March 17, 2014 10:30:11 PM
STARKVILLE -- Dan Mullen continually stresses that college football teams have a shelf life of one year. Therefore, today marks the birth of the 2014 Mississippi State team as they prepare for their first practice of the spring.
The 4:30 workout will be the first of 14 practices open to the public culminating with the Maroon-White spring game at noon, Saturday, April 12. MSU, which won its final three games of last season including a 44-7 victory over Rice in the 2013 Liberty Bowl, returns 17 total starters from the 7-6 squad including junior quarterback Dak Prescott. 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 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 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."
When MSU decides to scrimmage twice this spring at Davis Wade Stadium (March 29 and April 5), 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.
Following his two-year contract extension with the largest raise given to a Mullen assistant in his six years in Starkville, defensive coordinator Geoff Collins brings back nine players who started at least four games last season. He'll have a decision to make early in spring about whether to leave star sophomore lineman Chris Jones at defensive tackle or move him to his preferred spot at defensive end. Jones, a former five-star recruit out of Houston, is coming off a 2013 season where he tied for the Bulldogs lead in tackles for loss with seven.
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."
The spring also means positional changes for certain players on the MSU roster. MSU officials released the official spring roster Monday afternoon and had some positional experiments to monitor.
After bulking up 30 pounds to 295, Rufus Warren will enter his junior season as a offensive lineman following two seasons at tight end where he was played sparingly on special teams. The decision of where to play former Dispatch High School Offensive Player of the Year Gabe Myles continues as MSU has him listed again as an athlete. Myles, the former Starkville High star quarterback, worked with the defensive backs last year but saw time as the scout team quarterback during the 2013 season practices as well.
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.