Spring football practice has arrived in Starkville for the second year of the Joe Moorhead era at Mississippi State.
The Bulldogs, fresh off a No. 25 final national ranking and a New Year’s Day bowl berth, opened up spring ball Tuesday.
“It’s good to be back on the field,” Moorhead said. “This is one of my favorite times of the year, spring ball.”
Moorhead said he likes that there is no pressure to prepare for an opponent during spring ball. His focus is on developing fundamentals, teaching techniques and installing schemes.
The last part of that grouping of objectives is something Moorhead has had to work on with not just his players but with his assistants, too. Moorhead lost a handful of full-time assistants during the offseason. The replacements have been around the program for a limited amount of time.
Some, like tight ends coach Tony Hughes, have been around for a a few months. Hughes arrived in December. On the other hand, linebackers coach Chris Marve didn’t get here until last week. He’s been with his players for less than seven days, but that didn’t stop him from getting energized and involved with them.
“We’re going to have to ring out coach Marve’s sweatshirt,” Moorhead said. “I’ve never seen a guy sweat like that. I thought he was in on the drills.”
The Bulldogs return more than over 50 letterwinners and several key names, including All-SEC performers like linebacker Erroll Thompson and cornerback Cameron Dantzler, in addition to running back Kylin Hill and offensive lineman Darryl Williams, who is projected as one of the top linemen in 2019.
Hill put up 82.7 all-purpose yards per game last season and returns as the starter. Moorhead will have several talented faces to work with under center led by junior quarterback Keytaon Thompson, who is 2-0 as a starter with 18 career touchdowns. Redshirt freshman Jalen Mayden and true freshman Garrett Shrader — both four-star prospects when they arrived — will also work extensively this spring.
Defensively, State will have continuity at the play-caller position for the first time since 2014 as 2018 Broyles Award finalist and National Defensive Coordinator of the Year Bob Shoop enters his second year with the program. Shoop’s unit allowed a nation-best 263.1 yards per game and only 4.13 yards per play. Four out of the top eight tacklers return from a year ago, led by Thompson’s 87 tackles.
Moorhead enters year two in Starkville after becoming just the second MSU head coach to win eight or more games in his debut season and the first since College Football Hall of Famer Allyn McKeen in 1939. Moorhead was also just the second coach in Bulldog history to reach a bowl game in his first season.
Thompson ran with the first team this week, Mayden took charge of the second team and Shrader went with the three’s. That doesn’t have any bearing on what we could see on the field in the fall, though.
“The depth charts are written in pencil and not pen for a reason,” Moorhead said. “KT is the returner with the most experience and has played in games, so certainly he’s in the catbird seat. But Jalen and Garrett are going to get those opportunities to compete.”
Thompson has struggled with accuracy in his limited amount of game action through two seasons. Mayden is more of a precision passer. than Thompson, but he’s not as polished of an all-around quarterback and he has never made a collegiate start.