The 2012 offense will lose six starters: QB Chris Relf, RB Vick Ballard, TE Marcus Green, OL Quentin Saulsberry, OL Addison Lawrence and OL James Carmon. Returning is OL Dillon Day, OL Gabe Jackson, WR Chad Bumphis, WR Arceto Clark and WR Chris Smith.
Mississippi State loses 71% of its rushing offense, 56% of its passing offense, and 20% of its receiving offense. But there are also some exciting additions to this side of the ball that may or may not increase production.
It was obvious during spring practice there will be more of an emphasis on the passing game. And why not, the receiving corps feature four seniors (Bumphis, Heavens, Clark, Smith), speedster Jameon Lewis and freshman standout Joe Morrow, plus sophomores Robert Johnson and Ricco Sanders. And QB Tyler Russell's strength is his arm, whereas Chris Relf's was his legs.
The passing game seems set at the skill positions, but what about pass protection? The answer to that we probably won't know until the Auburn game in September. And if the pass protection isn't up to par, will Russell be able to take the hits that will come?
Behind Russell is Dak Prescott. It's clear that Russell is coming into his own as a quarterback under Mullen, and is definitely QB1. Prescott's spring game performance made his look to be much further behind Russell than I think he really is...the spring game doesn't allow a running QB to do his thing, and right now that would be Prescott's bread and butter. Still, it will be key to keep Tyler Russell healthy, only using Dak by choice.
Vick Ballard will be tough to replace at running back, but there are several guys waiting in the wings to tote the rock. I don't believe any of them will be up to Ballard's level in 2012, but that doesn't mean his numbers can't be equaled. If the offensive line can pass protect, Russell should be able to rack up some yards through the air. That should open up the running game. And that's what State has, talented backs who can take advantage of those running lanes. I'm not sure how much they will create on their own, but we shall see.
As of right now, I think we're looking at an upgrade at QB and WR, but a downgrade at O-line and RB. The key of course is the offensive line. If Charles Siddoway, Damien Robinson and others can step in to at least play as well as the 2011 line, then this offense could do very well. The good news is, the line will be going against a really good D-line everyday in practice, so hopefully that will help their development.
My biggest request of Les Koenning: can we please run some screens? With LaDarius Perkins, Jameon Lewis and Chad Bumphis, we have the personnel to break off some long plays via the screen. It seems like we never run them, but it's a great play. Ricco Sanders had a nice TD run on a screen in the spring game.
We'll see what happens, but I'm not jumping through hoops about the offense...mostly due to the O-line. The key to the offense, and maybe the season to me, is pass protection. There is potential here, just a lot of unknowns.