Mississippi State Preview 2006 - Offense
Mississippi State Bulldogs
Posted Aug 8, 2006

Mississippi State Bulldogs Preview 2006 - MSU Offense

What you need to know ... The offense was awful last season thanks to an inept passing game that only averaged 139 yards per game, but things should be a bit better now with an improved receiving corps helped by JUCO transfer Tony Burks and former quarterback Omarr Conner in a full-time receiver role. The ground game lost Jerious Norwood, but there are several decent backs to keep the production from falling off the map. The play of the young, young, young offensive line the struggled through injuries and inexperience last year, but now it's a deep group. Quarterback will be the major issue needing Michael Henig to complete at least half his passes and be more consistent.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Omarr Conner (now a WR)
86-167, 903 yds, 8 TD, 5 INT
Rushing: Brandon Thornton
47 carries, 225 yds, 1 TD
Receiving: Will Prosser
28 catches, 286 yds, 0 TD

Star of the offense: Junior TE Eric Butler
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore QB Michael Henig
Unsung star on the rise: Junior WR Tony Burks
Best pro prospect: Senior FB Bryson Davis
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Butler, 2) OG Brian Anderson, 3) Davis
Strength of the offense: Receiver, tight end
Weakness of the offense: Quarterback

Things might not look that pretty at the moment, but the potential is there for this to be a decent group once backups Tray Rutland and Ty Evans get their feet wet. Michael Henig took over the starting job late last year from an ineffective Omarr Conner and turned out to be even worse. However, he's young and he did show a few signs of becoming a decent starter with a win over archrival Ole Miss, but he has to be far, far more accurate and has to be far better against good defenses. Conner moved to receiver and could step in if things got desperate.
The key to the unit: Quickly developing the backups and working on starter Michael Henig's accuracy.
Quarterback Rating: 5

Projected Starter
- Michael Henig, Soph. - 60-135, 44.4%, 621 yds, 2 TD, 5 INT
The coaching staff appears ready to sink or swim with Henig. The sophomore only completed 44% of his throws last year, isn't all that big or mobile, and he still needs to prove he can play at a D-I level against defenses with a pulse, but he came up with his best game of his young career in the season-finale against Ole Miss completing 11 of 20 passes for 105 yards and two touchdowns with an interception. With former starting quarterback Omarr Conner entrenched at receiver, Henig has to prove early on that he can be the leader of the attack.

Top Backups
- Tray Rutland, RFr.
The 221-pound gunner will get every opportunity to take over the starting spot if Michael Henig has problems. Rutland is a better athlete than Henig with more mobility and rushing skills with 4.6 speed, but he has to prove he can be a consistent passer.
- Ty Evans, RFr.
A pure passer, the 6-4 Evans doesn't have the all-around skills of Tray Rutland and is missing the experience of Michael Henig, but he'll get his chances to take over the starting job if the quarterbacking situation doesn't improve. He was a big recruit for the program a few years ago and is sure to soon be more of a factor.

Running Backs
It's asking a lot to replace an All-SEC talent like Jerious Norwood, who ran for 1,136 yards and six touchdowns last year, but the cupboard isn't bare with an interesting mix of players. Brandon Thornton will get the first look at the starting job, while big, powerful Brandon Hart will try to stay healthy this year and be more of a factor. The real star could be true freshman Anthony Dixon with his blend of strength and speed. The concern is with the overall speed of a backfield that lacks a home-run hitting 4.4 guy. Bryson Davis is one of the SEC's best blocking fullbacks.
The key to the unit: Combining forces to replace Jerious Norwood and averaging, as a corps, around 4.5 yards per carry after averaging 3.9 last year.
Running Back Rating: 5.5

Projected Starters
- Brandon Thornton, Soph. - 47 carries, 225 yds, 4.8 ypc, 1 TD, 6 catches, 32 yards
Thornton saw a little bit of work last year behind Jerious Norwood finishing second on the team in rushing with his best day coming in the season finale with 80 yards and a touchdown against Ole Miss. He's not all that big at 5-10 and 188 pounds, but he can move with good quickness through the hole. However, he doesn't have top-end speed to blow past most SEC linebacking corps.

