For a football team, the spring is a time for many things, including the development of young players. It’s during this period that players have the chance to show why they were highly rated in high school; or if they weren’t highly rated, it’s a chance to prove some people wrong.
Development is an area Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen harps on constantly, because you lose stars every year, so you’d better be able to replace them.
I asked Mullen yesterday if any players in particular had shown notable improvement through the spring. He didn’t offer up many names but said he saw strides being made all over the field.
“There’s some young (offensive) linemen that really got a lot of reps that developed. They still have a long way to go. They improved. I was pleased with some of our receivers, young receivers that are continuing to grow and develop to add depth to the program.
“On the defensive side of the ball, the linebackers kind of stepped up. They still have a long way to go to get there, and then some of the young D-linemen – Kaleb Eulls and Curtis Virges – those guys need to step on the field and make an impact this season.”
One area that’s developed nicely is receiver, although Mullen said he still hasn’t seen anyone ascend to the status of a “go-to, primo” wideout. He does like the depth there.
“Having that depth and feeling comfortable with these guys being able to go onto the field and perform at a high level I think is an advantage for us as we go forward,” Mullen said. “We’re still really young. … Even though we have some depth now, we’re still young at that, and it’s taken us a couple of years to get to this point where we’re comfortable with our depth.”
A bigger concern can be found at the defensive end spots. While senior Sean Ferguson has come a long way and should be a starter, the others have question marks hanging over their heads. There are several guys who have played and/or are talented enough, but attrition – Jonathan McKenzie quitting last year, Nick Bell passing away, Pernell McPhee heading for the NFL – has hurt the position.
“When that happens, that just kind of knocks you out of the development of what our program’s all about,” said Mullen. “We’ll see, if guys continue to develop … there’s some guys that could really step up and take that next step. They have the potential to, we’re just going to have to see how they’re going to develop over the next couple of months.”
In watching spring drills, I came to my own conclusions about young players who made noticeable improvement from the end of the season until now. So here’s my short (not comprehensive) list of most improved, alphabetically (sophomores and younger):
• OL Blaine Clausell, RFr.
• TE Brandon Hill, RFr.
• TE Malcolm Johnson, RFr.
• LB Deontae Skinner, So.
• DB Dennis Thames, So.
• LB Matthew Wells, RFr.