Peeps, it's time to take a look at the 2014 offense. As you all know by now, I love talking offense. This year looks to be the best offense of the Mullen Era to date. State returns 17 of the 22 deep from 2013. The 3 big losses were Gabe Jackson, LaDarius Perkins, and Charles Siddoway. I'm just going to dive right in to the position-by-position look:
QB: Captain Obvious say Dan Mullen has finally found his QB in Dak Prescott. The Dak Attack enters 2014 with a nice amount of national hype, including some talking heads like Jesse Palmer tabbing him a dark horse Heisman contender. Dak participated in the Manning Passing Academy over the summer and wowed the press in attendance with his arm. What should make State fans excited is that Dak has said he's really focused on his passing this summer and specifically his footwork. Dak has an absolute Howitzer under his right shoulder pad, but sloppy mechanics - usually with his footwork - led to some accuracy issues in 2013. If he has truly improved his footwork, the increase in accuracy should take care of itself. As for his mobility, don't be surprised to see Dak lead the team in rushing attempts and rushing yards in 2014. A vocal contingent of the fan base has been talking about Dak as injury prone, but I don't buy it. His injury last season was one of the most flukish things you'll see in football. And for the record, it happened when he was trying to make a tackle, not running the ball. Dak is built like a Sherman tank and can handle the pounding QBs take in our offensive system.
Dak will be backed up by Damian Williams. Williams might be the best pure passing QB on the team. He's got a good arm and nice touch. He's not quite as fast as Dak, but he's still an effective runner. He had the huge run in OT for the winning TD against Arkansas, lest we forget. He then followed it up with a solid start in the Egg Bowl. The kid is a gamer and a very, very capable backup. Should Dak miss a game, I'd be very comfortable with Williams starting. The kid just seems to have that "it" good QBs have. The 3rd string job will be a battle between true freshmen Nick Fitzgerald and Elijah Staley. Right now, I'd say the edge goes to Fitzgerald. He was an early graduate from HS and went through both bowl and spring practices with the team. That matters more than most people realize. He looked good in the Maroon & White Game. Nice mechanics and a quick release. Staley might have the most upside of the QBs. He's a big guy at 6'7", 245 and probably the best pure runner of the group. It will be fun to watch he and Fitz go head-to-head for the 3rd spot. If I had to pick today, I'd say Fitzgerald wins due to the extra practice time.
RB: The 2014 Dawgs are extremely deep and extremely talented at RB and will probably employ the RB by committee approach that Mullen seems to favor. The leader of the group is likely to be Josh Robinson. I'm a big fan of J-Rob. He's short, stocky, incredibly strong, and has very good speed. Robinson averaged 5.9 YPC on 78 attempts last season. He's averaging pretty much 6.0 YPC for his career so far. That number will probably come down some with the increased workload as the primary RB this year, but I still think it will be above 5.0. I really like Perkins, but he wasn't a complete RB. J-Rob is. He's fast enough to get to the outside and strong enough to get the tough yards inside. And you almost never see him get knocked backwards. He falls forward for that extra 1-2 yards that's critical for a run-heavy offense. Look for him to get 130-140 carries this season, similar to what Perkins got last season.
Behind J-Rob will be Nick Griffin, Ashton Shumpert, Aeries Williams and Dontavian Lee. Right now, I think Shumpert is the odds-on favorite to be the #2 RB behind J-Rob. He's an extremely physical back - maybe a little TOO physical. Last year he seemed to seek out contact instead of running to space. RBs don't last long doing that and are much less effective that way. I also think Shumpert may lack top end speed, though it was hard to tell because of my previous sentence about how he seemed to seek out contact. But there's no doubt the kid has talent and can be a punishing blocker. Nick Griffin is my dark horse. You've heard me say it ad nauseum, but I really wish we'd use him as a FB this season. He doesn't have the prototypical FB build, but he's got the skill set and athleticism to excel in that role. That said, I wouldn't be surprised if he passes Shumpert on the depth chart. Griffin looked much better in the spring game compared to what we saw in the fall. Some of the explosion was back and he was making hard cuts. I still don't think he's 100% of where he was prior to his second ACL tear, but I'd guess he's pretty close to 100% of whatever he will be. Griffin is also the best pass blocker of this group, which is going to earn him PT. I'd love to see this guy be a big part of the offense after the way he's battled back from two major injuries. The true freshmen Williams and Lee will be battling it out for the #4 spot and garbage time carries. Right now, I think Williams wins that battle. He's an extremely physical RB, much like Shumpert.
