STARKVILLE — Mississippi State head football coach Dan Mullen likes to create mismatches and have playmakers go to work in space.
One position that gets overlooked in that is tight end, as players who, depending on scheme, spend the majority of their time on the line of scrimmage blocking defensive ends and linebackers.
Speed and athleticism at every position is coveted, but at tight end it can be an equalizer against a secondary that”s locking down receivers. It can also create havoc for linebackers in man coverage, command safety help or require a defensive end to bump him off the line.
A tight end can affect three levels of the defense and after Mississippi State tight end Marcus Green finished second on the team last season in catches and yards, more is expected of the 6-foot-1, 235-pounder.
The shovel pass Florida ran between Tim Tebow and Aaron Hernandez is just one of the new wrinkles MSU coaches have put in to get Green more involved in the offense.
Mullen has been impressed with all of Mississippi State”s tight ends this spring as Brandon Henderson and Kendrick Cook are pushing Green for snaps and providing confidence for more two-tight end formations.
While Green is the smallest tight end among the three, he”s the most versatile and fastest. It”s because of that ability that Mullen is demanding the Kemper County graduate become a more complete player to fully utilize his skills.
“I think he”s coming along,” Mullen said. “He”s got a lot of ability, but to be a finished product he”s got a long way to go. He has the athletic ability to cause the mismatches that we want. What we need is to see him continually improve in catching and blocking.”
Green”s solid return and spot in the starting lineup after having major hip surgery his freshman season was unexpected, even to Green.
He said he”d never known a player or another athlete for that matter, who”d had the same operation he had. That kind of uncertainty didn”t give Green much insight as to what to expect during rehab, but now at full fitness he”s happy it hasn”t hindered him.
“I got better at blocking, but most of all I got in shape,” Green said. “That was my main thing because I had surgery over a year ago. It was kind of scary because it was so rare. When I came back it felt pretty good, but again I think I kind of rushed it at the beginning. I”ve still got to work on it, even though I feel I”m at 100 percent right now.”
Green caught 27 passes for 306 yards and three touchdowns last season. Those numbers are tops of any Mississippi State tight end in a decade.
Considering the Bulldogs have a year in their current offense, tight ends coach Scott Sallach said some plans had to be scaled back last season to let players adjust to a new staff, a new system and a new way of operating on the practice field.
“It would have been a little much last year, and you”d rather do stuff a little later than a little early,” Sallach said. “There was more concern about what we were doing. Now, Marcus is taking that step like a lot of guys are doing, with ”how do I have success now?” What you”re seeing now is the maturity of a guy who played probably 450 to 500 snaps last season.
“After that, the game slows down and he can let his abilities shine through.”
Mullen noted Green”s drops after Thursday”s practice, and the junior had a couple, including one that would have been a touchdown, during Saturday”s scrimmage at Davis Wade Stadium. And with Mullen lamenting the team”s receiving depth, Green”s numbers and progression could prove pivotal in the fall.
Consistency is paramount, but Green is confident his continued effort will keep passes coming his way.
“Part of that comes from being out here working hard,” Green said of his expanding role in the offense. “If you show coach that you”re trying to get open and you really want the ball, he”s going to see that in the film. My main thing is to come out here and get better at footwork, fundamentals, and then show him I want the ball.”