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Spring Check-In: Mississippi State

For Whom the Cowbell Tolls’ Justin Strawn fills us in on Joe Moorhead’s first spring in Starkville.

Alabama v Mississippi State Photo by Butch Dill/Getty Images

1. It’s a new era in Starkville with Joe Moorhead in charge after nearly a decade of Dan Mullen. What was the vibe and the mood around the team for his first practice session?

Despite losing a coach that took the team to eight straight bowls, something once unheard of at Mississippi State, the program is buzzing with optimism. Joe Moorhead is confident like Mullen, but not nearly as condescending. State fans have bought in, and from what we have seen from the players, they have as well.

2. State returns a lot of production from last year. How does that translate to expectations for 2018, even with a new coaching staff?

Expectations are as high as they have ever been. An 8-win season would be seen by many as a disappointment. The team is probably more talented as a whole than the 2014 team. The difference between a really good season and a season to remember might be just how big of a jump Nick Fitzgerald can make in Joe Moorhead’s offense.

3. Update us on Nick Fitzgerald’s status after his injury late last year, and how do you see him adjusting to Moorehead’s offense?

He has recovered well. He was obviously limited in Spring Practice, but during some of the scrimmages, Joe Moorhead ran some 7-on-7 drills and reports were that he looked like he was well on schedule in his recovery, if not ahead of schedule.

As for how he adjusts, I don’t think there is any doubt he has the physical tools to excel in Moorhead’s offense. The question is will he be able to execute. A lot of that will be determined by his own progress but it will also be dependent on his receivers. The Bulldogs were severely lacking in the receiver department in 2017, and someone is going to have to step up.

4. Any surprises or newcomers that made impressions this spring?

Despite the returning production, there were a few that stood out this spring. Receiver Austin Williams looked like he might be able to make major contributions out of the slot. Mullen redshirted him, and with the way he played in the spring, it left many wondering if that was a mistake as badly as the team needed receivers.

Early enrollee wideout Devonta Jason shows all the signs he was correctly touted as a big time receiver coming out of high school. Even though he’ll be just a freshman, with the Bulldogs having a huge need at receiver, Jason will likely have an opportunity to contribute when the Bulldogs take the field in 2018.

As for surprises, Bulldog fans won’t be surprised by him but the rest of the country might start seeing the second coming of Saquon Barkley when Kylin Hill enters the game at running back. Hill showed an explosiveness the Bulldogs haven’t had at running back in quite some time, and with Moorhead’s creativity, the back could be in store for a big year. Hill isn’t the starter as Aeris Williams is a complete back who can do everything, but there won’t be a drop off when Kylin Hill enters the game.

Last would be Chauncey Rivers. The Bulldogs thought he would be a starting defensive end last year, but he was declared academically ineligible coming out of Junior College. This was a top-10 defense nationally without him, and now he’s being added to a defensive line with Jeffery Simmons and Montez Sweat. The Bulldogs are going to be nasty on the defensive line.

5. What are the big concerns for this team leading into the season?

Have I mentioned wide receiver? To say the least that’s a huge question mark as the Bulldogs prepare for 2018. The only other one might be about Defensive Coordinator Bob Shoop. He was one of the best in the country until he went and associated himself with Butch Jones at Tennessee. Was the defense at Tennessee a sign of regression for Shoop or was it the toxicity of Jones infecting Shoop’s defense? Most of us think the latter, but we’ll see when the season begins on Labor Day weekend.