The Bears hit the field Monday for preseason practice No. 19 at Plaster Field. With classes beginning and campus life abuzz, the two-hour afternoon session saw a lot of energy at key spots and some great individual efforts on both sides of the ball.
After practice, around 20 walk-on candidates went through some individual speed and skill testing in hopes of ultimately earning a spot on the Bears’ 90-man roster. The walk-ons will spend the rest of the week proving themselves before the final few roster spots are determined.
With just two weeks left to prepare for the Sept. 3 opener at Arkansas, the Bears have a busy week in store, including a Wednesday scrimmage and Saturday mock game still on tap this week.
Taking a look at today’s key position, the wide receivers have been pushing each other all fall in hopes of landing one of the three starting spots.
Receivers coach Mike Chandler says the competition has been refreshing this season compared to his first season with the Bears a year ago.
“It’s a great feeling,” Chandler explained. “You don’t want to have to play someone 80 plays like we had to at times last year. It makes your offense that much more effective if you can give guys plays off, particularly when you don’t lose much between the first-team and second-team guys.”
Topping the list is preseason All-MVFC wideout Jermaine Saffold (Sr., Grandview) who came within an eyelash of breaking the school’s single-season receiving yardage record in 2010 (869). He’ll push a steady group at the X spot, that includes newcomers Dorian Buford (So., Florissant, Mo.), who has proven his ability in the spring and fall to make tough catches, and transfer Eric Brown (So., St. Louis, Mo.).
“Jermaine has worked really hard to get better at the little things in the offseason,” Chandler said. “He has done a lot of work on his hands and routes to make him a true go-to receiver.”
At the B-receiver spot, returning starter Cadarrius Dotson (Jr., Memphis, Tenn.) is expected to get significant playing time after he reeled in 38 receptions for 495 yards last year and caught a pass in 21 of his first 22 career games. Competing heavily for that job will be redshirt freshman Julian Burton (Cordova, Tenn.) who returns after a season-ending shoulder injury in week three last year.
“Cadarrius will have to step up and be a leader, be healthy and fight off fierce competition from Julian,” Chandler said. “Julian is a gifted athlete, and sometimes I have to remind myself that he’s just a freshman and he’s still learning.”
Squadmen Duane Atteberry (Jr., Buffalo, Mo.) and Dan Reicher (Sr., Harrisonville, Mo.) join newcomer Eric Christophel (Fr., Nixa, Mo.), who has made some stellar scrimmage plays over the last two weeks, in competition for the third-string spot at BWR.
At the Z spot, senior Ian Starnes (Springfield, Mo.) has emerged as a preseason leader and will be challenged by classmate Willie White (Kingsland, Ga.) and freshman Robert Fields (Memphis, Tenn.) for the starting job. Third-year man Adrian Williams (Jacksonville, Fla.) started two years ago and has the potential to return to a regular role among the competition.
“We have yet to see what Willie (White) can do. He has been banged up and needs reps to make plays,” Chandler said. “Starnes is a solid worker who can be a regular. The question is can he be a starter, and he has to get to that level. Fields has a bright future, natural ability and will help us right away this season.”
In all, the 12 receivers in camp will join standout tight ends Matt Thayer (Jr., Bellevue, Neb.) and Tim Struckhoff (Jr., Wentzville, Mo.) as solid targets for the MSU quarterbacks this fall, providing ample depth at a valuable position for the team’s success.