I write the Mississippi State preview for Athlon magazine every year, and part of that work involves working up a preseason depth chart. Not a post-spring depth chart, but preseason, which involves a bit of conjecture.
Well, what I present to you here is a post-spring chart that, on the whole, I feel will stand come the Sept. 1 opener at Memphis. There are certain to be changes, because of many factors – injuries, progress by certain players, and my own misguided opinions on this.
For example, I expect Clemson transfer Brandon Maye to take over at middle linebacker once he gets here. But he's not here, so he won't be on this depth chart.
Today, I start with the offense. I'll do the defense tomorrow, and probably special teams the next day. On some of these I go two deep, others three deep if I feel it's relevant.
• Quarterback: 1. Chris Relf (Sr.), 2. Tyler Russell (So.), 3. Dylan Favre (RFr.).
MSU is in a great situation here: It has an established starter, a very capable backup, and a pretty fair emergency QB.
A combination of Relf's improvement and the overall quality of quarterbacks in the league should make him one of the SEC's top signal-callers this fall. Russell is good enough to keep Relf on his toes – and will most certainly play – and should be ready to take over the offense in 2012.
• Tailback: 1. Vick Ballard (Sr.), 2. LaDarius Perkins (So.), 3. Robert Elliott (Sr.).
Like at QB, there's a pretty clear order here. Ballard the Raging Touchdown Machine looks to only be better, and the same for Perkins the Speed Demon/Surprisingly Effective Third-Down Back.
As for Elliott, well, I've yet to see much from him during his career. Perhaps he can add a little here or there, but I remain skeptical of how much he will contribute.
• Outside receivers: 1. Arceto Clark (Jr.), 2. Michael Carr (So.); 1. Chris Smith (Jr.), 2. Ricco Sanders (So.).
Obviously, there are two outside spots. Anyway, Clark had a breakout season after moving back to receiver from cornerback, and Carr showed some promise, even caught a touchdown in the Gator Bowl. Smith has had some good moments, and I look for him to step forward a bit this year.
Still not sure what to make of Sanders, who didn't make a single catch during the 2010 season, then had two and a TD in the bowl game.
• Inside receivers: 1. Chad Bumphis (Jr.), 2. Brandon Heavens (Jr.).
This is an interchangeable pair. Bumphis being out for a few weeks with his sprained ankle could conceivably give Heavens a bit of a leg up, since he'll get to spend more time working with the QBs this summer. Heavens got three starts last season and has playmaking ability, although Bumphis has the advantage of being experienced running the wildcat.
• Tight end: 1. Marcus Green (Sr.), 2. Malcolm Johnson (RFr.), 3. Kendrick Cook (Sr.).
Between Green being limited due to October knee surgery and Cook also being limited by a spinal nerve issue, Johnson got a lot of reps this spring. A converted receiver, Johnson fits well into the mold Dan Mullen likes in a tight end. And he's got great hands.
But if he's fully healthy, Green is the man. He's a proven playmaker who is steeped in Mullen's system.
• Left tackle: 1. James Carmon (Sr.), 2. Blaine Clausell (RFr.).
They could be listed as co-No. 1s, and line coach John Hevesy said he could see both playing this season. Both have good size, and Carmon definitely has the physical tools. Clausell, Derek Sherrod's backup last year, has come a long way and should have a greater knowledge of blocking schemes and whatnot. That's an area Hevesy said Carmon is still trying to master.
• Left guard: 1. Gabe Jackson (So.), 2. Damien Robinson (RFr.).
The day of last season's opener vs. Memphis, I recall being mildly surprised that Jackson got the start at left guard, which moved Quentin Saulsberry to right guard in place of Tobias Smith. Jackson wound up starting all 13 games.
Robinson was a big-time recruit in more than one way: He stands 6-foot-8, 310 pounds and was a four-star prospect according to Rivals.com.
• Center: 1. Quentin Saulsberry (Sr.), 2. Dillon Day (RFr.).
Saulsberry has played four different positions along the line in his career and was forced to work a bit at guard this spring with Smith out and Jackson limited at one point. Saulsberry started two games at center last season when J.C. Brignone was injured.
Day had trouble with shotgun snaps at times this spring, but he's got until the end of August to work on that.
• Right guard: 1. Tobias Smith (Jr.), 2. Templeton Hardy (Jr.).
Now, Hardy spent most of the spring running first team, but that's because Smith was out due to offseason shoulder surgery. Smith probably could have practiced, but coaches didn't want to take any chances with him. He should be full speed by August, but I'm interested to see how Hardy's work this spring might help him challenge Smith, who made one start last season.
• Right tackle: 1. Addison Lawrence (Sr.), 2. Eric Lawson (RFr.).
Lawrence owns 25 starts and has played 35 games total. So he's firmly entrenched at this position. He might not be all-SEC material, but he's a good guy for Lawson and others to learn under.