This spring, Mississippi State's tight ends' coach Scott Sallach said he saw "good and bad" from his position group. Seniors Marcus Green and Kendrick Cook were limited somewhat this spring due to either off-season surgery or injury. But their absence allowed for more reps and experience for redshirt freshmen Brandon Hill and Malcolm Johnson.
"It was good and bad this spring," said Sallach. "The bad was we didn't get to see some of the older guys. Marcus and Kendrick could have done more but there was no need to push them. But it was good to see the younger guys out there learning to compete and learning what is required from that position. It was very encouraging to see them improve from Day 1 of spring to the end of spring."
Due to a torn ACL, Green was limited to just two games last year and had three catches for 36 yards. Green was able to experience a few individual drills this spring and Sallach is confident of his return to full activity this fall.
"From the word I have gotten from the trainers, they say Marcus is doing well," said Sallach. "I would expect come August that he will be 100 percent and ready to go. And once he is healthy, I expect him to have a great senior season. He has been snake-bitten a bit in his career and we are looking forward to that snake moving on out of Starkville.
"When healthy, he is all that Coach (Dan) Mullen and Coach (Les) Koenning want out of that position. He can be a traditional tight end with his hand on the ground, line up as a receiver and create mismatches or line up in the backfield as a blocker or a runner and catches passes out of the backfield. He is so versatile as an athlete and when healthy, he is a defensive coordinator's nightmare."
Cook also brings experience to the table yet he also was limited this spring due to a nerve injury. While not the receiver (one catch for 12 yards in 2010) that Green exhibits, Cook does provide stability at the tight end spot.
"Kendrick is much different than Marcus," said Sallach. "Where Marcus can do all three things, Kendrick is more suited to play the traditional role on the line. That is what the previous staff recruited him for and that is why he is good at it. He brings a different skill level than Marcus and is still valuable in the things he does. He didn't do a whole lot late in spring but he should be fine. We will continue to monitor (the nerve injury). He could have gone more this spring but there was no sense in pushing it.
"He can be a short-yardage or goal-line guy. But the thing is that Kendrick is also a good route runner and can make tough catches if the defense is not paying him attention. He is always good on his routes and can get open even though he is not usually utilized in that role. With Kendrick, he is all about Mississippi State and what is good for the team is good for Kendrick Cook."
Undergoing his first collegiate spring session was Hill, who redshirted last year as a true freshman. Hill ended the spring with a solid showing in the spring game and has Sallach encouraged about his future.
"Brandon got better as the spring went on and the Maroon and White game was probably his best practice this spring," Sallach said. "All spring we saw some of the thing he is capable of with his routes and catches. He did get better but still has a long ways to go. The benefit, though, is if he does play a lot this year, he has two seniors ahead of him and he doesn't have the pressure of needing to be out there. That is an added benefit.
"But he did have a good spring and got better and that is all I was looking for. I've said that he has a shot of being similiar to Marcus Green. I don't know if he can bring us the running aspect of the position like Marcus can right now. But that's because we haven't seen him do that and we made the spring easy as possible for Brandon. But he can block and line up as a wideout and can potentially be like Marcus and a good mismatch for us."
During the first part of spring drills, Johnson took his practice reps with the receivers. But later on he moved to tight end.
"Two of the three things we need at this position is having a guy that can line up as a running back and as a receiver," said Sallach. "And Malcolm can do those things and could be more of a nightmare matchup for defenses than Brandon Hill. If Malcolm stays with the tight ends, he would be a great mismatch for us and could be super dynamic at this position. But that is just one of those things we have to wait and see about.
"Malcolm is a big, tough individual. If we can teach him this position and teach him a few things to make him more versatile, it will only help him, help us and help everybody. He still has a ways to go but he did a good job considering we threw him in that spot late."