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Dan Mullen has fans in Starkville excited about Hail State again in 2013.
Mississippi State started 7-0 last year before running into the eventual national champs, the eventual Heisman Trophy winner, LSU, in-state rival Ole Miss and a Northwestern team that celebrated its first bowl win since 1949. Needless to say, the end of the season didn't go as Dan Mullen had planned. That said, Mullen still led State to its third straight bowl game and its second 4-4 SEC record in three seasons. In a loaded SEC West, sledding will always be tough for the Bulldogs. However, State is 24-15 over the last three years and Mullen has the program consistently overachieving. To maintain this new level of success, Hail State will have to fill plenty of holes this spring.
Mississippi State Bulldogs 2013 Spring Preview
2012 Record: 8-5 (4-4)
Spring practice dates: March 21-April 20
Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 5
Passing: Tyler Russell, 231-of-394, 2,897 yards, 24 TD, 10 INT
Rushing: LaDarius Perkins, 205 car., 1,024 yards, 8 TDs
Receiving: LaDarius Perkins, 19 rec., 160 yards, 2 TDs
Tackles: Benardrick McKinney, 102
Sacks: Preston Smith, 4.5
Interceptions: Nickoe Whitley, 3
Redshirts to Watch: LB Richie Brown, LB Beniquez Brown, OL Devon Desper, DL A.J. Jefferson, DB Quadry Antoine
JUCO Transfers to Watch: DB Justin Cox, WR Jeremy Chappelle
Aug. 31 Oklahoma State (Houston)
Sept. 7 Alcorn State
Sept. 14 at Auburn
Sept. 21 Troy
Sept. 28 Bye Week
Oct. 5 LSU
Oct. 12 Bowling Green
Oct. 19 Bye Week
Oct. 24 Kentucky (Thur.)
Nov. 1 at South Carolina
Nov. 9 at Texas A&M
Nov. 16 Alabama
Nov. 23 at Arkansas
Nov. 30 Ole Miss
Offensive Strength: The backfield and line. Tyler Russell and LaDarius Perkins form one of the best 1-2 punches of any ground attack in the SEC. And four, possibly five, offensive linemen will be back as well.
Offensive Weakness: Pass catchers. The top four receivers are gone from last year's roster, including star wideout Chad Bumphis and dependable tight end Marcus Green.
Defensive Strength: Front seven. One key member of the defensive line (Josh Boyd) and the linebacking corps (Cameron Lawrence) will need to be replaced. However, seven of the top eight defensive linemen and six of the top seven linebackers return.
Defensive Weakness: Cornerback. Stars Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay moved on to the NFL and safety Corey Broomfield departed as well. The secondary needs to find covermen.
Spring Storylines Facing the Bulldogs:
1. Lockdown corners are needed. Banks and Slay were stalwarts for Mullen on the backend of his defense as was Broomfield at safety. Finding lockdown corners to step in and take over will be extremely difficult this offseason but spring practice offers a chance to evaluate the competition. Jamerson Love, Kendrick Market and Taveze Calhoun all saw time last year and are poised to battle for starting time in Starkville this spring. However, junior college transfer Justin Cox (6-3, 190) could be a huge addition this spring as his size and frame gives him the chance to contribute all over the defensive backfield. Will Redmond and Cedric Jones also will get plenty of looks as Mullen and defensive coordinator Geoff Collins try to rebuild their secondary.
2. Find some pass catchers. Receivers Chad Bumphis, Chris Smith and Arceto Clark combined for 141 catches last year while tight end Marcus Green added six touchdowns. All four (and Brandon Heavens) are gone from the Bulldogs roster and Mullen is left to restock his entire receiving corps. Robert Johnson brings size (6-1, 220) and a vertical threat to the offense — as well as a truly legendary Mississippi blues name. He caught 17 passes and two scores last year. Jameon Lewis (5-9, 185) complements Johnson well with shifty slot ability. Joe Morrow, Fred Brown and Ricco Sanders will figure heavily in the mix as well. The wildcard could be junior college transfer Jeremy Chappelle and his prototypical 6-2, 215-pound frame. A big, physical receiver seems to be one of the few positions that has eluded Mullen in Starkville. Malcolm Johnson appears poised to take over for Green at tight end and has intriguing upside.
3. Fill leadership voids on defense. While most of the depth chart returns at linebacker and defensive line, but there are two major voids of leadership departing. Lawrence was a second-team All-SEC performer and the team’s leading tackler with 120 stops last year. Boyd was an NFL-type talent at tackle up front. And the departing trio in the secondary has been well documented. Kaleb Eulls, Denico Autry and Preston Brown have experience and talent but need to become leaders. Benardrick McKinney and Deontae Skinner are in the same situation at linebacker. There is tons of depth along the line and at linebacker but the huddle needs a new leader with all of the departing senior leadership. Look for younger upside players like Quay Evans to step into much more prominent roles.
4. Keep up with the Joneses. There is no rest for the weary in the SEC, especially in the West. Five of the last six national champions play in the West and it doesn’t appear LSU or Alabama are slowing down. Meanwhile Texas A&M has joined the mix in a big way. Over the last three seasons, Mississippi State is achieving at a higher level than it has since 1998 but still struggled down the stretch last year. Are Mullen and his Dogs destined to finish fifth or sixth every season or can this program rebuild quick enough to challenge the big boys? It likely comes down to coaching and this spring is where Mullen can gain ground on guys like Les Miles.
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