By Brad Locke
STARKVILLE – Tyler Russell led the offense last year. Now, he’s in charge of it.
As Mississippi State’s preseason camp has rolled on, players and coaches alike have praised the way Russell, a fifth-year senior quarterback, has put on the general’s hat. This will be his second season as the full-time starter, but his first as full-time commander.
Speaking at MSU’s preseason media day Tuesday, Russell said there is a variety of reasons for his ability to take on more of a leadership burden. One of those reasons is simple enough: He’s a senior.
“I had senior receivers (last year), so all I had to do was get the ball to their hands and get it out to them, and they’d make plays with it,” Russell said. “This year we have some younger guys, so the seniors have to step up and do the same thing the seniors last year did.”
Russell is also more comfortable with the offense and his knowledge of it, which is saying something. Last season, he wrote his name all over the MSU record books, passing for 2,897 yards and 24 touchdowns.
Now when he steps to the line of scrimmage, he has the ability to assess more options.
Russell said he can “walk to the line and coach can give me four different plays. I know exactly which play he wants to call. In the past, we were just given one play, and the if it was a bad look, you’d just have to run it. Now I can check the play and go to a different play.”
Experience is the ultimate teacher, and since Russell has gone through an entire season as a starter, there are very few unknowns waiting to be sprung upon him.
“He’s had some great games, he’s had some bad games,” coach Dan Mullen said. “When you’re dealing with him now, it is that you’re trying to get to that graduate level of being a quarterback, of running the show every snap of the game.”
Russell’s leadership will be especially valuable for the receiving corps, which is breaking in three new starters. Sophomore Joe Morrow said Russell does a good job keeping their confidence up.
“That’s where the trust comes in,” Morrow said. “If you drop a pass, he’s like, all right, you’ve got to get that one out. Boom, he’s coming right back to you.”
Russell’s leadership is not the overbearing kind. He tries to teach, and he tries to let teammates use that learning on the field. For instance, he had the offensive linemen read the defense and make calls in the spring, so now they have a better idea of what to look for.
“He has more trust in everybody,” Morrow said. “Everybody’s feeling confident, there’s trust in the team, so we’re ready to get going.”