Mississippi State Bulldogs
Preview 2008 - Offense
2008 CFN Mississippi
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2007 CFN Mississippi
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What you need to know: The
offense was along for the ride last year as the defense set the
tone game after game, but that should change a little bit. After
averaging fewer than 300 yards per game, this group has to do a
better job of moving the chains. The running game should be far
stronger with a jelled, veteran line paving the way for a strong
trio of running backs, led by Anthony Dixon, but the passing
attack has to start doing more after finishing 113th in the
nation. The receiving corps is mediocre, lacking a true No. 1
target, while QB Wesley Carroll isn't the type of passer who'll
make everyone around him better.
Passing: Wesley Carroll
134-255, 1,392 yds, 9 TD, 7 INT
Rushing: Anthony Dixon
287 carries, 1,066 yds, 14 TD
33 catches, 510 yds, 3 TD
Star of the offense: Junior RB Anthony Dixon
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior WR
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman RB Robert
Best pro prospect: Senior OG Anthony Strauder
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Dixon, 2) Strauder, 3)
Strength of the offense: Running back, the right side of
Weakness of the offense: Big plays, wide receiver,
Projected Starter: Out of necessity, sophomore
Wesley Carroll took over the quarterback duties and came up
with a nice true freshman campaign, saving the season when
Michael Henig was injured. He completed over half his passes
connecting at a 53% clip, while showing off a little bit of
mobility with 67 rushing yards. No, he doesn't have a big arm
and he's not going to run for 20 touchdowns, but for a team like
MSU, he has one very, very important talent: he's good at not
throwing picks. While he gave away four in the loss to Arkansas,
he didn't throw more than one in any other game, and he came
within one pass of setting the NCAA freshman record for the most
attempts in a row without giving one up. More than anything else
this year, he has to stay healthy and be consistent, because
there isn't an immediate, viable option behind him.
Projected Top Reserves: In the mix for the
starting job will be Tyson Lee, a 5-11, 190-pound junior
who comes over from Itawamba CC in Mississippi where he was a
tremendous passer and good runner. While it might take a huge
push to get the starting job on day one, he could end up taking
over if Carroll struggles with his accuracy.
One of the key players
going into the season, albeit under the radar, will be redshirt
freshman Chris Relf, a big, talented prospect with a live
arm and decent experience running the scout team. While he's not
going to challenge for the starting job quite yet, he has more
upside than Wesley Carroll and could eventually push for a
little bit of playing time. He'll be the depth early on, so he
has to be prepared to step in from day one.
Watch Out For ... Lee to be folded into the mix a
little here and there to get his feet wet. Carroll is promising
and has the experience to win, but he's not great at pushing the
ball down the field and he wasn't efficient enough. Relf has
more skills and could be the player who takes the offense to
another level, while Lee could be ready to roll right now. Carroll is more of a caretaker.
Strength: Youth. Carroll and Relf will grow with the
program over the next several years giving the offense a steady
base to build around. They don't have to carry the offense, and
there's not a ton of pressure on them, so they simply have to
keep things moving and try not to screw up.
Weakness: The deep ball. Relf has an arm, and Riddell
was a productive bomber at the JUCO level, but no SEC team will
fear this group pushing the ball deep. Even if it means a bad
pick here and there, Carroll has to try taking some big shots
down the field to open things up.
Outlook: This would've been a strong situation but
Michael Henig was forced to retire with a chronic hip problem,
but this might be addition by subtraction. That's not a knock on
Henig, but he would've been the starter, giving the team a good
veteran to count on, while the team might turn out to be better
by living through the development of Carroll, Lee and Relf. There
won't be big yards coming from Carroll, but he has to be more
efficient to take the heat off the ground game or else Lee will
Projected Starters: Junior Anthony Dixon
was the team's top recruit a few years ago, and he has turned
into everything the program could've hoped for. At 6-1 and 240
pounds with excellent 4.5 speed, he's the total package of
rushing skills, and he's even a decent receiver, even if the
passing game doesn't use him enough, with 14 catches for 167
yards and two touchdowns last season. Leading the team with
1,066 yards and 14 touchdowns, he was the offense at times,
carrying the load with 20 or more attempts in nine games. Now he
needs a little room, and a little help from the passing game to
take the pressure off, as he only averaged 3.7 yards per carry.
Senior Brandon Hart can be used as a big 240-pound
tailback or at fullback, but he only has three carries in the
last two years. He's a blocker, and a good one. To hold on to
the starting job throughout the year, he has to prove he can do
more as a receiver and has to keep blasting open holes. With his
experience, he could quietly grow into one of the SEC's more
Projected Top Reserves: While Anthony Dixon is the
clear star runner in the attack, junior Christian Ducre
is a nice second option to deal with. The Tulane transfer has
decent 222-pound size and excellent quickness, running for 487
yards and three touchdowns highlighted by a 119-yard day in the
win over Kentucky. Versatile enough to be used as a third down
type of back if needed, with 16 catches for 83 yards, he's also
a key special teamer.
