STARKVILLE – LaDarius Perkins could be the ultimate utility man for Mississippi State this season.
The senior tailback is looking to increase his receiving role, and he’s also hoping to add a new special teams duty – punt returns. And of course he’ll run the ball, but whether he’ll get as many carries as last season remains to be seen.
Perkins rushed for a team-high 1,024 yards and eight touchdowns last fall. Backups Josh Robinson (335 yards), Nick Griffin (223) and Derrick Milton (165) all return and give MSU tremendous depth at tailback.
That should allow Perkins to be more involved in a passing game that will have a different dynamic than it did last year. Fifth-year senior Tyler Russell is back at quarterback, but he lost his top four ball-catchers from 2012 and is having to break in some relatively inexperienced receivers.
That’s where Perkins can help. In three seasons, he’s caught 41 passes for 466 yards and seven touchdowns. He had 247 yards as a freshman and made a career-high 19 catches last year (for 160 yards).
“You can expect to see me touching the ball in different ways,” Perkins said.
He’s been a regular on kick returns, averaging 21.1 yards in his career. But now he’s hoping to work on punt returns, a duty the now-departed Johnthan Banks and Chad Bumphis handled the past two seasons.
Perkins said he’s spoken with head coach Dan Mullen about the possibility. Whether he remains on kick returns is another matter.
Whatever he’s doing, Perkins believes MSU’s running back depth will help him.
“We’ve got a stable of running backs. I feel like all those guys can get the job done when I’m not in there,” Perkins said.
Another reason Perkins might get fewer carries – he had 205 last season – is that his backups have made strong cases for more playing time. Robinson and Milton both had strong springs, while Griffin is recovering from a knee injury.
And freshman Ashton Shumpert, of Fulton, has already impressed Perkins this summer.
“They’re watching every move you’re doing,” Perkins said. “They’re trying to figure out, how is this guy doing so good? They want to do the things that I do and probably do them even better, so they can get more playing time.”
As MSU looks to diversify its passing game, Perkins is just one option. Tight end Malcolm Johnson, who was injured this time last year and missed the first five games, has led State in yards per catch each of the last two years.
Russell has as much familiarity with Johnson as with anyone else, and the 6-foot-2, 235-pounder still has the wide receiver mentality from his high school days.
“My greatest strength is trying to stretch the defense and taking that safety over the top,” Johnson said. “I try to do that as well as I can.”
Spreading the ball around is a strength of Russell’s, and he will have to lean on more than just Perkins and Johnson. Jeremey Chappelle, Robert Johnson, Jameon Lewis – all of them will be needed.
“We can open the offense up a little different this year,” Malcolm Johnson said. “You’ll see some new things. We lost a lot of guys last year, but we’ve got new guys coming up, stepping up this year, and we have trust in them.”