Twenty-nine days of practice are all that separate Mississippi State from the field of Mercedes-Benz Superdome and a date with Louisiana-Lafayette to start the season.
With preseason camp stating today, let’s go position-by-position to preview what to watch for.
What can be said that hasn’t been said already? Tommy Stevens versus Keytaon Thompson, may the best man win. Be it on Matt’s radio show or elsewhere, I think I’ve made my thoughts clear, but in case I haven’t: I think Stevens will win the battle, but I remain more optimistic on Thompson than most, to the point that A) I think this battle will be really close, and B) if he is the QB in 2020, I think he’ll perform well.
I also won’t be surprised to see the loser of this battle on the field somewhat regularly. Moorhead had a lot of fun with using Stevens in gadget packages, to the point that he created a position for him on the depth chart (Lion) that allowed him to be all over the field in those packages. Thompson did some of that in the Outback Bowl, and if either party is willing, I won’t be surprised to see Moorhead use that in 2019.
Aeris Williams is no longer around to deserve a certain number of snaps. This should be the Kylin Hill show in the run game, and his numbers could be big considering he won’t be overworked.
He should have a respectable enough threat to spell him, most likely the senior Nick Gibson who I think has potential that is finally going to get the time of day. However, Gibson need not mess around, because junior college addition Kareem Walker can threaten that spot (if he ever gets to campus).
I’m expecting a four-game redshirt season from freshman Lee Witherspoon, the Alabama product who made waves by setting state records in his lone season at the position in high school.
I can make a strong case for this to be the most interesting position battle on the team. The inside receiver positions should have enough potential with Deddrick Thomas, Austin Williams and the junior college addition JaVonta Payton. I won’t be surprised to see that much talent in the slot get used early and often, but there has to be an outside threat to keep the balance.
That’s where Stephen Guidry and Osirus Mitchell have to show the development that’s expected of them. If not, well, MSU acquired Kansas State transfer Isaiah Zuber for this exact reason, to make no mention of Devonta “Whop” Jason, Cameron Gardner or Malik Dear. MSU is determined to truly challenge teams downfield this year, as it was unable to last year, and whoever proves they can do it has an undeniable advantage.
I expect a bit of a changing of the guard here — next year.
Farrod Green and Dontea Jones should have this position under control for the most part, but if MSU starts rotating a third tight end at times, pay close attention to who that is.
The next wave is coming up soon and there are multiple candidates: sophomore Powers Warren and freshmen Geor’quarius Spivey and Brad Cumbest. The leg up there is the most intriguing thing to watch here.
Let’s break this down by confidence level.
I’m supremely confident Darryl Williams will start at center.
I’m confident the tackle spots will be manned by some blend of Greg Eiland, Tyre Phillips and Tommy Champion, that exact blend likely to be determined by the weeks of preseason practice to come.
I’m pretty sure Stewart Reese is going to start at right guard. Maybe the EMCC transfer La’Quinston Sharp is immediately awesome and changes that.
I think Dareuan Parker is going to start at left guard. Michael Story has enough experience that it’s feasible for him to take that spot, in addition to some position shuffling putting another player there, but I still think Parker and Story are the best bets, in that order.
The ends should be pretty clear-cut, with a top five (not necessarily in this order, but this order wouldn’t surprise me) of Chauncey Rivers, Kobe Jones, Marquiss Spencer, Aaron Odom and Fletcher Adams. Naturally being in the top four is far more advantageous than being No. 5, so the rep counter there will be notable. While I don’t have much expectations for the freshmen (Ani Izuchukwu, De’Monte Russell and Jack Harris) for 2019, two seniors in this position group means their time is coming quick.
Defensive tackle is the biggest battle on the defensive side of the ball. Kendell Jones missing as much of the spring as he did (injury) left an abundance of development reps for Fabien Lovett, Lee Autry, Devon Robinson, Jaden Crumedy and Cameron Young. Is the highly touted freshman Nathan Pickering good enough to force a spot in that rotation anyway? I can’t wait to find out the answer to that question.
Jones is still no guarantee to be available for the first game of the season, so you’re almost certain to see Lovett is a noticeable role, but the spots immediately behind him and Autry fascinate me.
As you can see, the list of options at defensive tackle is long, but the experience and proven production from all of them is borderline nonexistent. The question from this group isn’t necessarily who gets the snaps, but what they do in those snaps.
Much like tight end, we have a good idea of what we’re getting from this group in 2019 — excellence, thanks to Erroll Thompson, Willie Gay Jr. and Leo Lewis.
The new coaching staff went hard on boosting its numbers at this position, meaning there’s a lot of youth (Nathaniel Watson, Aaron Brule and Jett Johnson, for instance) that has to separate itself from one another. I wonder if we’ll get our answer sometime in preseason or during the regular season.
Cameron Dantzler and Maurice Smitherman are proven commodities by this point, and you know what you’re getting is good. Maybe this is the year Tyler Williams’ potential finally shows through, and Korey Charles will have an opportunity as well.
If either of the latter two falter (or get injured), there is no shortage of freshmen waiting for an opportunity, namely Jarrian Jones. There’s also two redshirts from last season, Jaylon Reed and Esaias Furdge.
Long story short: depth should not be an issue, the position just needs a solid fourth and fifth option to actually materialize.
This is a low-key interesting position to monitor. In the classic interest of getting the best players on the field however possible, MSU is planning on moving Marcus Murphy and Jaquarius Landrews to its deep safety positions after playing Star last season. Their film to this point shows they’re physically talented enough to do it, now they have to prove they can adapt their talents to the demands of that specific position.
MSU should not have that position-specific fear on the second string, with C.J. Morgan, London Craft and Landon Guidry waiting for their names to be called. None of them have produced (excluding a little from Morgan at the end of 2018), but their collective time is now.
Star should be a really exciting position for MSU this season, with Brian Cole returning and junior college addition Fred Peters sliding in as well.
#JaceChristmannForHeisman. Moving on.
The kick return game really took a hit when Brian Cole got injured last season, so my best guess is he’ll be given the first reps there, but this is where the Kansas State transfer Isaiah Zuber can really make an impact. He was big in this department at Kansas State.
The punting game has to be better, there’s just no way around it. Tucker Day and Kody Schexnayder return, but MSU added a South Alabama grad transfer (Corliss Waitman) and a Texas Tech transfer (Reed Bowman). Punter battles under MSU special teams coordinator Joey Jones are simple: you punt the best in practice, you get to punt in the game. Every punt is charted and the aggregate results determine the winner, plain and simple.
Scott Goodman will handle kickoffs again, and there’s yet another long snapper battle that should be pretty hotly contested.