We all know that Josh Robinson left early for the NFL. Perhaps he should have stayed another year but we'll all be rooting for him no matter where he ends up in the draft. His absence leaves a bowling ball-size hole in the roster that must be filled after he finished 3rd in the SEC in total rushing yards and contributed 11 touchdowns in 2014. Thankfully, Dan Mullen has stockpiled a few different options at tailback. Ashton Shumpert, Brandon Holloway, Aeris Williams, and Dontavian Lee will all be vying for playing time this season. Shumpert will likely be the go-to back but look for breakout play from Williams, a 2014 4-star recruit and former Mr. Football in the state of Mississippi.
Manny Diaz's Defense:
Welcome back, Manny Diaz. The former Mississippi State defensive coordinator is back at his previous post after a few rocky years at Texas and a good year at Louisiana Tech. Diaz was an excellent coordinator during his last stint in Starkville and we should expect the same this time around. Similar to his predecessor, Diaz's defense is meant for havoc and disruption. It's been a very successful scheme at times and it's also gotten absolutely eaten up at times. MSU's defense will be a big key to success in 2015 because we know with Dak Prescott, the offense will likely be able to produce but the defense has to be able to hold more than 2014's unit. The Bulldogs simply can't rely on the offense to put up 35 points in every game to overcome defensive deficiencies. Look for the performance of Diaz's new defense, specifically at the positions where there has been a lot of player turnover, like inside linebacker and defensive end.
Depth is huge and MSU had it last year. This year, the Bulldogs don't have as much depth overall but the wide receiver slot is absolutely stacked. De'Runnya Wilson, Fred Brown, Fred Ross, Joe Morrow, Gabe Myles, 4-star true freshman Malik Dear, and 4-star JUCO transfer Donald Gray should all contribute and there a few more players past them that could get playing time if they step up.
The secondary facing this solid stable of receivers will be the real element to watch here. Starting defensive backs Taveze Calhoun and Kendrick Market are out with injuries and this will give an opportunity for more unproven backs like Deontay Evans, Jamoral Graham (who played WR in 2014 and has been moved to DB), and Kivon Coman to show their skills and earn playing time.
More than anything, this team needs leaders. A large part of 2014's success can be attributed to the senior leadership of a core set of players. The offense will have its captain in Dak Prescott but guys like DL Chris Jones and LB Beniquez Brown need to make themselves known and be senior leaders for the defense, and there's no better time to start than the spring game. The defense must come together similarly to 2014 and they will only do that with players who will get out front and command the unit on the field. Most importantly, MSU has a set of incoming freshmen that could contribute immediately like 4-star safety Jamal Peters and 4-star inside linebacker Leo Lewis, players need to step up and guide these young talents in order to add depth where it's needed most.
I have to admit, I never thought I would be all that sad that Evan Sobiesk left but now that his consistent mediocrity is gone, we're left with absolutely no one to kick. Westin Graves, Michael Montalvo, and Logan Cooke will handle kicking in 2015 and they are all untested and unproven players and Cooke may only handle punting duties. Maybe one of them will separate from the pack and become the primary kicker but I think MSU might be better served just never kicking field goals in 2015.
The Maroon-White spring football game will kickoff tomorrow at 11 A.M. CST in Davis Wade Stadium. Admission is free and the game will televised on SEC Network Alternate and SEC Network+.