2007 Mississippi State Preview - Offense

Posted Jul 30, 2007

Preview 2007 Mississippi State Bulldog Offense

Mississippi State Bulldogs

Preview 2007 - Offense

- 2007 Mississippi State Preview | 2007 MSU Defense Preview
2007 MSU Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Mississippi State Preview 

What you need to know: It might not be saying much, but this should be the best offense yet under Sylvester Croom. The line gets four starters back, with the fifth spot occupied by Mike Brown, a starter late in the year and the best blocker up front. The receiving corps is easily the deepest area on the offense with good talent and a world of upside, but QB Michael Henig has to stay healthy and get them the ball consistently. Anthony Dixon is an All-SEC caliber running back, and true freshman Robert Elliott should become a fantastic backup. The overall depth is lacking, so injury problems could be disastrous.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Michael Henig
74-169, 1,201 yds, 7 TD, 9 INT
Rushing: Anthony Dixon
169 carries, 668 yds, 9 TD
Tony Burks
35 catches, 850 yds, 5 TD

Star of the offense: Sophomore RB Anthony Dixon
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior QB Michael Henig
Unsung star on the rise: Junior OT Mike Brown
Best pro prospect: Senior TE Eric Butler
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Dixon, 2) Butler, 3) Brown
Strength of the offense: Receiver, tight end, offensive line experience
Weakness of the offense: Reliable quarterback, proven running back depth


Projected Starter: When junior Michael Henig was healthy, he turned into a difference maker as the passer the program has desperately been looking for over the last few years. He suffered a broken collarbone twice last year, but now he should be a bit more durable after bulking up to try to hold up better. Only 6-1 and 190 pounds, he has a big arm with good rushing skills. Now he has to be more accurate, after only completing 44% of his passes for 1,201 yards and seven touchdowns with nine interceptions, and he has to be consistent.

Projected Top Reserves: Considering Henig's injury problems, MSU needed a reliable number two quarterback, and it got one in JUCO transfer Josh Riddell, a 6-1, 195-pound bomber who threw for 54 touchdowns at Foothill College with an 18-4 record. He's not going to be Vince Young running the ball, but he can move just enough to take off from time to time.

6-0, 185-pound sophomore Zack Harrington comes in from SE Louisiana to be the number three man in the mix. He left after the Katrina disaster, and while he might not be an SEC caliber passer, he'll get time to develop.

Watch Out For ... Henig to not be challenged for the starting job. The hope was for Riddell to come in and make a run to upgrade the position, but while he wasn't bad this spring, he didn't do nearly enough to be in the hunt to be the number one, hurt mostly by completing one of six passes in the spring game.
Henig's emergence. He might have struggled so far in his career, but he looked like a starter this spring and appeared to be the type of passer to finally give the Bulldogs a little bit of balance.
Backups. It's make or break for Riddell if something happens to Henig. Tray Rutland and Ty Evans weren't going to light up the SEC, but they were decent prospects who provided a little bit of depth.
Outlook: Henig has to stay healthy or there could be big problems. Riddell doesn't appear to be ready yet, and Harrington isn't close. MSU is hardly going to outbomb anyone, but this won't be the nation's 108th team in the nation in passing efficiency again.
Rating: 6

Running Backs

Projected Starters: Sophomore Anthony Dixon was the team's star recruit last year, and he didn't disappoint late in the year with two 100-yard games in the final three, while leading the team with 668 yards and nine touchdowns. He's 6-1, 240 pounds, lineman strong, and incredibly fast, timed at 4.5 in the 40. In other words, he's the whole package, and now he has to be a consistent weapon to help carry the attack.

5-11, 235-pound junior Brandon Hart is a powerful tailback who'll see time at fullback. While he didn't see much in the way of carries, with only two attempts for one yard and one catch for ten yards, he's a good, veteran blocker who should be a consistent blocker for Dixon.

Projected Top Reserves: All eyes were on Dixon last year, and now it'll be up to
Robert Elliott to be the new star-in-waiting. While not lightning fast, he's a tremendous athlete and a great producer who could've gone to several other SEC schools but chose MSU over Ole Miss late in the game. Now he should provide a good number two back behind Dixon.

