By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Tyler Russell knows his chance to be a starter is coming soon, after senior Chris Relf completes his career. That prospect is one thing that keeps him motivated.
But Russell is also cognizant of how quickly that future could arrive. He’s just a Relf injury away from being Mississippi State’s starting quarterback.
Russell, a third-year sophomore, has bided his time, putting in his work while getting an occasional taste of what it is to be an SEC quarterback. That can be a big adjustment for a guy who was the state’s top high school player just three years ago, but Russell is handling it well.
His role right now is as the No. 2 QB, ahead of redshirt freshman Dylan Favre, and he knows what’s expected of him.
“Chris had a great year last year, you can’t deny that,” Russell said. “Me and Dylan’s job is to push each other – Dylan’s pushing me, I’m pushing Chris – and you’ve got to come out here and practice like you’re the No. 1 guy. And you’ve still got to compete, and anything could happen, so you’ve got to be ready.”
Relf stayed relatively healthy last season, starting all 13 games, but Russell got on the field, and not just in garbage time. The bulk of his work came in the first half of the season before Relf grabbed hold of the reins en route to a breakout year, and Russell wound up playing in nine games.
He completed 39 of 65 passes for 635 yards, five touchdowns and six interceptions.
Russell had some nice moments against teams like LSU and Alabama, and he sees that as only the beginning.
“I feel I’ve got a lot more to prove now, just because I got a taste last year of what it was, and I know I can do it,” he said. “And just coming out here with that confidence, knowing I’ve done it – I played against LSU, Alabama, people like that, so I’m very confident.”
Russell said he has a greater comfort level at the line of scrimmage, and he’s getting into more of the playbook, both passing and running. Coach Dan Mullen likes quarterbacks who can move, and while the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Russell fits the mold of a pure pocket passer, it should be noted he put up some good rushing numbers at Meridian High School.
He has performed well in both aspects thus far in preseason camp.
“The whole playbook is open,” he said.
Russell will play this year, but the question is when and how often. He and Relf rotated at times last season, but if the latter picks up where he left off in 2010, it’ll be difficult to take him out much.
Russell holds to the mentality of one who’s fighting for a starting job, which raises the question of how prepared he will be to take over the offense if that’s required.
“When you talk about can he step in at a certain point, he’s got to prove that he can go all the way with it,” offensive coordinator Les Koenning said. “He’s got repetitions, and it’s helped him.”