February 1, 2018 10:16:03 AM
STARKVILLE -- The specifics of what Joe Moorhead was going to do with the final pieces of his inherited recruiting class at Mississippi State were a mystery in mid-December. Moorhead's hiring in late November didn't leave him much time to consider anything beyond the early signing period that was roughly three weeks away when he took the job.
All he knew was that the situation was fluid and he would have something in the neighborhood of five scholarships left to distribute. With the Signing Day coming Wednesday, that picture is becoming more clear. Above all else, Moorhead and staff likely found there weren't many holes to fill after what it did in December's early signing period.
"(Former MSU coach Dan) Mullen had done a nice job and I think the thing Moorhead did really well was kept things together," ESPN recruiting analyst Craig Haubert told The Dispatch. "That's all you can ask for because you look at other teams that have coaching transitions at big-name programs like Florida State, Florida State is just now starting to get back into the top 25. UCLA the same thing and Nebraska was in really dire straits."
The recent scholarship offers and visits hosted by MSU suggest, and Haubert agreed, that MSU's priorities for the January recruiting period seemed to be offensive line and defensive back. With Martinas Rankin being the only linemen graduating out of the team and several that redshirted, MSU didn't have a significant need at the position, making the pursuit of one more a failsafe.
"You never want to be in that situation because that's a position where I think we've seen more and more guys come in and play as true freshmen, but there's more of a need to develop there," Haubert said. "You always want to get a couple of guys in each class just because those guys are more developmental."
Recent days have not been kind to MSU in its pursuit of another lineman. MSU made a run at Ryan Winkel, a 6-foot-6, 286-pound three-star lineman out of Memphis, but he committed to Arkansas earlier this week. MSU also lost out on former three-star commit Griffin McDowell, a 6-foot-4, 280-pound Lee County (Georgia) product this week when he decided to follow Mullen to Florida.
When Moorhead's staff took the road searching for pieces to replace them, there was no doubt what his inclination was. Audrey Snyder, the Penn State beat writer for dkpitsburghsports.com, told The Dispatch Moorhead has a reputation as a good recruiter of developmental talent. She referenced Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley, once a three-star prospect that Moorhead developed into one of the nation's top passers. Moorhead was more active in recruiting McSorley's potential replacements, Michael Shuster and Sean Clifford, to Penn State.
MSU's next steps were to offer Jalan Robinson, a 6-foot-6, 300-pound lineman out of Lawrence, Kansas, and get in the race for a lineman out of Detroit, 6-foot-3, 295-pound Tyrone Sampson Jr.
The need for another lineman, if it doesn't pan out, could be offset by Kwatrivous Johnson signing in December. The Greenwood product comes into MSU off an impressive recruiting cycle at 6-foot-7, 361 pounds.
"He was kind of a pleasant surprise coming out of Under Armour (All-American Game)," Haubert said. "He went from a nice in-state pickup to a potential gamechanger for them. I think that's one they inherited and I think they know what they got. We're more impressed now than they were seven weeks ago."
On the defensive back front, MSU has thrown itself into the race for Aaron Brule, a 6-foot-1, 220-pound three-star safety out of Archbishop Rummel in the New Orleans area while remaining in hot pursuit of fellow Louisianan Eddie Smith. Smith is a three-star cornerback from Slidell who has attracted the attention of other Southeastern Conference schools at 6 feet, 180 pounds.
"Eddie Smith could be a tall order, just because you're up against Alabama any time Alabama has a need," Haubert said. "That could be tough to overcome, but you never know; for that kid to go on a visit, for them to express interest and him to have not done anything left.
"Maybe he's waiting to see what happens with (five-star cornerbacks Patrick Surtain Jr. and Tyson Campbell), but that's a good sign."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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