Spring superlatives: Mississippi State

We turn our attention today to where Mississippi State was the strongest and the weakest coming out of the spring:

Strongest position: Defensive line

Key returnees: Senior end Pernell McPhee (56 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, five sacks, eight quarterback hurries), sophomore tackle Fletcher Cox (29 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss), sophomore tackle Josh Boyd (17 tackles), junior end Sean Ferguson (25 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss), sophomore end Nick Bell (15 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss)

Key departures: Tackle Kyle Love (35 tackles, two tackles for loss)

The skinny: The Bulldogs came out of the spring feeling good about their two-deep in the defensive line, and first-year defensive line coach Chris Wilson was especially pleased with his young talent. Cox and Boyd have both beefed up to 300 pounds, giving Mississippi State a real presence inside. Throw in 6-7, 345-pound junior college newcomer James Carmon, who plugs the middle by himself, and the Bulldogs ought to be pretty tough to run against in 2010. Carmon might be a situational player initially. But once he develops, he has a chance to be dominant. Speaking of which, McPhee returns as one of the top defensive linemen in the league. He’s up to 285 pounds and has the strength to overpower offensive tackles from his end position and the burst to go around them. McPhee had 12.5 tackles for loss last season, and new defensive coordinator Manny Diaz plans to turn him loose every chance he gets.

Weakest position: Receivers

Key returnees: Sophomore Chad Bumphis (32 catches, 375 yards, four touchdowns), senior Leon Berry (14 catches, 170 yards), sophomore Chris Smith (three catches, 22 yards), sophomore Brandon Heavens (seven catches for 36 yards)

Key departures: O’Neal Wilder (14 catches, 236 yards, one touchdown), Brandon McRae (14 catches, 116 yards)

The skinny: Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said at the conclusion of spring practice that it may still be another year or two before the Bulldogs build up the receiver position to the level he wants it at in his spread offense. The only wide receiver returning who caught a touchdown pass last season is Bumphis, who led the team with four. He’s a terrific talent and a dangerous playmaker once he gets the ball in his hands, but Mullen wants to see him become a better all-around receiver in terms of running routes and getting open. Berry will start opposite Bumphis, but this is only his second year in the program after coming over from junior college a year ago. The Bulldogs will need several younger players to come through, including any of the true freshmen who might be able to help. Mullen was encouraged by what he saw out of Smith in the spring. He’s a bigger target (6-2, 210 pounds) who started in two games a year ago. It also helps that junior tight end Marcus Green will be back. He was second on the team in receiving last season. Still, Mullen said the Bulldogs have to find four more receivers somewhere between now and the fall.