Nick Gibson, a senior running back for Mississippi State, takes off with the ball in Saturday's spring game. Photo by: Jim Lytle/Special to the Dispatch
April 15, 2019 2:43:31 AM
And so the Mississippi spring, its torrential downpours, tornados, and fluctuating sunshine, will begin to shift toward the summer.
The Mississippi State football team will also make its turn toward the summer and ensuing regular season.
With the end of Saturday's Maroon and White scrimmage, the Bulldogs will conclude spring practices Tuesday with a walkthrough-style practice.
And while the controlled atmosphere of Saturday's game was far from a perfect predictor of fall success, it gave onlookers a glimpse of what lies ahead -- including a desperately shallow receiving corps.
On the first play from scrimmage, senior Stephen Guidry shot through the middle of the defense on a crossing route.
Nearing the first down marker, junior quarterback Keytaon Thompson delivered a strike right into Guidry's hands.
As the tough, leathery coating of the football pounded the plastic of Guidry's shoulder pads in the middle of his chest, it fell to the ground, incomplete.
Senior tight end Farrod Green furthered mimicked Guidry in the second half.
Working from inside the 10-yard line, Green streaked across the back end of the south end zone when Thompson again delivered another well-thrown ball toward the goal post.
Once more, the ball fell harmlessly to the ground.
MSU fans undoubtedly harbor memories of last year's Outback Bowl bobble by Guidry.
Stuck in mid-air, the ball was batted into the hands of Iowa safety Jake Gervase midway through the fourth quarter.
The drop in the end zone wiped out a touchdown and later proved the difference in the Hawkeyes' 27-22 victory.
So while the spring game was meaningless, it's less than encouraging for a group that's suffered through the importance of drops that they've persisted.
Experience resides on the line: MSU finished the 2018 season as the No. 2 rushing offense in the Southeastern Conference.
While Joe Moorhead's spread offense lends itself to short throws and crossing routes, the running aspect remains a focus.
In front of those runners will be an older, yet inexperienced group of offensive linemen.
In the middle is center and recently appointed team captain Darryl Williams.
Williams has spent the majority of his career at guard before shifting inside this spring.
To his sides will likely be juniors Stewart Reese and Dareuan Parker at guard, while seniors Tyre Phillips and Tommy Champion should occupy the tackle spots.
Entering 2019, that group combined for 57 appearances last season.
Five-star early enrollee Charles Cross could figure into the equation as well when he gets more practice reps under his belt.
So while the flashy focus has been on quarterbacks and receivers this spring, it's the offensive line that should garner plenty of attention come fall.
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Projections are not the end all be all, but former MSU defensive lineman Montez Sweat and Jeffery Simmons are almost assured to hear their names called in the draft's first round.
In 2018, that duo combined for 116 tackles -- 32.5 for a loss -- and 14 sacks.
In their place, senior Chauncey Rivers and junior Marquiss Spencer should anchor the defensive line.
Spencer looked the part of a capable defensive end replacement this spring. Not the athlete specimen that Sweat was, he's shorter at 6-foot-4, but brings more size at 285 pounds having been converted from defensive tackle.
In Saturday's spring game, he shot through the gap and smothered senior running back Alec Murphy in his own end zone for a safety.
Rivers, a one-time Georgia Bulldog, played inside and out in last year's defense and offers some dynamic upside in a potentially heavier role.
Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop said he anticipates working Rivers inside in certain third and fourth down packages.
On the interior senior Lee Autry and freshman Fabien Lovett have held down the No. 1 spots thus far. Moorhead also mentioned freshman Devon Robinson and Cameron Young as younger players who could factor in.
"I think the pieces are in place, but we need to get a bunch of reps in to get ready for the fall and SEC play," Moorhead said.
Ben Portnoy reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch.
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