Mississippi State works to replace offensive stars

By David Brandt/The Associated Press

STARKVILLE — LaDarius Perkins bristles every time he hears he can’t be Mississippi State’s every-down back.

Generously listed at 5-foot-10 — but more accurately around 5-foot-7 — there’s no doubt that Perkins is a little shorter than most premier Southeastern Conference ball carriers. But he insists the 190 pounds he carries on that frame are more than adequate for the job.

“I come out here every day trying to prove people wrong,” Perkins said. “I feel like I can get the job done. I know I’m a smaller back, but I can get the job done.”

The junior from Greenville, Miss., is one of the most important pieces as fourth-year coach Dan Mullen tries to rebuild his offense during spring workouts. The Bulldogs have enjoyed back-to-back winning seasons thanks to a bruising running game led by quarterback Chris Relf and running back Vick Ballard, who rushed for a combined 1,564 yards and 12 touchdowns last season.

But both those seniors are gone. Now quarterback Tyler Russell, Perkins and sophomore running back Nick Griffin have to step up quickly.

Mullen said he doesn’t have an issue moving Perkins into the lead role. Perkins rushed for 422 yards and two touchdowns last season. He also caught 13 passes, including two for touchdowns.

“He’s 190-some pounds,” Mullen said. “Maybe if he were 160-some pounds that would be an issue. But his girth really helps.”

While Perkins has the most experience, the coaching staff is also excited about Griffin, who is built much like Ballard. Griffin rushed for 108 yards and a touchdown in limited action last season and averaged 6.8 yards per game.

Griffin is nearly 225 pounds, so it’s tempting to call him the power back while Perkins will fill more a speed role. But both running backs don’t want to be pigeonholed into a specific category.

“I think we’ll bring something that’s a little different, but there’s no telling,” Griffin said. “Whatever we bring to the table will be special.”

Mullen has already said the offense won’t be exactly like last season’s, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Though Mississippi State was a terrific running team, the passing game was sometimes sporadic, and the Bulldogs had trouble gaining large chunks of yardage.

But Russell is a true pass-first quarterback and he’ll be surrounded by several veteran receivers like Chad Bumphis, Arceto Clark and Chris Smith.

Senior cornerback Corey Broomfield said he’s already noticed a difference in the offense during practice.

“You don’t have any choice but to throw the ball,” Broomfield said. “There are a lot of big names at receiver so it’s going to be exciting.”

Russell — a 6-foot-4, 220-pound junior from Meridian, Miss. — played quite a bit during his first two seasons, especially when the Bulldogs needed a more potent passing threat.

He completed 69 of 129 passes last season (53.5 percent) for 1,034 yards, eight touchdowns and four interceptions. Backup Dak Prescott is a 6-foot-2, 230-pound redshirt freshmen who could be used some when the Bulldogs want to go with more of an option-based offense.

“From what I’ve seen, I think we’re going to be more diverse,” Perkins said. “We’re going to throw the ball more and try to get downfield. But we’ll see what happens. We all have to grow into our roles and figure out what helps us win games.”

On defense, the Bulldogs return six starters. But several productive players must be replaced, including safety Charles Mitchell and defensive tackle Fletcher Cox.

Broomfield said the Bulldogs have lots of depth and several players who played minor roles last season will jump into a more prominent position.

“We’ve got guys out here making all kinds of plays and they don’t even know what they’re doing yet,” Broomfield said. “So that’s a good sign, because that means there’s talent. Everyone’s really excited about finding out more about ourselves and what kind of team we’re going to be.”

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Follow David Brandt on Twitter: (at)davidbrandtAP