August 6, 2010 10:07:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Receiving depth is a concern for the Mississippi State football team, but if Thursday''s practice was any indication of what to expect, all the Bulldogs need is a bit of patience.
Such was the case last year when MSU relied on Chad Bumphis and Leon Berry to assimilate themselves into a new offense at a new level.
In just a year, Bumphis and Berry have become the elder statesmen of what passing game coordinator Mark Hudspeth calls "the youngest receiving corps in the country."
But for every leaping catch sophomore Arceto Clark makes or speedy cut sophomore Brandon Heavens uses to create space in practice, the optimism grows and the timetable for passing game success shortens.
In rain-cooled temperatures Thursday, the burgeoning group of underclassmen receivers took advantage of one-on-one passing drills against the team''s defensive backs. The likes of Clark, whose spent time on defense and offense while at MSU, and Heavens and Chris Smith all had catches or plays that begs the question: how long will it take to see it in games on Saturdays?
Hudspeth admits it''s too early in fall camp to believe the young stable of wideouts is ready to take over the Southeastern Conference. However, the coaching staff is comfortable with the progress and looking forward to continued growth.
"I think we''re really talented," Hudspeth said. "There''s just not much time to learn the entire system in four and a half weeks. How fast these young guys pick things up will determine how much they play -- not just their ability."
Therein lies the catch to having a successful and consistent passing game, as MSU has one senior (Berry), four sophomores and a slew of redshirt and true freshmen.
In Hudspeth''s mind, it''s unrealistic to expect every first-year player to do what Bumphis did last year when he led the team in catches, yards and touchdowns. Learning the offense and the amount of information and terminology that comes with it is only part of the learning curve.
"Just practicing a different way, learning how to practice at the speed and tempo we practice at and learning how to comprehend all this information we''re throwing on them," Hudspeth said. "Sometimes it just gets overwhelming. After about two and a half weeks, most of the time, they start to settle down a bit. But they''ll be lost for a little while."
The receiving corps has a combined 57 career catches, further driving home the need for the younger players to develop at a quicker pace.
"The new guys are coming along, but they''re just a little bit frustrated because the offense is just getting thrown at them," Berry said. "It''s a little bit more pressure on them, because without depth you''re not going to make it [in the SEC]."
The inexperience of the receivers also leaves question marks about starting spots in MSU''s multiple-receiver sets. Redshirt freshman Ricco Sanders started with the first-team Thursday, while Clark ran with the second team. But two days into camp, first-team reps are irrelevant, head coach Dan Mullen said.
"We''re rolling guys at different spots and If you look at practice everybody got the same number of reps today," Mullen said. "So as we evaluate the reps afterwards, it doesn''t matter what group you''re in because everybody got the same reps."
Clark, who started out as a receiver before moving to defensive back and then back to receiver, understands the difficulty in learning to play receiver in Mullen''s system. What he does have working in his favor is two years of college ball under his belt, which is a reason he expects to grow ahead of the curve.
Still, Clark''s previous production on offense is limited. In 2008, he caught three passes and rushed the ball three times after notoriously having his redshirt season canceled out midway through the year.
"It just seems like receiver comes more natural to me and I feel comfortable at receiver than I did at corner," Clark said. "At first it was kind of tough, but on the days we weren''t practicing I was continually picking it up quick. I consider myself a big-play guy that can get the job done. When a couple guys went down on that side of the ball and they needed help, I went in there but wasn''t sure for how long."
Mississippi State won''t lean on Clark''s progress or the rest of the unproven receivers, Hudspeth said. Instead, it''ll be an added bonus to an offense that''s replacing a starting quarterback and the SEC''s leading rusher.
"Like last year, Chad and Brandon picked it up early enough to help us, and so hopefully some of these guys will," Hudspeth said. "We''re going to need a few of them, but right now we''ve got to prepare like we won''t have them."