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April 13, 2011This past weekend was a great experience and I really enjoyed working with CSS for the Mississippi State spring game. I really enjoyed working with Bart Gregory and the production people also did an excellant job. It wasn't the type of setting where we got to diagram plays and do a true play-by-play broadcast.
But we talked and discussed mostly about the players and what might happen this fall and what the coaches have to do this fall. But it was still a great weekend and I loved the opportunity to broadcast the Bulldogs and especially enjoyed being back on campus.
As far as the game, it was a very good four-quarter game and a game that wasn't decided until the end, which is good for the fans. Going into the game I wanted to see the improvement of Tyler Russell and I wanted to see Dylan Favre and the new kid Dak Prescott. And what I saw really impressed me. Those are four good quarterbacks and very few programs across the country have four quarterbacks and the depth that we have.
Of course, Dan Mullen wasn't going to let Chris Relf get hit and all of passes he threw were quick routes. And actually most quarterbacks threw quick routes in order to get the ball out of their hands quickly. So with that said, we were not able to see the whole offensive package. The offense was basic and the defense was basic. The defense ran Cover 2 and ran Cover 1 and really only had one blitz package. I did see a couple of linebackers run through there a couple of times but I am not sure if the coaches told them to do that or they did it on their own.
Now, looking a bit closer at the offense, the quarterbacks and running backs are very good. They can be good in the SEC and those groups can compete at a high level. We still don't have a game-changer at receiver where that one player can completely change the game by himself. Chad Bumphis has that ability but what is also good is having that new depth and some of those receivers have that big-play potential. But again, the big difference is there is not an Eric Moulds or Julio Jones in that group right now although the depth is a big improvement.
On Friday with my talks with the Mississippi State coaches, I was fairly impressed with what they said concerning the offensive line. Naturally you are not gonna replace a Derek Sherrod easily. He is a kid that started for three or four years, played a lot of football and is a possible NFL first-rounder. But we do have good size with James Carmon and I didn't realize he was that big. I was really impressed with his footwork and his footspeed and he has a lot of ability.
The biggest thing with Carmon is how quickly he learns the offense. Why do I say that, I mean there are a lot of things a left tackle must do to lead the offensive line and there are a lot of things to get done once the snap happens. How quickly he picks it up is the biggest thing. There is no question of his athletic ability and it is all mental at this point.
But with the move of Quentin Saulsberry to center, they basically have four starters back so it's not like they are completely starting over. The most important positions are left tackle and center when you speak of the offensive line. Those were the two guys they lost so it helps having Saulsberry move over to center.
There is no question we have a lot of talent to lead at quarterback and running back. What I am really amazed at is how much improvement Relf has made in throwing the football. When you look across the country, you see kids come in as high school players and then play really well. Sometimes, however, they started to go backwards after a couple of years, especially at the quarterback position. But with Relf he has gone forward in a hurry and gone forward a lot.
Moving to the defensive side, I have watched a lot of teams so far this spring. But nobody has a Fletcher Cox on their defense. Last year Auburn's Nick Fairley was the best player up front and this year I believe it will be Cox. Mississippi State will be really good with the defensive line and their tackles. They have guys that can run and guys that have size. At defensive end, you're not gonna replace a Pernell McPhee right away or with one guy. I am not sure if we have a playmaker like him but I believe we are adquate at defensive end with some solid players.
The linebackers this year actually have more depth now and actually have some guys that are as fast as Chris White. But what always impressed me with White was that he was always around every play and always around the ball. We do have a lot of linebackers that can run and that is what impressed me. If you have athletic ability and speed on defense, you can make up for a lot of things. And overall, Mississippi State are as quick on defense as we've seen in awhile.
The secondary is really, really good and No. 4 (Charles Mitchell) and No. 13 (Johnthan Banks) are as good as you will find anywhere at safety. And No. 25 (Corey Broomfield) has improved and is a really good player. If I was (MSU defensive coordinator) Chris Wilson, on throwing downs or when facing someone who throws all the time, I would just move No. 4 and No. 13 close to the line of scrimmage. I say that because those two guys can dominate near the line of scrimmage.
And what I saw with Chris Wilson, he will have his defense more multiple with a lot more different fronts than we saw from last year's defense. He will bring different packages from different places. Chris has been around the coaching profession a long time. He has been exposed to some of the best defensive coaches in the game like Bob Stoops, who is still a great defensive coach even though he is a head coach now.
Now, looking at their 2011 schedule, before I visited there this weekend I had doubts they could win as many as they did last year. But after watching them scrimmage, I believe we can win as many as we did last year. This team is also very good on special teams and I was very impressed with the kickers and punters, too.
But what I was really impressed with was when I went to the locker room after the game. You see guys that are athletic on the field and guys that look athletic off the field. Very few guys in college or pro ball look like Fletcher Cox and very few are as big and fast as he is.
Like Dan Mullen was telling me, though, he may not have the same football team record-wise this year ... he now has a better overall program. They have reached that point because of the number of young kids that redshirted last year and also because of the younger kids now able to contribute to the program.
So I feel their record could be the same or better but in the SEC, it is a thin line between winning and losing. I believe the biggest game on the schedule is the road game at Auburn. We lost to Auburn last year and they won the national championship. So that game will tell us how far Mississippi State has come compared to Auburn and the SEC. Last year really one play separated Mississippi State and Auburn.
That one play was Auburn throwing that bubble screen and Mississippi State missing a tackle. So this year's Auburn game will establish how far Mississippi State has improved as a program.