks went on to win the 2012 Jim Thorpe Award, which is given to the nation's top defensive back. 


"Melvin Smith is one of the better DB coaches in all of college football," Malzahn said. "I've known him for a while. I've known him out on the road recruiting. He has a great reputation, not only as a coach but as a person. When we had an opportunity to get him, I thought that was special." 


Smith, who was MSU's cornerbacks coach from 2006-12, will work for defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson. He was a semifinalist in 2011 for the Frank Broyles Award, which goes to the nation's top assistant coach, and helped lead a defensive backfield that had 16 interceptions last season. 


"Coach Smith is a wonderful, God-fearing person first thing," Auburn cornerback Chris Davis said. "He is a major reason we'll get our toughness and swagger back." 


Malzahn's coaching staff includes four former MSU assistants -- Johnson, Smith, secondary coach Charlie Harbison, and offensive line coach J.B. Grimes. 


Smith, who has spent 31 years as a football coach, has been out of the state of Mississippi in 2002, when he worked at the University of Alabama, and from 2003-05, when he spent three seasons at Texas A&M University as a safeties coach. He also has coached at Ole Miss (1992-94) and Delta State University (1990-91). He began his coaching career on the high school level at Greenwood from 1982-89.



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