Joe Moorhead opens his first spring practice at Mississippi State on March 20, and while some Bulldogs fans still are angry with the way former coach Dan Mullen left the program, Mullen unquestionably left Moorhead with some talent.
The Bulldogs return 17 starters – the most in the league – and a ton of production on both sides of the ball. After a nine-win season a year ago, expectations are high for this season.
This spring will be about installing concepts and schemes in all phases and evaluating the talent base.
The good: The running game. The Bulldogs rushed for 3,272 yards and 30 touchdowns a year ago and return every bit of that production, outside of 3 yards from departed punter Logan Cook. Moorhead has a ton of weapons to work with in quarterbacks Nick Fitzgerald and Keytaon Thompson, as well as 1,00-yard rusher Aeris Williams, Kylin Hill and Nick Gibson. The Bulldogs also get Malik Dear back this spring, so Moorhead has weapons galore in the run game.
The bad: Wide receiver. Last season, Mississippi State struggled mightily to throw the ball against top teams, and while this unit is expected to get better with several young faces on the roster, you still must take a wait-and-see approach with this unit. The two most dangerous words in the English language are love and potential. And while there is potential with some of the newcomers, they must produce on the field in the fall.
The newcomer to watch: WR Stephen Guidry. One player who could make things easier for Moorhead and Fitzgerald is Guidry, a touted junior college transfer who enrolled in January. He was a top-five JC recruit overall and the No. 1 wide receiver. Guidry, who committed to LSU out of high school in Louisiana before heading to junior college, caught 30 balls for 547 yards and five touchdowns a year ago. The Bulldogs need Guidry (6 feet 4, 195 pounds) to be a legitimate deep threat, something they didn’t have last season.
The veteran on the spot: WR Jamal Couch. Looking at Couch, who is 6-5 and 227 pounds, you’d swear you were looking at a bigger version of Alshon Jeffery. But he has just 28 receptions for 304 yards and two touchdowns in his first two seasons. It’s put-up-or-shut-up time for Couch this spring; he must prove he can do more than catch balls in 7-on-7 drills.
The good: The line. The Bulldogs return a veteran group up front, thanks to the likes of Montez Sweat, Jeffery Simmons, Braxton Hoyett, Kobe Jones and Fletcher Adams. This could be the Bulldogs’ best defensive front in almost two decades. Simmons and Sweat, who looked unblockable at times last season, should contend for All-SEC honors. Sweat tied for the SEC lead with 10.5 sacks and with 15.5 tackles for loss last season; Simmons added 12 tackles for loss. Both will look to tee off on opposing offenses this fall for new coordinator Bob Shoop, who had held the same role at Tennessee the past two seasons.
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