Dixon and Ducre form a good 1-2 punch, and now redshirt freshman
Robert Elliott is looking to jump into the mix. A
superstar recruit who passed over several other SEC schools to
chose MSU over Ole Miss at the last moment, he has the breakaway
ability missing from the offense over the last few seasons. He's
not going to pound it like Dixon or Ducre, but when he gets to
the outside, he could grow into a dangerous threat.
5-10, 205-pound junior Arnil
Stallworth might be the odd man out after recuperating from
a shoulder problem after struggling with a knee injury. An
ultra-productive high school back, he has the hands to be used
as a receiver, and if he's healthy, the quickness to be a good
5-10, 230-pound senior Eric Hoskins was a key blocker in
the fullback rotation with four starts, but he got hurt and only
played in seven games. A shoulder nerve injury kept him out of
spring ball, but he's expected to be back as one of the team's
most devastating offensive hitters.
There will be a combination at fullback behind Hart and Hoskins
with senior Taurus Young and redshirt freshman Ethan
Stockett combining forces. At 255 pounds, Stockett has the
potential to be a pounding blocker, while Young, a walk-on,
won't get any carries and 228 pounds, won't see much of the
Watch Out For ... Elliott. Make no mistake
about it, Dixon is the star of the show, but he hasn't
been able to show off much of his decent speed. Elliott is the
type of back who could create his own openings with his
quickness, and then he could grow into the home-run hitter the
offense hasn't had.
Strength: Options. You could do a lot worse than have a
trio like Dixon, Ducre and Elliott. Any of these three could be
a productive SEC starters and they'll all get plenty of work.
Weakness: Proven big-play ability. That's where Elliott
could quickly change things. It's not Dixon and Ducre's fault,
but they didn't crank out nearly enough big runs. With no help
from the passing game to loosen things up, and an average season
from the O line, they didn't have much room to rumble.
Outlook: This could be the team's strength, and it
could be a good enough backfield to carry the team through the
tight games. Dixon is a proven back who'll be the focus of every
opposing team's gameplan, while Ducre can be a 5-to-7 carry back
who can provide a consistent No. 2 option. Elliott is the
wild-card. If he's half as good as expected, then there are
plenty of options and more talent to work with to keep Dixon
Projected Starters: Senior Jamayel Smith is back
for his second straight season at the inside Z position after
starting out his career on the outside. The former walk-on grew
into a role after a decent second half to his sophomore season,
but now he has to prove he can be a consistent No. 1 target.
While he went nuts against Arkansas with ten catches for 208
yards and two scores, including an 80-yard score, he was average
against everyone else finishing with 33 catches for 510 yards
and three scores. In other words, he only had 23 grabs for 302
yards and a score in the 12 non-Arkansas games.
Ready to take over in a big role replacing Tony Burks on the
outside is senior Co-Eric Riley, a 6-1, 200-pound former
JUCO transfer who made eight catches for 68 yards in a limited
role. Used a little bit as a kickoff returner, he has excellent
speed with the burst to potentially be the deep threat Burks
wasn't on a regular basis.
Needing replace Eric Butler at tight end is sophomore Brandon
Henderson, a 6-1, 250-pound sophomore who's built more like
a fullback and has no appreciable experience. An ankle injury
kept him out of the mix early on last season and he was never
able to make an impact. That has to change early on as MSU could
use a safety valve for the passing game.
Projected Top Reserves: Senior Aubrey Bell
is a big, tight-end sized 6-3, 217-pound target who has 11
career starts after being tried out at defensive back early in
his career. After missing half his sophomore season suspended,
he came back to make 14 catches for 186 yards and a touchdown as
a key reserve, but he didn't break out like he was expected to
with no more than two catches in any game. He has the speed to
be a factor on the outside, and he'll push hard for the starting
X job, along with Co-Eric Riley.
6-4, 200-pound junior Brandon McRae was one of the stars
of last year's spring practices after transferring over from
Morehead State, but he didn't do much of anything with just two
catches for 50 yards despite playing in every game. Mostly a
special teamer, he needs to be a steady option on the inside
along with Jamayel Smith.
The interesting wild-card in the
mix will be freshman O'Neal Wilder, who signed with the
program last year but is now finally eligible. At 6-5 and 190
pounds, and with some of the best wheels in the receiving corps,
he might be thrown to the wolves early on to provide more of a
deep threat. However, the former track star is very, very raw
with just a few years of football experience.
