Observations from the first day of Mississippi State football training camp
STARKVILLE – The horn sounded. Coaches barked out orders. Players dug their cleats into the turf and ran to their positions.
One of those players wore a green non-contact jersey. There was a No. 10 on each side of it. Junior Keytaon Thompson appeared to be the current starter at quarterback for Mississippi State as the Bulldogs began preseason practices Friday evening.
Head coach Joe Moorhead said not so fast.
"The way we have it set up, (the quarterbacks) switch essentially every period," Moorhead said. The media is allowed to watch five five-minute periods per practice. During the first available period Friday, Thompson was with the ones.
According to Moorhead, Thompson and graduate transfer Tommy Stevens split even time with the ones and twos during Day 1. Those two are expected to engage in a tight battle over the course of the next three weeks to earn the starting job. Moorhead noticed quickly that Stevens had retained much of the offensive system from when the two were paired together at Penn State in 2016-17.
"It was not like trying to teach it to a new freshman," Moorhead said. "It was like a guy who has been in the system for two years."
The rest of the players on Mississippi State's depth chart are also jockeying for position. Moorhead said there are a lot of starting jobs hanging in the balance. As it stood Friday, though, this is what the Bulldogs' two-deep depth chart looked like on offense.
MSU first team offense
Quarterback: Junior Keytaon Thompson or graduate transfer Tommy Stevens
Running back: Junior Kylin Hill
Tight end: Senior Farrod Green
Wide receiver – X: Senior Stephen Guidry
Wide receiver – H: Senior Deddrick Thomas
Wide Receiver – Z: Junior Osirus Mitchell
Left guard: Senior Tyre Phillips
Left tackle: Junior Dareuan Parker
Center: Senior Darryl Williams
Right tackle: Junior Stewart Reese
Right guard: Junior Greg Eiland
Quarterback: Graduate senior Tommy Stevens or junior Keytaon Thompson
Running back: Senior Nick Gibson
Tight end: Junior Dontea Jones
Wide receiver – X: Sophomore Devonta Jason
Wide receiver – H: Sophomore Austin Williams
Wide receiver – Z: Junior Malik Dear
Left guard: Red shirt freshman Kwatrivious Johnson
Left tackle: Senior Michael Story
Center: Senior Evans Wilkerson
Right tackle: Junior LaQuinston Sharp
Right guard: Senior Tommy Champion
True freshman Garrett Shrader directed the third team, leaving redshirt freshman Jalen Mayden on the sidelines during team drills. Mayden did get on the field and throw during later periods, and his downfield passing looked better than that of his teammates' at times.
There is not only a battle to determine who will start against Louisiana at the Superdome on Aug. 31 but also one to determine who has a leg up in the race to secure the third-string spot.
"I think not just KT and Tommy, but Garrett and Jalen and even Logan (Burnett) had their moments today," Moorhead said. "It was one practice in helmets and shirts and we only saw a few passes, but they all had their moments today. I'm just excited to see how the competition plays out."
During most of Friday's periods that were open to the media, the quarterbacks stood side-by-side in pairs and threw to the receivers. Thompson went with Stevens, and Shrader went with Mayden. Burnett, a junior, worked his way into the rotation here and there to relieve one of the other three QBs.
The wide receivers are in a tight battle as well. Graduate transfer Isaiah Zuber was Kansas State's leading receiver last season. He didn't line up with either of the first two teams Friday, but he was a full participant in practice and looked healthy coming off offseason surgery.
"He's a heck of an athlete," Moorhead said. "His body of work as a receiver and a returner in the Big 12 speaks for itself."
Like Stevens, Zuber has a full slate of preseason practices to find his footing on the depth chart. Dozens of other Dogs do too. It was just the first day of many more this summer and fall that will determine the direction coach Joe Moorhead's second team in Starkville.
- Running back Kareem Walker of Fort Scott Community College was not on the practice field Friday but will be with the team "very, very early next week," Moorhead said. According to Moorhead, Walker is clearing up some administrative and academic issues before he gets on campus.
- Punter Corliss Waitman, who transferred to Mississippi State from South Alabama over the offseason, was denied another year of eligibility by the NCAA. Waitman is with his family "exploring options." There is an appeals process Mississippi State can explore as a last-ditch effort to get him on campus.
- Moorhead called freshman defensive end Izuchukwu King Ani a "great redshirt candidate" as he continues to heal from upper and lower body injuries he sustained in high school. Moorhead is not sure when King Ani will be on the field.