By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – After a fair amount of preseason buzz, Malcolm Johnson was quietly logging playing time for Mississippi State this season. Now, the buzz is returning.
The redshirt freshman tight end recorded his first career touchdown in last week’s 21-3 win over UAB, a 20-yard strike from Tyler Russell in the fourth quarter. That was the second TD of the game for an MSU tight end, as starter Marcus Green caught an 18-yarder in the third quarter.
The involvement of Johnson and Green in the offense was a welcome sight for coaches. The latter, a senior who’s had an injury-scarred career, has been healthy but not very productive. Having the tight ends contribute is a key element in Dan Mullen’s spread offense.
Tight ends coach Scott Sallach noted that after Green’s TD, the running game took off, and the Bulldogs scored on their next two possessions.
“Was it specifically because it was Marcus, or it was just the spark that lit everybody? I don’t know,” Sallach said, “but I think it can create a lot of mismatches because you can get Marcus to line up, he’s going to look like a running back, he’s going to look like a tight end, he’s going to look like a wide receiver.
“He can put a lot of pressure on opposing defenses to say, ‘How are we going to treat this guy?'”
Green is 6-foot-1, 240 pounds, while Johnson is 6-2, 225. They’re similar players – rangy, athletic, versatile, and Johnson might have the best hands on the team.
Like Green, Johnson was a receiver in high school, but willingly moved to tight end as he kept getting bigger during his redshirt year.
Working out well
“I think Marcus knew before I knew, because he kept telling me, ‘You might be a tight end, how big you’re getting,'” Johnson said. “He kept persuading me, saying, ‘Tight end’s the fit for you, tight end’s the fit for you.’ I was kind of being stubborn, naw, I want to play receiver. But it came out to work out well for me.”
Johnson has two catches for 42 yards thus far, while Green has seven for 100 yards.
“Marcus is a senior, so he’s a little bit more developed physically than where Malcolm is. But Malcolm is a guy who can do a lot of the similar things,” Mullen said.
In his one healthy season, 2009, Green was second on the team with 27 catches for 306 yards. He’s been through a lot, and being in his third season in Mullen’s system, he’s a resource for younger players.
“I might be talking to one person, and he can talk to the other ones to continue to explain things,” Sallach said. “And sometimes, having been through it, sometimes he can say something a little different that clicks for those guys. Marcus has more value than anybody realizes in that room.”
Take last week: Green and Johnson are roommates, and they had a crunch session the night before the UAB game.
“I remember Friday night in the hotel, we were up until about 1 or 2 o’clock going through our playbook, just showing me good looks and making sure I knew what I had to do,” Johnson said. “I really take off what Marcus teaches me, and hopefully one day I’ll be a leader like Marcus.”
Johnson can have a big future in MSU’s offense, so long as he keeps learning and developing.
“When we recruited him we knew he was a playmaker and a good route runner. Good hands,” Mullen said. “He’s improving a little more and getting a few more snaps here and there. He played 12 snaps on Saturday. As we continue to grow and develop hopefully he gets to play more and more.”