Forget QB: Dan Mullen’s biggest problems are at CB

Dan Mullen vs, Ole Miss, 2015

Heading into fall camp, Mississippi State had numerous questions to answer, a big, glaring one being who would replace Dak Prescott at quarterback. Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen said this week he expects a starter to be named early next week, but that each of the three quarterbacks vying for the job would play in the opener against South Alabama.

If you look at Mullen’s track record, you have to feel good about whomever he puts on the field to take snaps for the Bulldogs. But the Bulldogs’ secondary is a different story and has taken center stage as the biggest potential roadblock.

The Bulldogs were hit with a double-whammy at cornerback to two potential starters: Senior Tolando Cleveland suffered a season-ending ACL tear and senior Cedric Jiles is out until mid-October with a broken right arm. Thus, Mississippi State enters the season without a cornerback who had an interception last season and their two most seasoned players at the position are on the shelf. This far and away exceeds the quarterback question in Starkville.

Coordinator Peter Sirmon and his defensive staff have some work to do to shore up the cornerback spot. COURTESY MISSISSIPPI STATE ATHLETICS

Coordinator Peter Sirmon and his defensive staff have some work to do to shore up the cornerback spot. COURTESY MISSISSIPPI STATE ATHLETICS

There has been a lot of buzz surrounding junior college transfer Lashard Durr since he arrived in time to go through spring practice; well, not that buzz better have been correct because he seemingly is a given to start at one cornerback spot.

The Bulldogs also have to hope that some underclassmen grow up quickly. Redshirt freshman Maurice Smitherman almost played last season because of injuries in the position unit, but the staff decided to make sure he redshirted.

Chris Stamps is another redshirt freshman who will see time. But word is that he is not ready for a full-time role in the SEC.

True freshman C.J. Morgan-Walker and redshirt freshman Chris Rayford also are in the mix, as is wide receiver-turned-cornerback Jamoral Graham. Graham, a junior, was a four-star receiver recruit but was buried on the depth chart. He was moved to defense last season, but he has yet to contribute.

One final move the Bulldogs could make is turning sophomore safety Jamal Peters into a corner. Peters is part of a deep group at safety that also Brandon Bryant, Kivon Coman and Mark McLaurin. Peters took some snaps on offense during the spring and is one of the more versatile athletes on the roster, and Mullen acknowledged that coaches were considering moving Peters to cornerback.

There does appear to be some time for the corners to get acclimated, as the first three games – South Alabama, South Carolina and LSU – are against teams with questionable passing attacks. Still, defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon, cornerback coach Terrell Buckley and the rest of the staff need one or two corners to outperform expectations.

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(You can follow Jake Wimberly on Twitter @Jakewim)

© 2016, Jake Wimberly. All rights reserved.

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