Schedule: The Bulldogs opened spring practice Wednesday afternoon, a day earlier than scheduled to take advantage of better weather. All practices are open to the public. Their spring will conclude with the annual Maroon-White spring game on April 20 at 2 p.m. ET in Davis Wade Stadium as part of Super Bulldog Weekend.
What’s new: Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen has three new assistants, and he also shifted around some responsibilities. Geoff Collins was promoted to defensive coordinator after serving as co-defensive coordinator the past two seasons. Collins, who will still coach the linebackers, replaces Chris Wilson, who left and is now the defensive line coach at Georgia. Also, Scott Sallach is back as the tight ends coach after being moved to coordinator of scouting in February. Sallach was switched to that off-the-field position after Mullen hired Billy Gonzales as receivers coach and moved Tim Brewster to tight ends. But Brewster left to take a job on the Florida State staff, and Mullen announced this week that Sallach was returning to his old job of coaching tight ends. The other two new assistants are David Turner, who will coach the defensive line, and Deshea Townsend, who will coach cornerbacks. This is Turner’s second stint on the Mississippi State staff. He coached the Bulldogs’ defensive line from 2007-09 and was Kentucky’s defensive line coach for the past three seasons. Townsend was an All-SEC player at Alabama and played 13 seasons in the NFL. He was a part of the Arizona Cardinals’ staff for the past two seasons.
On the mend: Among the players who are recovering from injuries and won’t be going through contact this spring are quarterback Dak Prescott, running back Nick Griffin, running back Johnathan Long, receiver Michael Hodges and cornerback Taveze Calhoun.
Question marks: The secondary was depleted with cornerbacks Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay and safety Corey Broomfield all departing. Banks and Slay combined to intercept nine passes last season, and Banks was the 2012 Jim Thorpe Award winner as the top defensive back in college football. The Bulldogs will be breaking in three new starters back there, and they also need to prove they can get more pressure on the quarterback. They finished with 18 sacks in 13 games last season, which ranked 13th in the SEC. One of Collins’ goals as the Bulldogs’ new defensive coordinator is to put more of an attacking unit on the field and create more negative plays. That’s where sophomore tackles Nick James and Quay Evans come in. Both have star potential after playing some last season as true freshmen. Junior end Preston Smith has also been impressive in the offseason conditioning program and now weighs more than 250 pounds after coming to Mississippi State closer to 225. He led the team with 4.5 sacks last season and was a reserve. It’s imperative that the Bulldogs make more happen up front defensively in 2013.
New faces: The Bulldogs have four new players on campus and participating in spring practice, including two junior college transfers who could end up starting right away. Cornerback Justin Cox is listed as one of the starters on the pre-spring depth chart, while receiver Jeremey Chappelle is listed as a backup. Freshman safety Kivon Coman and freshman tight end Artimas Samuel both attended Hargrave (Va.) Military Academy last fall after initially signing with Mississippi State in 2012.
Key battle: Gone are four senior receivers, including three starters. Chad Bumphis led the SEC last season with 12 touchdown receptions. The Bulldogs will be looking for playmakers on the perimeter. Juniors Robert Johnson and Jameon Lewis will be vying with sophomore Joe Morrow and Chappelle to fill those receiver spots. The 6-foot-4 Morrow has been impressive the past two springs, but needs to take it to the game field next season. Junior Michael Carr is also back with the team after leaving the program during the latter part of the 2011 season. Heralded true freshmen Fred Ross and De'Runnya Wilson arrive this summer. There’s a ton of opportunity to play at receiver. Johnson is the leading returning pass-catcher among wide receivers, and he only caught 17 passes last season.
Breaking out: With Banks and Slay both departing, the Bulldogs will be looking for cornerback help. Junior Jamerson Love has all the skills to slide into that ball-hawking role that Banks played so well for four years in Starkville. Love played extensively last season, and had 25 tackles and an interception. Look for him to take that next step in 2013.
Don’t forget about: The Bulldogs return four starters in the offensive line, including All-SEC guard Gabe Jackson. Guard Tobias Smith was awarded a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA and would have been a fifth starter returning up front. He won’t be going through spring practice and has yet to decide whether he’ll play next season. He’s been plagued by a glut of injuries (knee, leg and ankle) during his career and could opt to serve as a student coach. Sophomore Justin Malone, who filled in some a year ago for Smith, would be first in line to replace Smith.
All eyes on: Despite a rough outing in the bowl game, quarterback Tyler Russell made huge strides last season and set school records with 2,897 passing yards and 24 touchdown passes. His senior season needs to be his best yet, and he’s going to be throwing to a whole new group of starting receivers. The Bulldogs will also lean heavily offensively on senior running back LaDarius Perkins, who rushed for 1,024 yards last season and was second in the SEC in all-purpose yardage. Perkins is one of the more underrated players in the league, but it’s also important that the Bulldogs find him some help. Sophomores Josh Robinson and Derrick Milton are both more than capable of sharing the backfield load with Perkins.