Receivers Shine in Friday's Practice

Dan Mullen

MSU head coach Dan Mullen came into Friday's practice looking to do some fine-tuning going into Saturday's scrimmage, the final scrimmage prior to the Maroon-White game next Saturday. He may have been cleaning some things up but in the process discovered that the receiving core is pretty good.

Offense

Quarterback Battle

During Thursday's practice Chris Relf responded well to Mullen's move to allow Tyler Russell to take first team snaps during Tuesday's practice, but Friday Russell showed he was ready to make a serious challenge for the starting job.

Tyler got off to a slow start in Friday's practice, completing just 4 of 8 passes in 7 on 7s with two interceptions. But he picked it up in the 11 on 11s, completing 10 of 13 passes, including the first seven.

Chris Relf, after having a good day Thursday, didn't fare as well Friday, completing 8 of 14 in 7 on 7s and only 11 of 22 passes during 11 on 11s with three interceptions. He did have a few nice throws, connecting on two touchdowns in 7 on 7s.

Overall, Russell has closed the gap between himself and Relf. My opinion is whoever plays best during Saturday's scrimmage may wind up starting next week's practice first on the depth chart.

Wide Receiver Development

The development of the receiving core has been one of the biggest surprises of the spring. Friday, they may have finally figured out things as a unit, dominating the practice.

Leon Berry took the lead with seven catches total and two touchdowns on the day. Berry, after a slow start to the spring, has emerged as a legit option in the passing game.

Brandon Heavens started to assert himself last week and has built on those solid practices with another strong week. He had another big day Friday, leading all receivers with nine catches and a touchdown.

Chad Bumphis has begun to look like the team's number one option. He's had a had a strong week of practices with 17 catches.

Arceto Clark is having to make the move back to receiver and has done it seamlessly, showing good route running skills and an ability to adjust to the ball.

The other complementary receivers Charles Bailey, Ricco Sanders, and Chris Smith had good days Friday with a total of six catches.

Coach Mark Hudspeth has done a good job of developing a young but talented receiving core this spring. What makes it even more exciting is the thought of next year's freshmen corps arriving in the fall, Michael Carr, Malcolm Johnson, and Robert Johnson and providing quality depth.

Defense

Defensive Line

The offense worked mostly on the passing game Friday so I couldn't really judge the defensive line on their run support ability. However, they were able to work on their pass rush and pass coverage ability. And the defensive line did a good job against the pass, doing a good job of recognizing screens and disrupting them.

Nick Bell made a few plays Friday, coming up with a sack and a pass break-up of a Chris Relf pass. Bell has solidified the starting weak side end position at this point, looking good in both pass rush and run support.

Although Fletcher Cox didn't have a big day overall, I was impressed by his ability to read a backside screen pass to Ricco Sanders and blow the play up. The even more impressive part is that Cox is 300 pounds and was still able to get there in time to prevent further gain.

Linebackers

Coach Manny Diaz rotated a lot of guys in the second unit trying to find good combinations against the pass.

K.J. Wright was the star of the unit with three interceptions on the day. Wright is definitely starting the look like an All-American candidate that is great against the run, good in pass rush, and solid in coverage. What makes it even more amazing is that he is playing the linebacker position at 250 pounds and is able to do the things that he does.

The unit, overall, is not where Diaz probably wants it to be with no one solidifying spots behind the starters Wright, Chris White, and Cameron Lawrence. Hopefully someone steps up during Saturday's scrimmage.

Defensive Backs

The defensive backfield has definitely developed into a strong unit first-team and depth-wise. The coaches were able to move one of the best cornerbacks, Arceto Clark, to offense and still maintain that same depth. The unit continued to shine Friday, making it very difficult on the quarterbacks.

Johnthan Banks, the unexpected Freshman All-America player, has started to show lately why so many are high on him. He intercepted two passes and took them to the house, including one on a middle screen, a play safeties typically don't intercept. Another great thing about Banks is the fact that he very well could be one of Mississippi State's best cornerbacks if he should ever have to play that position.

With the play of the defensive backfield unit, it gives Coach Diaz more flexibility in the plays he can call.

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Jeremiah Short is a columnist who covers various Mississippi State sports for GenesPage.com. He can be reached by email at moot2005@yahoo.com

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