5-10, 207-pound senior Justin Williams created a role for himself by as a top backup late last year. The former walk-on transfer from Grambling ran for 89 yards, but only averaged 2.8 yards per carry. He's not all that powerful and not particularly fast through the hole, but he'll take some of the pressure off Dixon with around seven carries a game.

6-0, 215-pound sophomore Christian Ducre transferred over form Tulane and became a special teamer early on. Extremely quick, he'll be an interesting third back, but he'll mostly be used in garbage time and on the return team.

5-10, 205-pound sophomore Arnil Stallworth is trying to come back from a knee injury, but if he's right, he could be the team's number two back after running for 137 yards and a touchdown. An ultra-productive high school back, he has the hands to be used as a receiver, and if his knee is healthy, the quickness to be a good backup.

Playing behind Hart at fullback is 6-2, 275-pound junior Jeremy Jones, who'll provide a huge sledgehammer of a blocking option. Mostly a tight end so far, with one catch and a few plays made on special teams, he should be an interesting option making holes for Dixon.

Watch Out For ... Williams to see more work, even with the likely emergence of Elliott. Dixon will be the workhorse for the offense, but he'll need to be kept fresh. Williams might not be the most talented back around, but he's good enough to take away just enough work to provide another option.
Dixon. If gets a little bit of help from the offensive line, and if the passing game is just adequate enough to keep the linebackers back a half step, he should be in for a huge year. He's already one of the best power backs in the SEC, and he'll show off surprising home run hitting ability if he gets the room.
Backups. Williams will get carries, but he's not exactly going to be a threat to make any All-SEC teams. Stallworth is still hurting, and Ducre will mostly be a special teamer. Unless Elliott is ready, there will be problems.
Outlook: If Elliott is the real deal, the Bulldogs will be loaded. Dixon has All-SEC talent and should be a star at times, Elliott has the potential to be a tremendous number two back after getting his feet wet early on, and there are just enough decent backup options to make for a decent rotation if needed.
Rating: 7


Projected Starters
Originally an outside receiver, junior Jamayel Smith will start inside at the Z. Arguably the team's biggest surprise, the former walk-on emerged as a steady target over the second half of the season to finish second on the team in receiving catching 20 passes for 335 yards and two touchdowns. While he'll be part of a rotation, he'll be given every opportunity to be a field stretcher when he sees one-on-one coverage.

Expected to shine this year at the outside X is Brandon McRae, a good-looking 6-4, 200-pound sophomore who sat out last year after transferring from Morehead State. He's big, fast, and tremendously athletic, but he'll have to prove he can be consistent. He's tough enough to play inside if needed.

Tight end Eric Butler is the type of talent that no one knows about in college, and then all of a sudden comes up with a solid, out-of-the-blue NFL career. The 6-3, 255-pound senior struggled a bit last year with a banged up toe, but he's a good receiver who'll blossom if the passing attack improves. With 42 career catches for 564 yards and eight touchdowns, he has experience and now needs to be used more.

Projected Top Reserves: Senior Tony Burks led the receivers with 35 catches for 850 yards and five touchdowns in a breakout season turning into a top home-run hitter and scary deep threat averaging an SEC-leading 24.3 yards per catch. With five 100-yard games, highlighted by a 192-yard, two score performance against Kentucky, he established himself as the team's number one receiver that's been missing in the Sylvester Croom era. At 6-4 and 217 pounds, the former JUCO transfer is a big, physical receiver, and is fantastic after the catch.

Junior Aubrey Bell is a big, tight-end sized 6-3, 220-pound target who has the potential to be a breakout playmaker after making ten grabs for 176 yards in just half of last season. Still developing as a receiver after being tried out at defensive back early in his career and missing the first half of last year after being suspended, he should see plenty of time in three-wide sets and as a spot starter at the X along with McRae. He'll also be a key special teamer.

Senior Lance Long is a former transfer from Toledo who's been in the mix for the last two years on both special teams and as an occasional starter. While he's not a special target, he's a decent possession receiver who finished second on the team with 25 catches for 177 yards and a touchdown last year.