WR: State returns every WR from the 2013 team, including the SEC's receiving yards leader in Jameon Lewis. Tubby is a lock to start in the slot in 2014. He racked up nearly 1,000 receiving yards last season with 923. He's a multi-threat player who scored running, catching, and throwing last season. The guy can do it all. Robert Johnson will start at one of the outside WR spots. Although RoJo lacks elite speed, he's arguably the most physical WR on the team. I look for him to have a solid season as MSU's go-to possession WR. The guy is fearless across the middle and loves running over DBs. He also may be the best run blocking WR on the team, which can't be overlooked. De'Runnya "Bear" Wilson is likely to start at the other outside WR spot. He's got good speed and is still learning how to use his size to his advantage. He was a bit inconsistent at time last season, but that's to be expected from a true freshman only playing his third year of organized football. Bear showed tremendous ability to go up and high point the football in jump ball situations last season. Look for more of that this season.
The Dawgs have a glut of WRs competing for the second string reps in Fred Brown, Fred Ross, Jamoral Graham, Joe Morrow, Shelby Christy, and Gabe Myles. Personally, I'm a big fan of Fred Brown. He's got good size and outstanding hands. Very physical. If he can keep his emotions in check, I look for him to have a breakout season. Fred Ross should also take a big step forward this season. He's very polished and runs excellent routes. I give the edge to Gabe Myles to win the #2 slot job. If those 3 guys step up, it would make me very, very happy.
TE: Starter Malcolm Johnson returns for the 2014 Dawgs. He was second on the team last year in receiving yards and should feature prominently again this season. MoJo is that hybrid TE that can thrive in spread offenses and provides a solid security blanket for Dak. MoJo will be backed up by the group of Gus Walley, Darrion Hutcherson, Brandon Hill, BJ Hammond, and Rashun Dixon. I really like Hutcherson, who's a JUCO transfer. He's huge at 6'7, 260. I look for him to be utilized a lot in 2 TE sets. He'll bring something different to the table, being the more stereotypical TE, as opposed to having the hybrid build. Brandon Hill will also be a factor. He's been a reliable backup the last couple of seasons, and that should continue. Gus Walley has looked good in limited action, but has been a bit injury prone in his career. If he can stay healthy, he could be a nice weapon in the passing game. My wildcard is Rashun Dixon. In case you're wondering or have been under a rock, Rashun is Anthony's little brother. He initially signed with MSU out of HS, but chose to go pro in baseball. He's back and practicing at TE this fall. I don't know if it will be his final position, but he's very athletic and could be another hybrid TE capable of replacing MoJo. Depending on how quickly the football rust comes off, I wouldn't be surprised to see RD redshirt this season.
OL: Let's not make any bones about it: losing Gabe Jackson is huge. You don't just replace a guy with his talent. The good news is that MSU should have 8 capable players on the OL this year. My projected starting five is Blaine Clausell, Jamaal Clayborn, Dillon Day, Ben Beckwith, and Justin Malone. That's a very, very solid group. Clausell has worked to become one of the better LTs in the SEC. Dillon Day is a very good C. Beckwith stepped up when Malone went down in game 1 last season and showed he's an SEC quality guard. Coaches are very high on both Clayborn and Malone. They think Clayborn could be the next Gabe Jackson. Clayborn won't be as good as Gabe was last season, but he should be as good as Gabe was as a sophomore. If we get that from Clayborn, we'll have a very good interior OL. Frankly, I thought Clayborn should've started ahead of Beckwith the last 2-3 games last season. And I don't mean that as a slight to Beckwith. I think Clayborn had improved that much and brought an even more physical presence than Beckwith. He's just a massive guy with the kind of nasty streak you love in an OL. Malone opened last season as the starter at RG, but tackle is his natural position. He's huge at 6'7", 320 and physical. He'll be a very solid replacement for Siddoway at RT.
