Mullen says quarterback spot still up in the air

By JOEL COLEMAN

sports@starkvilledailynews.com

It’s time for Mississippi State to turn its page. To which page the Bulldogs turn to though remains up in the air.

Since 2013, the engine of MSU’s success both on and off the field has been Dak Prescott. Now that the most illustrious player in Bulldog history has graduated and moved on to the National Football League’s Dallas Cowboys, there is a huge void that State has to fill.

On Tuesday at Southeastern Conference Media Days from the Hyatt Regency Birmingham – Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Alabama, Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen says he still has no clue who will step up to become his next signal caller.

“We’re going to have an interesting quarterback battle,” Mullen said. “As I said coming out of spring, there’s no secret to it. I’m not trying to hold back or play it close to the vest with our quarterback. We had four guys competing for the job in spring ball. All of them are still in contention for the job. No one really separated themselves to pull away from one of the other four at that position.”

Damian Williams, Nick Fitzgerald, Elijah Staley and Nick Tiano are the quartet of candidates to fill Prescott’s shoes. MSU receiver Fred Ross said on Tuesday it has been strange no longer having Prescott in the mix.

“It has definitely been different without Dak,” Ross said. “All of the quarterbacks have been working hard though and doing things the coaches have asked of them.”

In the spring, each of MSU’s signal callers displayed evidence, at times, that they could adequately fill the position. Public perception usually places Fitzgerald and Staley as the two favorites, but Williams is the only one of the four that has ever started a game.

Still, Williams’ start was now three seasons ago. No matter which one out of Williams, Fitzgerald, Staley or Tiano rises to the top, MSU’s quarterback will be far greener than what the Bulldogs had in the calming, veteran presence of Prescott. That fact, and the problems it presents, isn’t lost on Mullen.

“To look and say we’re going to take a shot to throw the ball down the field, the veteran quarterback is going to look and say, ‘It’s not here’,” Mullen said. “Younger quarterbacks, sometimes you call that shot and they’re thinking that Coach is calling a play for me to go make it happen, and they’re going to throw that ball up and that’s where mistakes happen.”

Mullen has no timetable set to determine a starting quarterback. The competition for the spot will begin to ramp back up here in just a few weeks, but each of the prospective signal callers are already working on their own to improve.

“I’m hoping over the summer that someone (separates themselves),” Mullen said. “I will be a happy guy to name a starting quarterback and find somebody that has separated themselves from the other three throughout the summer. Whether it’s all of the extra work they put in over the summer or if it happens in the first week of training camp, great. If it has to happen game week, fantastic.

“I hope it does happen, or it might take into the course of the season. We don’t know, but we’re excited about those four guys.”

MSU reports for fall camp on August 1. State’s first practice will be the following day. The Bulldogs open the season with a September 3 home game at 11 a.m. against South Alabama.

By the time the season concludes, Mullen is hopeful everyone can look back and see that the right decision was made at quarterback.

“Hopefully at the end of the year, we’re one of the teams that we can say that we thought quarterback play might not be great, but it was a lot better than everybody thought it was going to be,” Mullen said.

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