- Fullback Bryson Davis, Sr. 8 carries, 24 yds, 3.0 ypc, 13 catches, 78 yds, 1 TD
One of the offense's best players, the 263-pound senior is great at blowing open holes for the running game and was one of the key reasons for Jerious Norwood's success. He's not a bad receiver and will occasionally get the ball as a short-yardage back, but he's used to hit defenders.

Top Backups
- Brandon Hart, Soph. - 11 carries, 24 yds, 2.2 ypc, 1 catch, 4 yds
Here's the power. The 240-pound Hart was banged up for most of last year, but he still turned into a good backup. He can be used as a fullback or as a big, short-yardage tailback. He's not the fastest runner, but he provides a pop with the ball in his hands and is a decent special teamer.
- Derek Ambrose, Sr. - 15 carries, 90 yds, 6 ypc
Back after missing most of last year, Ambrose will get a long look in the running back rotation. He came out of spring ball as the backup behind Brandon Thornton adding more size at 6-1 and 198 pounds.
- Anthony Dixon, Fr.
The true freshman might be the the most talented back on the roster. He's big, strong and fast running a 4.5 40 with a bench press of 265 pounds in a 6-1, 229-pound frame. He ran for 31 touchdowns his senior year at Terry High in Jackson, Mississippi, and he'll get every shot at seeing the field right away once he hits campus.
- Casey Rogers, Sr. - 2 catches, 32 yds
Mostly used on special teams, Rogers' hope for being more of a fullback diminished with the emergence of Brandon Hart. Rogers is only 218 pounds, but he has decent hands and is a good blocker for his size.

This is easily the strength of the offense with former quarterback Omarr Conner ready to shine in a full-time receiver role and with JUCO transfer Tony Burks finally ready to shine at the X. It's not a bad thing when a leading receiver like Will Prosser gets moved to a backup role. There's experienced depth in both the receiving corps and tight end where three players, Eric Butler, Dezmond Sherrod and Jason Husband could all start at some point. 278-pound Jeremy Jones could be used as a third tackle. The only question is whether or not the Bulldogs have anyone to get them all the ball.
The key to the unit: Hope for Omarr Conner and Tony Burks can provide some pizzazz, and hope everyone can stay healthy.
Receiver Rating: 6.5

Projected Starters
- Omarr Conner, Sr. - 9 catches, 116 yds, 12.9 ypc
Conner started out his career at receiver before moving over to quarterback. With the offense going nowhere last year, Conner moved back to receiver where he became a good playmaker late in the season. He's a big target at 6-1 and 218 pounds, and he certainly knows the offense. As the starter at the Z position, he should be one of the team's most productive, and most physical targets.

- Keon Humphries, Soph. - 11 catches, 200 yds, 18.2 ypc, 2 TD
A leg injury kept the knocked Humphries out as a freshman, and then he returned to have a decent year getting four starts. He was going to be moved to defensive back this season, but he'll take over the starting job at the X to bring more quickness to the attack.

- Tight end Eric Butler, Jr. - 14 catches, 188 yds, 13.4 ypc, 3 TD
Butler would be known as one of the SEC's best receiving tight ends if he had someone to consistently get him the ball. The 250-pound junior has seven touchdown catches over the last two years on only 29 catches. He's not a bad blocker, but his worth is as a receiver who can find his way open in the red zone.