Those 5 will likely be backed up by the group of Justin Senior, Kent Flowers, Devon Desper, and Jake Thomas. Senior played a lot last season and no one really noticed. That's a good thing on the OL, especially for a freshman. Flowers has been getting a lot of praise from Hevesy. Desper has looked good at G and is trying to make the transition to C. Thomas came on strong late in the fall and during spring practice. He's not ready to start, but he should be a quality backup this season. Damien Robinson will also likely get into the T rotation. My dark horse on the OL is Rufus Warren, making the transition from TE to T. He has good feet, which is critical on the OL, especially at T. He's a big guy at 6'7", 295, just a touch lighter than Dillon Day, who is our smallest starter at 299. Depending on how quickly he can grasp everything, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see him pass Robinson on the depth chart before the season ends. I know you're all wondering why I haven't mentioned Jocquell Johnson. Word is he got to State with an injury, which severely limited him in the spring. There's talk he could need a redshirt season to get healthy. That hurts, as I was projecting him to be at worst our #6 OL, capable of being able to be the top backup at both G and T. The good news is the young guys I mentioned above appear ready to play.
KR: Tubby Lewis and Brandon Holloway/Will Redmond/RoJo. We know Tubby will be one of the deep men on the 2014 KR unit. Holloway, Redmond, and Rojo are the likely candidates to battle it out for the other KR spot. I personally would like to see either Holloway or Redmond win it. In fact, were it entirely up to me, I'd go with Holloway & Redmond as 1 and 2. MSU was near the bottom nationally in both KR and PR last season, so there is a lot of room for improvement. If insanity is truly doing the same thing and expecting different results, continuing to use the same KR/PR personnel is insane.
PR: There's a lot of talk that PR duties will be handled by either Holloway or Redmond. As I stated above, there's lots of room to improve this phase of our game from 2013. Tubby has had his chance, so we might as well let someone else have a shot. I really like Holloway in the few chances he got as a return man last season. He's got the elite speed and shiftiness to excel in that role.
K: As we all know, MSU was the worst FG team in the nation last season. The good news? The only thing we can do is improve. It looks as though Devon Bell is out of the FG equation and will focus solely on punting and kickoffs. Evan Sobiesk returns from 2013. He made a game tying FG in the Egg Bowl, but missed the potential game winner. Like Bell, he was only 50% on the 2013 campaign. State brought in walk-on Westin Graves and Michigan transfer JJ McGrath to compete with Sobiesk this fall. I'm projecting McGrath to win the job. The kid has a cannon for a leg. The question, as it is with Sobiesk & Graves, is accuracy. We'll find out early on if McGrath can do the job. But I feel good knowing that another big time program wanted him. And hey, it's not like we can get worse, right?
Scheme: We all know what we're getting here. Mullen's offense is primarily a 3-wide, read-option, H-back/FB, shotgun/pistol offense. But we'll also see plenty 4-wide, 5-wide, and 2 TE sets. We'll probably even see some inverted wishbone (I pretty much refuse to call it the Diamond). I think the 2 TE sets with MoJo and Hutcherson could be a very, very good package for us. Rumors are also circulating that we will be going no huddle this year. I actually really like that. No huddle doesn't necessarily mean hurry up. You can still be a ball control offense without huddling. All the plays are called from the sideline anyway, so there really isn't a huge need for the huddle. Plus, it will give Dak more time at the line to read the D. And yes, we can even go hurry up as needed.
This offense has the potential to be very, very special. We're talented and deep at almost every position. There's a good combination of speedsters and physical guys. There are a couple legit, big time SEC playmakers. The OL has some questions, but the talent is there. I really like the young talent and believe Clayborn & Malone will handle their positions very well. What excites me is the talent and depth at WR. We haven't a unit like this in school history. We've had 1 or 2 great WRs at the same time here and there, but not much behind them. Certainly not a whole stable of WRs that can flat play. I look for 2014 to be the best offense in school history and top half of the SEC.
That's how I see it, anyway. You guys know the drill by now. Fire in the hole!
In Mullen We Trust,