Pushing for the starting tight end job will be redshirt freshman
Marcus Green, a former fullback who spent his first year
learning the new position. If needed, the 6-2, 230-pounder could
see time in the backfield as an interesting all-around option.
Watch Out For ... the top backups to see just as much
time as the starters. The Bulldogs need receiver options and
will go with the hot hands on a game-by-game basis. The top four
receivers are interchangeable.
Strength: Size. The group looks the part with big
targets with excellent speed. The top five projected wide
receivers average around 6-3 and 200 pounds, and now they have
to use their frames to be more physical.
Weakness: Talent. Does MSU have anyone who'll
inspire more than a yawn from anyone in the SEC? There's
experience and measurables, but there aren't enough SEC-caliber
Outlook: This could more of a problem than it
appears. Smith isn't a true No. 1 target and will be
erased by any top corner, and it's asking a lot for Bell,
McRae and Wilder to make a big leap and become a
35-catch player. This group has to start making more big plays
and has to be relatively consistent. The running game will be
the focus, so all the MSU receivers have to do is exploit the
single coverage and keep the chains moving.
While Derek Sherrod moving over to left tackle, 6-5,
284-pound sophomore Mark Melichar will take over the
right tackle job. He saw plenty of action as a
reserve and should be a steady starter now that he's getting
more work. He's athletic, but he still needs to hit the
weights with the room and potential to add more bulk.
Next to Sherrod on the left side is 6-3, 290-pound senior Anthony
Strauder, who made the successful move from right guard to left and
now could be on the verge of All-SEC honors after a great second half of
2007. A 30-game starter, he's a durable rock who's versatile enough to
move around on the line where needed and a load for the running game.
6-4, 305-pound senior Michael Gates
will get the start at right guard after
he came on at the end of the season to be a star against Ole
Miss and UCF. Seeing time inside and out over the course of his
career, he's more suited to guard where he should settle into
the role as long as he can stay healthy. The one-time tight end
has the athleticism, and now he has the strength and experience.
Moving to left tackle will be 6-5, 298-pound sophomore Derek Sherrod
after a good freshman season. He was a key backup who
proved he could handle himself in big games, and now the job is
his after splitting time with J.D. Hamilton. While he's young
and still developing, he has the talent to grow into an SEC
Looking to push for Royce Blackledge's starting center job is 6-1, 290-pound
sophomore J.C. Brignone, who played in almost every game
last year only missing time due to a shoulder injury. A guard by
trade, he's being move to the middle to boost up the depth if he
doesn't hold on to the gig
Projected Top Reserves:
Originally a Florida Gator, Mike
Brown got cleared to play midway through his sophomore season and
and ended up seeing becoming the team's best lineman over the last
year-and-a-half. An athletic 6-5 and 300 pounds, he was a strong pass
protector and a devastating run blocker as he settled into the left
tackle job. Last year was about his immense potential, and he came
through with an All-SEC season. Unfortunately, he's not on the team this
year after getting booted for an off-the-field issue this March.
He was nailed for possession of a firearm.
Combining with Gates at
right guard is 6-4, 315-pound junior Michael Jenkins, who
started 23 games so far at tackle and guard and will once again
be one of the team's most versatile blockers. He'll get more
than his share of starts somewhere up front, but as the team's
biggest blocker, will more than likely stick inside.
Junior Johnny Carpenter could see time at center, but
he'll start out behind Strauder at left guard. He has a little
bit of experience, but the 6-2, 290-pounder has been limited by
injury and needs time to become a starter. If needed, he could
move over to any spot on the inside
The future of the line is in redshirt freshmen Quentin
Saulsberry and Dakota Merritt, who'll be groomed to
take over on the left side. The 6-3, 286-pound Saulsberry was a
top high school offensive linemen, started out his MSU career as
a defensive tackle, and now will play behind Mike Brown at left
tackle. The 6-5, 302-pound Merritt will work behind Anthony
Strauder at guard.
Watch Out For ... The left side to be strong. Strauder is as
steady as they come and Sherrod will be a good one in the move.
Strength: The guards. Strauder and Gates are athletic,
versatile blockers who now know what they're doing. They're
crusty veterans who won't make too many mistakes.
Weakness: Center and proven depth. Carpenter and Brignone have to replace the leadership loss of Royce
Blackledge in the middle, and while they're not likely to do
that right away, they can't be the weak link in the chain.
It's taken several years, but the MSU line has gone from being
pieced together, with several players looking for a place to fit
in, to a strong unit that should actually be a strength. As long
as injuries don't strike right away, and promising young
prospects like Quentin Saulsberry, Addison Lawrence and D.J.
Looney get time to figure out what they're doing, this group
should only get better and better.