By JOEL COLEMAN
As Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen stepped to the podium Monday for his first game-week press conference of the season, it appeared the time had finally come for MSU’s eighth-year leader to name his starting quarterback.
For the last several weeks, junior Damian Williams, sophomore Nick Fitzgerald and redshirt freshman Nick Tiano have been vying for the job, but which member of the trio of signal callers would get the nod for State’s opener on Saturday against South Alabama?
“I see Nick Williams playing quarterback for us,” Mullen joked, using a hybrid of all of his quarterbacks’ names.
With that, Mullen’s message became apparent. This quarterback battle rages on and will continue into Saturday’s game.
“We are going to play more than one quarterback, and we are probably going to play more than one in the first quarter,” Mullen said. “I was hoping to have complete clarity in there being a definite No. 1, and I don’t think there is one yet. I don’t want to say, ‘This guy is going to be the guy,’ and series two another guy comes in and plays better and mess it up that way. I plan on us playing more than one in the first quarter.”
Mullen said last week he’d like to be able to name his starter on Monday. His words signified a changing of plans.
“I hoped that it would be really sorted out for me, but we have guys that are competitive and continue to compete and improve,” Mullen said. “Also, you have younger guys, so you see things. You see guys do some great things. You see them make some mistakes. I want to see how guys are going to handle the next two to three days implementing a game plan now for this week. I need to see if one guy handles it much better than another guy, or if another guy really struggles with it. Then, I’ve got to be ready with the guy that is going to give us the best opportunity to win on Saturday.”
The competition has been narrowed however. Mullen said that Fitzgerald and Williams have been splitting the repetitions with the first and second-team offenses. That leaves Tiano as the odd man out, for now.
“Really Fitzgerald and Damian are the two that are going to get a majority of the reps,” Mullen said. “Nick Tiano is still going to get some reps for us at this point. I think he has a bright future. I think in the short term, the other two guys being a little older, having more reps, puts them in a position to be a little bit more ready to play game one right now.”
Status of James undetermined
Mullen noted Monday that no decision has been made as to the Saturday availability of senior defensive lineman Nick James, who was arrested for public intoxication by the Starkville Police Department early this past Sunday morning.
“Any suspensions, we’ll announce it before the game,” Mullen said.
According to the Oktibbeha County Sheriff’s Office, James was arrested at 1:36 a.m. on Sunday morning at Rick’s Cafe. He was released on bond.
The 6-foot-5, 320-pound Long Beach native saw 10 starts at defensive tackle last season and played in all 13 games.
In his career, James has played in 34 total games and recorded 43 tackles, three tackles for loss and forced one fumble.
Senior Will Coleman, a defensive lineman who is expected to spend time at MSU’s new viper position, won’t play on Saturday due to injury and might miss State’s first two games of the year.
“He’ll be out for about two weeks,” Mullen said of Coleman. “It’s just a lower back issue.”
Mullen said Coleman suffered the ailment in the first couple of days of training camp.
Last season, Coleman appeared in all 13 games. He picked up 15 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, two quarterback hurries and one pass breakup.
Holloway, Shumpert lead running backs
With six running backs on his roster, Mullen has plenty of options in the offensive backfield. However Monday, Mullen made it clear that seniors Brandon Holloway and Ashton Shumpert will begin the season as his two primary backs. That leaves sophomores Aeris Williams and Dontavian Lee, along with redshirt freshmen Alec Murphy and Nick Gibson battling for playing time and the chance to contribute in any way.
“Holloway and Shumpert are going to get the majority of reps for us,” Mullen said. “If we run out of reps, there are special teams reps. Right now, I think a lot of the young guys are really going to figure out how critical special teams are. In the home game this week where we dress a lot is one thing, but when we start packing it up on the road and traveling 70 guys, we’re not going to take six tailbacks to a game. I might take four tailbacks and a special teams player, so we’ve got to see who are the guys that are standing out on special teams.”
Jones practicing again
True freshman tight end Dontea Jones is back practicing for MSU, though he continues to battle through his shoulder injury. Jones wasn’t on State’s 105-man training camp roster at the beginning of the month, but Mullen said then, that was just a technicality to help MSU open up a roster spot.
“He’s still limited coming off of shoulder surgery, but he’s back on the field practicing for us,” Mullen said of Jones.