STARKVILLE — Mississippi State football has, for better or worse, arrived.
The Bulldogs are entering their second week of camp under first year head coach Mike Leach and things have begun to fall in place. With that, let’s get to some questions:
With Tyler Williams opting out of the 2020 season, where does MSU stand at cornerback?
This one hurts, big time. Williams was far and away the most experienced piece in MSU’s cornerback room entering the 2020 season. Behind him? Sophomore Martin Emerson, who played all 13 games last season, career special teamer Korey Charles and a slew of unproven, albeit talented, underclassmen.
Emerson has long been billed as a starter for this upcoming season in the wake of Cameron Dantzler’s early entry into the NFL draft following last season, but that process has been expedited with Williams’ decision. Named an honorable mention All-American last year by Pro Football Focus, the Pensacola, Florida, native recorded 32 tackles, forced one fumble and corralled one interception in his first college season.
“There’s a reason he played a whole bunch last year, right?” MSU defensive coordinator Zach Arnett said Thursday night. “He’s talented. He was good enough to play. It’s only a benefit that he played as much as he did as a freshman because he’s got SEC games under his belt. He knows what it’s like.”
Behind Emerson, things get murky. Charles was rated a four-star recruit by ESPN coming out of high school but has yet to play a meaningful snap in four seasons in Starkville.
Emmanuel Forbes is a likely candidate to be thrust into the rotation as a true freshman, as he’s earned rave reviews thus far. Rated the No. 187 player in the 2020 class according to 247 Sports’ composite rankings, Forbes was MSU’s second highest-rated incoming recruit, though his size — 6-foot, 160 pounds — leaves room to be desired if he’s called upon.
Other names to watch include third-year sophomore Esaias Furdge and four-star freshman Decamerion Richardson. One-time UMass transfer Malik Sanders could also factor into the rotation.
MSU doesn’t have a more unproven position than its cornerbacks entering 2020, and it’s expected Arnett and co. will have to lean heavily on their front seven to keep opposing offenses at bay.
Will Rogers has received a ton of praise in the early going. How does that affect Garrett Shrader and the two quarterback recruits coming in next year?
No player has received more positive feedback in the media than freshman quarterback Will Rogers. A three-star recruit out of Brandon High School, Rogers arrived on campus as a mid-year enrollee and worked out with the Bulldogs during their preparations for the Music City Bowl last year.
And while it’s long been expected Stanford graduate transfer K.J. Costello will be handed the reins to the MSU offense this fall, the battle between Rogers and incumbent sophomore Garrett Shrader is intriguing.
Shrader enters the year after splitting time with former Penn State import Tommy Stevens a season ago. Appearing in 10 games and starting four, he concluded his freshman campaign completing 88 of 153 passes for 1,170 yards and eight touchdowns.
And though Shrader adds a major element to the offense with his ability to run, Rogers’ poise as a passer could lead to a shakeup in the MSU quarterback room. Having been recruited by Leach’s staff while still at Washington State, Rogers possesses a familiarity with the coaches others at MSU don’t have. He’s also more of a true passer than Shrader, something that should give him a leg up in the new air raid offense.
“I’ve been really impressed with (his mindset),” Leach said of Rogers on Saturday. “A freshman comes in, one thing is the reps and the plays but one of the biggest hurdles that those guys sometimes have is the confidence to feel like they belong there… He hasn’t done that. He goes out there and competes like he should be there.”
Where things could get interesting with Rogers’ progression is next season. Obviously there are ample unknowns between now and then, but MSU is slated to bring in four-star passer Sawyer Robertson — the highest-rated Bulldog quarterback commit in 15 years — and three-star recruit Daniel Greek. Robertson is expected to be the future of the program, but if Rogers shines as a freshman and Shrader sticks in a new system, the Bulldogs are in for some quarterback battle come next fall.
This week I drew some ire from a slew of Starkvillians regarding my choice of Starbucks over local entity Strange Brew Coffeehouse. I’ll concede I haven’t been aboard the Strange Brew train for some time, as I’m a fairly simplistic coffee drinker. However, I felt as though this column was the perfect place to voice my favorite coffee-based concoctions around Starkville. (And clearly I need to expand my coffee-drinking endeavors).
1. Dark roast, splash of milk — Nine-Twentynine Coffee Bar (An oldie but a goodie. Told y’all I like plain coffee. The milk is simply to cool it down a touch.)
2. Hot Caramel Macchiato — Starbucks
3. Brown Eyed Squirrel — Strange Brew
4. White Chocolate Mocha — Starbucks
5. Press box coffee — Davis Wade Stadium (OK, this is kind of a joke, but I just really want to cover football this fall.)
Ben Portnoy reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @bportnoy15.