LOGAN LOWERY: Bulldogs tackle 3 key issues

LOGAN LOWERY

LOGAN LOWERY

STARKVILLE

Although Mississippi State returns 18 starters, it doesn’t mean the Bulldogs do not have some questions that need to be addressed when fall camp begins this week.

MSU players report on Wednesday and will begin practicing the following afternoon.

Here are three areas I expect to receive a lot of focus during training camp.

Kicking consistency

The Bulldogs’ field goal unit made just 10 of 21 field goals last fall and ranked 122nd in the country in that regard.

Needless to say, there’s plenty of room for improvement.

Devon Bell has been taken off placekicking duties altogether and will focus on punting and kicking off. That leaves walk-ons Evan Sobiesk, Westin Graves, Courtland Daws and J.J. McGrath to battle it out in training camp.

Sobiesk and Graves weren’t overly impressive in spring scrimmages, with Sobiesk making 4 of 10 and Graves 2 of 4. Daws didn’t get many chances, and McGrath transferred in last month from Michigan, where he was a preferred walk-on for the Wolverines.

It is imperative for the Bulldogs to find a consistent kicker and avoid leaving 33 points on the field, as they did a year ago.

Replacing Perkins

Most expect junior Josh Robinson to be LaDarius Perkins’ heir apparent in State’s backfield.

After all, Robinson received most of the second-team reps last season and finished third on the team (behind quarterback Dak Prescott and Perkins) with 459 rushing yards and three touchdowns.

But I expect Nick Griffin to have something to say about that.

Griffin had a phenomenal spring heading into his senior year and finally looks healthy after injuries to both of his knees during his career.

At 6 feet, 226 pounds, Griffin is the biggest back in the Bulldogs’ stable and runs accordingly. This spring was the first time since his freshman year that I have seen his speed return as well as agility making cuts.

Sophomore Ashton Shumpert will get his share of carries as well. The former Itawamba AHS standout is a star in the making but will likely have to wait his time behind two upperclassmen. In limited time last season, Shumpert averaged 4.1 yards per carry and scored three touchdowns.

With the transfer of Derrick Milton to McNeese State in the offseason, true freshmen Aeris Williams (West Point) or Dontavian Lee (Forrest County AHS) may be pressed into action as well this season.

Back in the mix

The Bulldogs lost both offensive guard Justin Malone and safety Jay Hughes for the year in the 2013 season opener.

Luckily, Ben Beckwith and Kendrick Market filled in nicely as replacements at those positions. So well, that with the return of Malone and Hughes will create a position battle at those spots during camp.

Mississippi State has a vacancy at left guard with the loss of Gabe Jackson to the NFL. If sophomore Jamaal Clayborn can hold down the left guard spot as he did in the spring and Beckwith remains at right guard, Malone might find himself changing positions to fill the right tackle opening.

Hughes will have to fight for his starting spot back after Market finished third on the team with 62 tackles in 2013.

Logan Lowery (logan.lowery@journalinc.com) blogs daily at InsideMSUSports.com.