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February 24, 2008
Mississippi State opens spring practice Monday, the first SEC school to do so.
Here's a look at the Bulldogs heading into spring ball:
Running back Antony Dixon returns for the Bulldogs.
Offense—7: WR Aubrey Bell, T Michael Brown, QB Wesley Carroll, RB Anthony Dixon, G Craig Jenkins, WR Jamayel Smith, G Anthony Strauder).
Defense—8: T Jessie Bowman, LB Jamar Chaney, LB Dominic Douglas, SS De'Mon Glanton, CB Anthony Johnson, T Kyle Love, CB Jasper O'Quinn, FS Derek Pegues). Special teams—2: K Adam Carlson, P Blake McAdams.
OL Phillip Freeman (junior college transfer), QB Tyson Lee (walk-on from junior college).
POSITION OF STRENGTH
Pegues is an All-America candidate who anchors a secondary that returns all four starters from a unit that helped Mississippi State rank seventh in the nation in pass defense and 20th in pass efficiency defense last season.
HELP IS NEEDED
Upgrading the wide receiver corps should be a spring priority. Smith is back after topping the Bulldogs with 510 receiving yards and matching team-highs with 33 catches and three touchdown receptions last season. But he's the only returning player who caught more than 16 passes last season.
KEEP AN EYE ON
Here are three players who have a chance to win starting jobs this spring.
RB Robert Elliott: He was good enough to play last season, but the Bulldogs chose to redshirt him while he worked on his blocking skills. Now a redshirt freshman, Elliott should earn plenty of playing time even though the Bulldogs return their top two rushers from last year (Dixon and Christian Ducre).
DE Tim Bailey: He's a junior college transfer who has spent the past couple of years readjusting to football after being stationed with a Mississippi National Guard unit in Iraq for 18 months. He now finally might be ready to deliver a breakthrough performance in his senior season.
WR Brandon McRae: McRae, a junior, caught just two passes last season in his first season since transferring from Division I-AA Morehead State. However, Mississippi State's lack of depth in the receiving corps could help him earn an expanded role this season.
HIS TIME IS NOW
Junior defensive lineman Quinton Wesley is a former three-star prospect who has struggled to earn playing time, but this spring represents an opportunity for him to move up the depth chart. Mississippi State must replace Titus Brown and Avery Hannibal, the two starting defensive ends last season.
Mississippi State coaches have talked about opening up the offense in the past, but injuries and a lack of depth have forced the Bulldogs to play things close to the vest. Mississippi State appears a bit more talented on offense this year, which could allow the Bulldogs to get a little more creative.
Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.