For nearly a decade, Mississippi State football has not only been a run-first team, the Bulldogs were often run-first, run-second and run-third, as well.
With that history, MSU has never been known to be the home of exciting offenses and deep stables of receivers, but it's possible that could change in 2011. The Bulldogs will still be run-first, but first-year wide receivers coach Angelo Mirando thinks his bunch is primed to step up.
His group is made up of 11 guys, only two of whom are true freshmen. Only two more are redshirt freshmen who did not play last year, meaning the Dawgs have seven receivers with experience returning. There are also no seniors in the bunch, meaning most of them played early, with varying degrees of success.
Mirando thinks that could bode well for MSU in 2011.
"The best thing that happened was all those guys, as freshmen, had to play," he said. "It hurt us. It hurt us then, it hurt our passing game our first year, we were 5-7. But [Chad] Bumphis and [Brandon] Heavens have been playing for three years. Chris Smith has been playing for three years. Arceto [Clark] switched over, but he played last year. So those guys know what to expect and know the intensity that we expect at practice."
Said Mirando, "we're gonna coach the crap out of them and coach them hard."
Bumphis, of course, is the junior leader of the group, and he has been MSU's leading receiver the previous two seasons, the first one being his true freshman season.
Now, however, Mirando wants to see Bumphis step up a level and he compared his speedy receiver to another former player of Mirando's and Dan Mullen's.
"He has to be our Percy Harvin when we were at Florida," Mirando said. "I hate, I don't like making that comparison at all, because he's just a freak of all freaks. He needs to be a leader though and he needs to develop other aspects of his game."
The 5-foot-10, 200-pound Bumphis caught 44 passes for 634 yards and five touchdowns as the team's top receiver last year, though he only had two games with 100 yards receiving, against Memphis and Alcorn State.
Throughout the summer, Bumphis has been the seasoned vet in the weight room and Mirando hopes Bumphis has been teaching the young receivers while they are not allowed to be working with coaches.
"He can't be all buddy-buddy with guys at times," Mirando said. "When it's time to work, it's time to work. He needs to take that leadership role. The most amazing thing is when players are coaching the young guys up. It makes our job easy. When we get that to happen, when Chad is teaching [freshman] Devin [Fosselman], teaching [redshirt freshman] Jameon [Lewis] how to run a route, I don't have to go out there and yell at them. He's taking care of them. He's handling his position group, and that's what I expect those older guys to start doing. I don't know if that's unrealistic expectations, but it's what I expect."
Mirando also has high expectations for another of his talented receivers. True sophomore Michael Carr, a 6-foot-0, 200-pound West Point (Miss.) native was one of the most heralded receivers of his signing class, though he arrived at MSU late, just getting to campus in August last year for the start of fall camp. He had missed the entire summer of workouts and training with the team.
Carr was out of shape at camp but still played immediately. However, he didn't get his first catch until November against Arkansas, though he played well in the Gator Bowl when he caught three passes for 65 yards and one touchdown.
Mirando said when he first saw Carr last August he had his concerns.
"We said, 'Mike, you're gonna play.' So he shows up day one of camp, I still remember, I'm like, this kid's not going to make it," Mirando said. "I'm running around as a graduate assistant, I'm like, he's so out of shape. He's on a knee after like five minutes of warming up and I'm like, 'wow, this kid's not going to make it.' It's just, he was so far behind and he finally caught up."
Mirando said much of what Carr had to catch up on, other than getting in shape, was learning the offense. For that reason, he said the month of December, in preparation for Michigan on January 1, was vital to Carr's development.
"The best thing that happened to Michael Carr was the Gator Bowl, because you had a month to review everything, a month to reinstall the offense so he could get it again, and in the spring get it again," Mirando said. "I'm expecting big things of him [in 2011]."
In total, Carr caught four balls for 74 yards and one touchdown, rushed four times for 42 yards and returned three kickoffs for 49 yards. As an athlete, Mirando said Carr, "Is amazing," and that he has a sixth gear with the ball in his hands. The problem, Mirando said, is that he only runs at fourth gear when he doesn't have the ball. However, based on good reports from summer workouts, Mirando thinks that is changing.
"I hope, I don't want to jinx myself or jinx him, I hope he's starting to turn a corner. He's starting to understand his potential," Mirando said. "Something switched, he got in the zone, he got focused. Michael needs to bring that same focus every day to practice."
One more of his receivers Mirando expects to see emerge as a weapon is redshirt freshman Jameon Lewis, a 5-foot-9, 185-pound speedster who will back up Bumphis and Heavens and was used as the scout team quarterback simulating Michigan's Denard Robinson last year. Mirando said Lewis is, "one of the most dynamic" players on the team, but that he will have to prove his worth on special teams first as a kick and punt returner.
"That's something Coach Mullen has always talked about and what we stress as coaches, my job is to get guys on special teams," Mirando said. "So he better help us out there first. He needs to continue to develop as a route runner. He played quarterback in high school and coming in we recruited him as a [defensive back], then we switched him over. He has no idea about how top end a route or any of that stuff, so he needs to keep developing that. But on pure, natural athletic ability he's extremely dynamic, so we've got to coach him up and he better get on special teams just like all the other of my 10 guys."
Mirando also has high hopes for 6-foot-5 true freshman Joseph Morrow. True freshmen rarely make a big impact (Bumphis being an exception), but Mirando said of Morrow, "Physically, he can do it." He said the strength coaches rave about his running ability and he could be a true outside threat for the Bulldogs. However, Mirando said, just like Carr, much of it comes down to what he does off the field, not on it.
"Again, it's a mental thing, if he worked hard this summer with the older guys and getting the mental aspect of it, then he could absolutely do it," Mirando said. "If he didn't, if he sat around and played Halo at night. I read his tweets and he's like, "Oh, I just got done studying, I'm going to play NCAA," it's like, if that's what he's been doing all summer, then no. You've gotta hold these kids accountable that, how bad do you wanna play? Do you wanna redshirt or do you wanna play? I hope, in talking with the older guys, that they say, "Hey, he can help us.' We'll see. There's three weeks of camp or whatever it is that he's gotta prove himself. He's got a lot of reps."