We are just under two months away from the kickoff to football season and while the rest of us are just getting geared (or geeked) up for some pigskin action, the coaches and players have been practicing and preparing since the beginning of the spring.
For Mississippi State, the players are working out and practicing on their own as we speak. In just a few weeks they will begin "fall" camp which starts in the hot summer days of early August. As Dan Mullen and his Bulldogs go through their final preparations for the season we take a look at a few starters for MSU who may be on the hot seat.
We're looking for starters who are looking over their shoulder. For some, it speaks to the quality of their backups. For others, it speaks to their inconsistency.
So, let's get this list started.
Chad Bumphis, WR: I figured we could kick this list off with the most controversial inclusion. Before you ask, yes, I know he was recently put on the Biletnikoff Award watch list. Now, he's just on another watch list. Bumphis has been MSU's leading receiver the last two seasons. He stepped on campus immediately as a true freshman and became MSU's most electric player.
However, I now think the "most electric" title goes to running back Ladarius Perkins. I also think that much of the reason Bumphis was the leading receiver the previous two seasons was because, for most of that time, he was just about the only viable receiver. It seemed that for much of his sophomore season, Bumphis was riding the momentum from his freshman season. Bumphis was good in 2010, and consistently good, at that, but he wasn't great. In addition to Bumphis, one other receiver posted a 100-yard game and that was Brandon Heavens, Bumphis' backup.
Bumphis is still a tremendous player, but redshirt freshman Jameon Lewis will push him for time in 2011. Lewis is a similar build to Bumphis, and he is just as quick. Lewis may even be a touch more shifty, and I'm of the opinion that Lewis may have the best hands on the team. If Lewis plays in games even close to how he's looked in practice every time I've seen him, then Bumphis is, indeed, on the hot seat.
Johnthan Banks, CB: Let me start this by saying I love watching Banks play. He is an incredibly natural athlete, and it shows much of the time. However, junior college transfer Darius Slay is every bit as athletic as Banks and he may be better at actually covering receivers. Banks has made a name for himself with leaping interceptions and exciting-to-watch returns. I don't think anyone who saw it live will ever forget Banks intercepting all-everything quarterback Tim Tebow twice in Starkville, returning both to the endzone for six points. And he did it as a true freshman.
Banks tied for the most interceptions on the team last season with three, but his coverage was often questionable. Perhaps he was trying to bait quarterbacks. Maybe it was scheme. But receivers often had significant separation from Banks and that may be part of why he was fourth on the team in tackles as a cornerback. He was tackling guys who had just caught the ball in front of him. He may be more natural as a safety, also a deep position for MSU. Banks will open 2011 as the starter, and I believe he will do well. However, I'd be surprised if Slay doesn't work his way into the starting lineup at some point in the season, which may mean less time for Banks.
Arceto Clark/Chris Smith, WRs: It may be unfair to put these two on the hot seat. Both of them had breakout performances over the final games of the 2010 season and Clark was actually the team's second-leading receiver last season. The Gator Bowl win over Michigan has been considered the coming out party for MSU's receiving corps as both Clark (three receptions, 45 yards, one touchdown) and Smith (four catches, 46 yards) had tremendous days. However, one receiver outperformed them both that day, and he is the youngest of the bunch. True freshman wide receiver Michael Carr caught three passes for 65 yards and one touchdown.
Carr is why Clark and Smith are on the hot seat. Above those two, Bumphis, Lewis and anyone else, Carr is the most athletically gifted and talented receiver on MSU's roster. He missed summer workouts last year and arrived on campus a bit out of shape. It also took him some time to learn the playbook. But, as good as Carr looked in the Gator Bowl, the guy I saw in spring practice in March and April looked like a new man, in a good way. I wouldn't have even recognized him if his jersey didn't say "Carr" on the back. If Carr has kept in shape over the summer and kept his nose in the playbook, he could be MSU's breakout player in 2011. And if he starts, that means either Clark or Smith won't.