Backing up Eric Butler will be seniors Dezmond Sherrod and Jason Husband, who've each seen starting time. Sherrod is the team's best blocking tight end and has seen time on special teams. He's a smart player who gets plenty of work in two tight-end sets. Husband is more of a receiver playing tight end. He was limited a bit by a shoulder injury last season, but is expected to be a bigger part of the passing game after catching a career high nine passes for 89 yards and a touchdown.

Watch Out For ... Newcomer Co-Eric Riley. The JUCO transfer is 6-2, 200 pounds with 4.5 speed and worlds of potential. He's more than just a deep receiver, he can be a good midrange target who'll quickly be a threat for one of the starting jobs. 
Strength: Experience. Six of the team's top nine receivers are back including the top three. They need to make the quarterbacks better, and they need to do everything possible to take the heat off the ground game.
Weakness: Consistency. If the post-spring depth chart holds up, the depth will be terrific, but McRae and Smith will have to grow into bigger producers as the starters. The passing game was solid at times, but will it be steady? The quarterback play will have a lot to do with that.
Outlook: This should be one of the team's strengths with size, speed, options and potential. However, it all comes down to the emergence of prospects like Riley, McRae, Bell and Smith to make the passing game shine. Burks will be a starter before the season is over.
Rating: 6.5

Offensive Linemen

Projected Starters: Former Florida Gator Mike Brown got cleared to play midway through last year and ended up seeing time in six games. While the junior hasn't scratched the surface quite yet, he has immense talent and provided a huge boost to the offensive production when he got his chance. At 6-5 and 300 pounds, he's big with good feet in pass protection.

On the right side will be 6-4, 315-pound sophomore Craig Jenkins, the team's biggest lineman in the rotation, and he could grow into the best after taking his lumps as a freshman. He's still learning how to be a physical blocker for the running game while needing to hone his pass protection skills. So far he's been durable, and for the most part, reliable. Now he has to be consistent and he has to keep his weight in check.

6-4, 295-pound former JUCO transfer J.D. Hamilton saw plenty of time in his first year starting six times at tackle and was a key reserve the rest of the way. A knee injury limited the senior over the second half of the year, but he was still able to play. While he could see time at tackle again, he'll start out getting the first look at right guard.

Moving over from the right side to left guard will be junior Anthony Strauder, a 17-game starter who can play either guard spot and should finally be coming into his own after starting his career on the defensive line. While a solid run blocker, he can be even better as he has the skills and athleticism to be the team's best lineman if he puts it all together.

Returning to the middle will be 6-4, 293-pound junior Royce Blackledge, the anchor of the line. He established himself at center after seeing time at guard earlier in his career. He has decent size and enough experience to be the quarterback up front the team has solely missed. He became the team's steadiest lineman, and now appears ready for a breakout year.

Projected Top Reserves: 6-4, 305-pound junior Michael Gates is part tackle, part guard, and is more suited for the inside. After a year learning the ropes at right guard, he's expected to grow into a stronger run blocker while using his tight end athleticism to get on the move. Staying healthy is vital after having a few problems with an ankle injury.

6-5, 275-pound redshirt freshman Mark Melichar isn't all that big and doesn't have any experience, but he'll be the top backup at both tackle spots. Extremely athletic, he should be decent in pass protection, but he still needs to hit the weights and gain another 15 pounds.

Watch Out For ... Brown. He has the size and the talent to become a top producer, and after the problems of last year, should be the rock on the veteran front five.
Veterans. With four returning starters, and Brown like another returning starter, this is an experienced group that's the best, by far, in the Sylvester Croom era.
Proven production. Everyone is back, but this group didn't do anything last year for the running game and allowed 29 sacks. Experience is nice, but it only matters if everyone plays well.
Is this finally the year, MSU has a decent line? This rag-tag bunch of misfits now has experience and talent with the right combination appearing to be in place to be a positive after struggling for so many years. The depth is lacking, and it's not the most athletic line around, but it should be good enough to not be a liability.
Rating: 6.5


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