BRAD LOCKE: Bulldogs – Five spots that must improve

By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal

STARKVILLE – When assessing Mississippi State’s football team and how it might fare this autumn, there is an assumption made that certain positions will be better than last year.
There’s no guarantee those positions will be improved. But if they are, then yes, MSU could have a special season on its hands.
There are five positions I see that need to have marked improvement from last year to this year:
• Quarterback: Here’s one of those assumptions for you, that Tyler Russell will be a better passer than Chris Relf, and thus MSU will have a better passing game. This one’s kind of easy, because we’ve seen Russell work the past couple of seasons, and there’s no question he’s a better passer.
I’ve said this many times and am sticking with it: Russell will be very good this year and will be one of the better QBs in the SEC.
Coach Dan Mullen said Russell is “much, much better right now than he was last year at this point.”
• Wide receiver: Another assumption is that the depth and experience here will pay big dividends. Maybe, but this group hasn’t been wholly impressive. Arceto Clark and Chris Smith have done some nice things, but nothing outstanding.
Chad Bumphis has struggled, and young guys like Jameon Lewis and Joe Morrow, while very talented, are still learning. I’m not 100 percent sold on this group yet, but I like its chances.
• Left tackle: Blaine Clausell and James Carmon shared this spot last year. Carmon’s in the NFL, and Clausell is back as a third-year sophomore. It’s his job to lose.
He’s added a good bit of weight, and with a more stationary target back there at quarterback this year, Clausell has to be better. We’ll see.
• Defensive end: The MSU pass rush hasn’t been overly terrifying for opposing teams, but junior college transfer Denico Autry is expected to give an immediate boost to the defense in that area. The defensive end went through spring drills and looks the part.
Autry’s arrival has had an effect on veteran Shane McCardell, who’s looked much improved this offseason. And don’t forget about sophomore Kaleb Eulls. Look for MSU’s sack total to go up.
• Middle linebacker: State lost its top three players here from last season, but it wasn’t exactly an elite group. Taking over are Ferlando Bohanna and Benardrick McKinney, two very talented youngsters, and freshman Richie Brown looks like a future starter. I like this position’s make-up.
So there you have it: Five positions that need to improve, and I believe most of them will. I certainly won’t assume they will, because assumptions are a dangerous thing in the world of SEC football.
Brad Locke (brad.locke@journalinc.com) covers Mississippi State for the Daily Journal and blogs daily at DJournal.com.