Mississippi State spring wrap-up

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

1. Mullen sets the tone: The Bulldogs got their first taste of the way first-year coach Dan Mullen likes to do things thanks to the no-holds-barred offseason conditioning program coordinated by new strength and conditioning coach Matt Balis, who worked with Mullen at both Florida and Utah. Then came the high-octane pace of spring practice. There shouldn't be any surprises about what kind of tempo Mullen expects when preseason practice begins in August.

2. Strong up the middle: Jamar Chaney's return at middle linebacker after missing last season with a broken leg is huge for the defense. But the combination of junior college newcomer Pernell McPhee at tackle and Chaney at middle linebacker really makes Mississippi State formidable up the middle. The 6-foot-3, 275-pound McPhee can play both end and tackle and showed star potential in the spring.

3. Lean, mean Dixon: After ballooning up to 255 pounds, senior running back Anthony Dixon worked himself back into great shape and proved that the Bulldogs will be able to lean on him next season as Mullen's spread offense evolves. It's the best Dixon has looked and the best he's moved since his sophomore season when he rushed for 1,066 yards and 14 touchdowns. The Bulldogs need a similar season from him in 2009.

Fall questions

1. Lee or Russell?: If the Bulldogs were to play a game today, Tyson Lee would clearly be their starting quarterback. But the Bulldogs don't have to play a game today, and heralded freshman Tyler Russell arrives on campus this summer. Expecting Russell to come in and learn the offense well enough to be the starter in the opening game is probably a stretch. But he's a big-time talent and will no doubt push Lee, which only helps everybody.

2. Right stuff from offensive line: The good news for the Bulldogs is just about everybody from last season is back. The bad news is that the Bulldogs didn't play particularly well on the offensive line a year ago. It remains a work in progress for new offensive line coach and running game coordinator Mark Hevesy, who spent the spring teaching a different style to his guys up front. We'll see in the fall how much they've improved.

3. Freshman receivers: Junior college newcomer Leon Berry looks like he's a keeper judging by his spring. He's going to need some help from the group of freshman receivers arriving this summer. How well and how quickly the likes of Chad Bumphis, Dennis Thames, Chris Smith and Brandon Heavens pick things up will go a long way toward determining what Mississippi State can and can't do on offense next fall.