STARKVILLE — Mississippi State football packed a lot into its first week of preseason camp. It featured Mike Leach entering practice to the walk-up song of New York Mets closer Edwin Diaz. It saw Dillon Johnson miss practice due to the birth of his son. It included players debating if a hot dog was a sandwich.
The eventful week also saw the defense a step ahead of the offense, capped by Saturday’s scrimmage at Davis Wade Stadium.
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Offensive line questions remain
It’s not unusual for offensive line coach Mason Miller to be the loudest at practice, but he’s had reason to be so far. Mississippi State is trying to replace Charles Cross at left tackle and Scott Lashley at right tackle, and the early returns are shaky.
Kwatrivous Johnson moved from right guard to fill Cross’ spot and has looked manageable, but it leaves work to be done on the right side.
Cole Smith entered camp as the projected starting right guard, while Albert Reese and Kameron Jones were expected to compete for the tackle spot. The competition has molded into a potential lineup featuring both the latter two.
“(Reese) is a good lineman,” Leach said. “We’re just trying to figure out between him and Kam who’s best at guard, who’s best at tackle. Just trying to fine-tune which position is best for him. I do think they’re both going to play, and they’re both right side.”
Wide receivers good, not great
The Air Raid offense will find receivers to make up for the 105 receptions Mississippi State lost with Makai Polk now in the NFL, and it appears the Bulldogs will have their deepest receiving unit in Leach’s three seasons.
But drops have been an issue so far, perhaps caused by concern about incoming hits from an improved secondary.
“We make too many judgements of when the ball is going to come to us. As a team we do it some. I think the receivers do it even more,” Leach said. “We just have to be tougher people. We’ve got a weird mix. We’ve got old guys and real young guys. We need to develop some of those guys that are the middle-experience guys.”
Sophomore Rara Thomas, who Leach said had an average start to camp, had two catches for 35 yards and a touchdown. Junior Jaden Walley had 18 yards on two catches with a touchdown.
Freshman Zavion Thomas (two catches, 34 yards, one touchdown) and Georgia transfer Justin Robinson (four catches, 54 yards) highlighted the newcomers.
Defensive front is deep when healthy
Mississippi State hasn’t had its full ensemble on the defensive line so far, but it’s expected to when Memphis arrives for the Sept. 3 opener.
Defensive end Randy Charlton was sidelined as a precautionary measure following a helmet-to-helmet hit in Monday’s practice. Fellow defensive end Jordan Davis has been limited as he makes his way back from a torn ACL suffered a year ago.
When they return, defensive coordinator Zach Arnett has bodies to work with.
The defense collected 11 tackles for loss and eight sacks in the scrimmage. Linebacker DeShawn Page led the way with five tackles and two sacks as he continues to emerge as a fourth linebacker to fill Aaron Brule’s spot.