Top 10 players to watch this year for MSU

Incoming freshman Chris Jones should see the field this season. (Deste Lee)

Incoming freshman Chris Jones should see the field this season. (Deste Lee)

By Brad Locke
Daily Journal

STARKVILLE – Mississippi State begins preseason camp today, with a 5 p.m. practice that’s open to the media and general public. As the Bulldogs work toward their Aug. 31 opener versus Oklahoma State, several players will be worth watching throughout camp.

The Daily Journal has come up with the 10 most intriguing players on this year’s MSU squad. These players might be expected to have a big impact, or they might be stepping into a new or larger role, or they might just be a bit of an unknown commodity.

• Denico Autry, defensive end: As a junior college transfer, he showed significant progress toward season’s end and is expected to be a more all-around player this fall.

• Blaine Clausell, left tackle: This has been a weak spot for State the last couple of years. Clausell, who took over here full time last season, needs to keep defenders off quarterback Tyler Russell, who took a lot of hits last fall.

• Quay Evans, defensive tackle: One of the jewels of the 2012 signing class, the 6-foot-3, 310-pounder appeared in 10 games as a freshman. He’s expected to be a starter at some point, but the question right now is whether he can crack the two-deep.

• Malcolm Johnson, tight end: He’s averaged a team-high 17.9 yards per catch over the last two years – not bad for a tight end. With so many receivers gone from last season’s team, Johnson should become a primary target.

• Chris Jones, defensive end: The five-star freshman from Houston was rated the second-best prospect in the country by 247Sports, and now coach Dan Mullen must decide how and when to use him. Jones is raw, but his ability is very apparent.

• Jameon Lewis, wide receiver: The speedy junior is trying to fill the shoes of Chad Bumphis. Lewis hasn’t produced much to this point, but he had a strong spring and could become a playmaker from the slot.

• Joe Morrow, wide receiver: The large-framed Morrow has shouldered big expectations since he got on campus, but last season he was slowed by a knee injury. Coaches still view the sophomore as the kind of big downfield target the offense has lacked in recent years.

• Dak Prescott, quarterback: Russell’s backup is now a third-year sophomore with a season under his belt. Prescott accounted for eight touchdowns last year – four rushing, four passing – and could see an increased role this year to ease the pressure on Russell.

• Josh Robinson, tailback: LaDarius Perkins is the unquestioned starter, but Robinson has won the hearts of teammates, coaches and fans with his combination of speed and physical running. He’ll push Perkins for carries.

• Matthew Wells, linebacker: He played a safety/linebacker hybrid role last season, and this year Wells takes over the weakside linebacker spot. He’s able to cover a lot of field and will be a valuable piece for defensive coordinator Geoff Collins as he tries to create mismatches.

brad.locke@journalinc.com