Mississippi State starts its spring football practices on March 9 and will hold its annual spring football game on April 16.
Here are three position battles to watch this spring:
Who’s Back: Elijah Staley, Nick Fitzgerald, Damian Williams, Nick Tiano
Who’s Not: Dak Prescott
Experience: Williams is the only player that has started a game in his career, getting the nod in the 2013 Egg Bowl. Williams was Prescott’s back-up for two seasons but redshirted this past fall with a torn labrum.
Fitzgerald was Prescott’s understudy in 2015, appearing in eight games. Staley saw action in two outings while Tiano redshirted.
Spring Blooms: This quartet has possibly the largest shoes to ever fill at Mississippi State in replacing Prescott. Fitzgerald appears to be the frontrunner and although he is only a redshirt sophomore, he has been on campus since December 2013. However, Fitzgerald only has 14 pass attempts on his resume.
Fitzgerald at 6-foot-5, 227-pounds and Staley at 6-foot-6, 248-pounds are both bigger and more athletic than Prescott was and possess stronger arms. It’s the intangibles and leadership qualities that Prescott brought to the table that will be the hardest to replace.
Don’t count Tiano out either. Prescott himself felt like the 6-foot-4, 231-pounder would be quarterback of the future for MSU.
Spring will be a success if: a starting signal caller emerges. This is likely to be the most highly contested battle of the spring and could carry its way over into fall camp and right up until kickoff against South Alabama.
Who’s back: Brandon Holloway, Nick Gibson, Alec Murphy, Aeris Williams, Ashton Shumpert, Dontavian Lee
Who’s not: None
Experience: Holloway and Shumpert are both seniors while Williams and Lee are both redshirt sophomores. Gibson and Murphy redshirted as true freshmen last fall.
Holloway has 145 career carries for 745 yards and one touchdown and Shumpert 152 carries for 692 yards and six scores. Williams rushed 40 times for 206 yards and three touchdowns while Lee had 137 yards on 22 attempts.
Spring Blooms: There is no denying that State’s running game struggled last year with no back eclipsing 500 yards for the season. Shumpert began the year as the starter but struggled with his production. Holloway started the final eight games of the season but at only 5-foot-8, 165-pounds, struggled in pass protection.
Williams and Lee were the third and fourth string backs but both provided flashes in their first year on the field. Both are power backs with a physical, downhill running style.
Gibson is a former four-star prospect and along with Murphy will push the four backs ahead of them. Wide receivers Malik Dear and Keith Mixon may also spend some time in the backfield as well.
Spring will be a success if: one of the six scholarship backs takes ownership in the position. State needs a reliable running game to take the pressure off what will be an inexperienced quarterback.
Who’s Back: Farrod Green, Justin Johnson
Who’s Not: Gus Walley, Darrion Hutcherson
Experience: Johnson played in 11 games as a true freshman last year but only caught five passes for 41 yards and a touchdown. Green redshirted last year as a true freshman.
Dan Mullen had hoped to have Walley back for his senior season and second as a starter but multiple concussions caused his career to be cut short.
Spring Blooms: Johnson is the lone tight end with game experience and that is only one year’s worth so Mississippi State will certainly be young at this spot.
The Bulldogs signed three tight ends with varying levels of experience – Jordan Thomas (junior college), Dontea Jones (prep school) and Christian Roberson (high school). Jones and Roberson have already enrolled and will go through spring workouts with Green and Johnson.
Although he will be the last to arrive, Thomas may have the best chance to be MSU’s starter next season. At 6-foot-6, 275-pounds, Mullen raved about his athleticism and said that he plays like a wide receiver at that size. It will all depend on how quickly he can adapt to the offense when he finally makes it to campus.
Spring will be a success if: Johnson can make a jump between his true freshman and sophomore years and the rest of the group can keep improving. Although the defensive staff has four new coaches, it might be tight ends coach Scott Sallach that is tasked with the most teaching.