By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Spring football began for Mississippi State on Tuesday, and with it the battle for the starting quarterback job.
The Bulldogs went in shorts and helmets and will do so again Thursday and Saturday, per an NCAA-mandated acclimation period. So second-year coach Dan Mullen focused on fundamentals and the passing game.
Quarterback will be the most-watched position battle this spring. Junior Chris Relf, who split time with the departed Tyson Lee last season, is competing with redshirt freshman Tyler Russell, a Parade All-American at Meridian High School and Mississippi’s Gatorade Player of the Year his senior season.
Relf, a stronger runner than passer, rushed for 500 yards last season while Russell sat and watched.
“The guys on the field have been through it before,” Mullen said. “It’s not a race to see who can learn the fastest. It’s a race to see who can execute the best. So it’s going to be a much different competition than last year.”
The 6-foot-5, 225-pound Russell put in a lot of work this offseason with his receivers. Mullen said last fall that if Russell had been with the team the previous spring, he would have been in the mix for the starter’s job in 2009.
“You can just see a different demeanor in him out here than it was in the fall, little bit more serious and more understanding going on,” Mullen said. “He still has a long way to go, but he’s worked at it.”
Mullen also said a few months ago that whenever Russell took the field, he’d stay on the field. He said Russell is not a platoon-style QB, but it’ll be hard to keep Relf out of games.
“Finishing up last season strong and came back in a position where he felt is the returning starter at quarterback, (it) gave him a different approach to the offseason,” Mullen said.
“You see him out here on the field with a different bit demeanor and an approach to him than he took last year. A lot more serious and a lot more committed to what’s going on the field.”
Paul Jones contributed to this story.