Top Backups
- Tony Burks, Jr.
The JUCO transfer is being penciled in as a potential starter at the X position knocking out 2005's leading receiver Will Prosser. Burks is 6-4 and 213 pounds with good hands and 4.5 speed with 44 grabs last year for Mississippi Gulf Coast CC last year. He signed with Ole Miss out of high school and spurned the Rebels, Arkansas and Oklahoma State in the recruiting race this time around.
- Will Prosser, Sr. - 28 catches, 286 yds, 10.2 ypc
Prosser is a textbook possession receiver leading the team over the last two seasons with 52 catches, but he hasn't gotten into the end zone. He's a big target at 6-3 and 207 pounds with 34 games of experience under his belt. He was banged up throughout last year toughing it out over the first eight games as the team's most reliable receiver. He didn't catch a pass over the final three games.
- Lance Long, Jr. - 7 catches, 41 yds, 5.9 ypc
The transfer from Western Michigan made his biggest impact as a kickoff returner and will be used this year mostly for short to midrange plays at the Z position.
- Tight end Dezmond Sherrod, Jr. - 1 catch, 5 yards
A part-time starter last year, the 247-pound Sherrod might be moved to an H-Back position if he emerges as more of a playmaking receiver. He made his biggest impact on special teams and saw time at fullback at the beginning of last year, but he'll be the primary backup behind Eric Butler at tight end this season.

Offensive Linemen
The line fell apart as 2005 went on, but that might be a great thing for 2006 with several freshmen getting key playing time to form an experienced, deep group coming back. There's still a lot of work to be done on a line that'll rely on three sophomores, but there's a lot to be excited about from guard Brian Anderson on the right side and the expected emergence of Anthony Strauder as a star on the left. The tackles are interesting with 356-pound Calvin Wilson and 302-pound Michael Gates two main keys to a passing game that didn't go anywhere hurt by 36 sacks.
The key to the unit: Quickly getting all the young, experienced players to jell into a consistent unit. Staying healthy would do wonders after so many nicks and dings last year.
Offensive Line Rating: 6

Projected Starters
- OT J.D. Hamilton, Jr.
The star JUCO transfer will immediately take over the starting left tackle job. He's 6-4 and 300 pounds with excellent speed for a player of his size. He was an All-America at the JUCO level, and now should be a big upgrade to the pass protection.
- OG Anthony Strauder, Soph.
Strauder started off his career on the defensive line before getting thrown into the starting role on the offensive side last year. He turned in a good season growing into a consistent run blocker. He can play either guard position and will get the starting nod this year on the left side where he should grow into one of the line's key players.
- C Royce Blackledge, Jr.
Able to play either guard or center, the 293-pound junior will get the starting nod in the middle this year after starting six times at right guard. He might not have a ton of experience, but he'll be expected to grow into a steady player over the next two years now that he's solidified in his position.
- OG Brian Anderson, Sr.
The 6-6, 307-pound Anderson is the best player on the line. He started off his career as a tight end and a running back before growing into the job on the line. The athletic senior will get the start on the right side where he should be an All-SEC candidate and the anchor of the Bulldog line.
- OT Craig Jenkins, RFr.
The 6-4, 317-pound Jenkins is the biggest option on the right side, and he's also the best after a solid spring. He'll be part of a rotation with Roland Terry and Michael Gates, but the job is his.

Top Backups
- OT Calvin Wilson, Soph.
Wilson is a 356-pound monster on the left side. A knee injury prior to last year was a concern, but he came on last year to start over the second half of the season. He's a bruising run blocker, but his pass protection needs work which will hopefully come with more experience.
- OG Anthony Dunning, Soph.
The 300-pound Dunning saw time in seven games as a true freshman and even got a start before getting knocked out for a time by a knee injury. He came back to be an effective backup at the end of last year getting enough experience to be a key player at right guard behind Brian Anderson going into this year. 
- OT Roland Terry, Soph.
Terry is a raw 6-7, 291-pound prospect with loads of upside. He didn't see a whole bunch of work as a redshirt freshman, but he'll slowly be worked more into the mix behind Calvin Wilson on the left side and will occasionally work on the right side.
- OT Michael Gates, Soph.
Gates is very raw, but he has a ton of upside. The 6-4, 302-pound sophomore saw six games of work as a backup last year as a true freshman after playing only one year of high school football as a tight end. He'll get work on the right side where he'll have to be more polished.
- C Dio Herrera, Soph.
The 309-pound Herrera saw time at both guard and center last year seeing most of his time early on in the middle before moving over to guard until late in the season. Now he'll spend most of his time at center providing a bigger option behind Royce Blackledge.

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