Mississippi State’s Zach Arnett pushing competition as fall camp rolls on

24 hours ago
STARKVILLE — In the eyes of first-year head coach Zach Arnett, the return of pads to Mississippi State fall football practice the past two sessions has shifted the Bulldogs into the next phase of camp.
As it continues preparations for Sept. 2’s season opener at home against Southeastern Louisiana, Arnett and his staff have been pushing, and preaching, competition at just about every position group on the roster with the goal of weeding out potential starters.
“That is the challenge in front of all of us as coaches right now,” Arnett told reporters Monday after the team’s practice session. “You are four days in and you can’t make final decisions about your best 11. But every day you get a little more info and film to make that evaluation.”
So far for the Bulldogs, starting positions seem to be up for grabs in the linebacker, secondary and pass-catching groups.
Next to senior leaders Jett Johnson and Nathaniel Watson, Arnett has been evaluating J.P. Purvis, who gained 15 pounds this offseason, and John Lewis for the SAM linebacker spot.
“Those guys come out to work,” Arnett said. “They have done a nice job. Replacing Tyrus Wheat (UDFA by the Dallas Cowboys) and all the different hats he wore on our defense the last couple of years is going to be a challenge, but they have come to work. We are throwing everything at them.”
Arnett said what Purvis and Lewis do the rest of fall camp could influence how the Bulldogs line up defensively for their first game.
“The thing to keep in mind, too, is they are not just battling each other for that job, they are battling defensive ends for if we are better off at an odd or even defense,” Arnett said. “You got to get your best 11 players on the field. If we can get four defensive lineman who bring us more than playing with a SAM linebacker, that is on the table, too.”
The same can be said for who will line up offensively for MSU. Under first-year coordinator Kevin Barbay, the Bulldogs have re-added the tight end position into formations. But if Arnett believes the offense will run smoother in different personnel, he won’t be afraid to change things up.
“All those tight ends are competing with a fourth receiver, or even a second running back,” Arnett said. “If you’re best with four wideouts in the game, going 10 personnel (one running back, no tight ends), you are going to do that. (Or even) going 20 personnel (two running backs, no tight ends).”
Arnett said he is paying particular attention to the secondary, which will be MSU’s least-experienced position group this fall after absorbing the departure of four of five starters, including 2022 first-round NFL Draft pick, Emmanuel Forbes.
Arnett, who coached safeties during his defensive coordinator stint under Mike Leach, noted it will be the coaching staff’s job to pick the right mix of players who have some college snaps under their belts, like Marcus Banks, Shawn Preston Jr. and Corey Ellington, with younger players, potentially someone like Isaac Smith, to make up the group.
Ultimately, he hopes competition created in fall camp will lead to those answers, not just in the secondary, but at each starting spot on both sides of the ball.
“I think age and experience always pays dividends,” Arnett said. “You do not want to be running out with a whole bunch of true freshmen playing a whole bunch of snaps for you. That is a recipe for disaster…You want age, experience and guys that have been through it because physical maturity matters a lot.
“…We are trying to figure out who is the personnel to give us the best chance to win.”
Cole Smith happy to back at center for MSU offensive line
Four practices into camp, Smith appears to be the next in line for MSU’s starting center spot, left vacant by LaQuinston Sharp, now in the XFL, after last season.
Smith, a graduate senior, hasn’t played center for MSU since the 2020 season. Two years ago, he spent time at both guard positions, primarily at right guard, then played nearly 900 snaps at right for the Bulldogs last fall, according to Pro Football Focus.
Smith said Monday, however, that he has enjoyed returning to the middle of the offensive line.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “A little bit more on your plate at center than guard because you have to make calls to get everybody in the right position, but it is really fun playing on the interior of the offensive line.”
For Smith, the biggest difference returning to center compared to his last go-around is simply being more self-assured of his abilities.
“That first year, there were definitely a lot of nerves involved,” Smith said. “I wasn’t sure of myself as a player quite yet because I was still young. But now, I have had a few years to develop and get some confidence.”
Smith was one of MSU’s top returning offensive lineman this season from a group that brings back four 2022 starters in Smith, Kameron Jones, Nick Jones and Steven Losoya III.
When Sharp, last year’s starting center, missed time with an injury, Losoya III slid into the starting spot in his absence. With two options of experienced center players on its everyday offensive line, MSU has the versatility to mix-and-match up front to find the right combination ahead of its season-opener. Smith said he believes Losoya would rather play guard anyway.
“We can walk up to the line and we can look at each other and talk about the defensive, our calls and let everybody know what is going on and where to go,” Cole said. “ It is great having Steven beside me, another guy that has the center mind.”
Jaden Crumedy happy to be healthy, back with defensive line
A lot of this year’s fall camp has been different for senior defensive lineman Jaden Crumedy. Beside the fact he is healthy, sustaining an offseason injury last year that caused him to miss the first eight games, Crumedy, and the rest of MSU’s returning defenders, are no longer practicing against the constant Air-Raid offensive looks.
That change, Crumedy said Monday, is to his benefit because it gives him more in-season like reps to study.
“It gives me a better feel of what other teams are doing that I will see in games,” he said. “I just feel like it is making me a better player.”
Crumedy, who finished with 15 tackles and two sacks over the Bulldogs’ final five games of the year, noted there wasn’t a specific part of his skillset he wanted to polish this season, but that he was focused on overall improvement.
That will certainly come with his clean bill of health, and Crumedy said he has put his injury in the rearview mirror heading into this season.
“I aint even worried about (the injury) or trying to think about it,” he said. “I just keep praying everyday before I come out here.”
Monday Practice standouts
Jeffery Pittman continues to impress for MSU’s second-team offense, adding two more noteworthy plays on a strong run and a reception out of the backfield after Mike Wright extended the play with his legs.
Tulu Griffin continues to show his ability to create yards after the catch, while Jordan Mosley and Zavion Thomas were also involved in MSU’s media-watched passing game.
Senior linebacker Nathaniel Watson had the play of the day, intercepting Will Rogers on a pass over the middle. Purvis and Lewis each looked strong in the run game, while Lewis also converted a fall camp “sack” of Rogers.

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