CATEGORY: FOC College Football

AUTHOR: PARRIS

HED:D-backs could be strength of MSU

By Parrish Alford

Daily Journal

STARKVILLE The defensive secondary was an Achilles heel at Mississippi State last year, but in 1997 it may be the group where the Bulldogs flex their strongest muscles.

In fact, the biggest problem for MSU defensive coordinator Joe Lee Dunn this preseason is figuring out how to get all his talent on the field.

"It's definitely an area we feel good about," Dunn says.

Dunn likes his defense as a whole too, but the annual August theme is holding true: "I think we're better than we were last year, but until we play it's hard for me to tell. I can't judge them against our own people. I have to see them on Saturdays playing against somebody else."

Cornerback Lamon Dumas never got to play against anyone else last year, but he's one reason there's depth in the secondary right now. Dumas, signed with hopes of being a big play cornerback out of Georgia Military College, but tore up a knee on the third day of two-a-days and ended his season.

Now the Carrollton, Ga., senior is running second to Izell McGill at left corner.

"We've got to find a way to get him in the game," Dunn said. "The problem is the guy in front of him is pretty good too. Izell made a lot of big plays for us last year."

Because of the loss of linebacker Earnest Garner, juco transfers Bert Keys and Edward Smith will be called upon quickly. Keys (6-1, 271, Jr.) is running second to sophomore Barrin Simpson at one linebacker, while Smith (6-1, 230), who played on the outside last year at Southwestern (Calif.) Community College, is listed third at strong safety behind Eric Brown and sophomore Kenzaki Jones.

Dunn says Smith has adapted quicker.

"Bert kind of has that junior college system where he gets tired and wants to stop. We've got to get that out of him," Dunn said. "Edward doesn't have that junior college syndrome."

Dunn also singled out the play of freshman Ellis Wyms (6-5, 263). The Indianola native shares the second spot on the depth chart at left tackle with sophomore John Hilliard.

"He's gotten bigger so we were able to put him down at tackle," Dunn said. "He's made a lot of plays in practice."

Offensively all eyes are on the tailbacks, where not much has changed since the drowning death of Keffer McGee two weeks ago.

The loss of McGee will have the Bulldogs running between the tackles more.

"Our plans were not to do that, but now our plans have changed," offensive coordinator Lynn Amedee said.

Those plans will benefit Amory native Chris Rainey, who is listed as the third tailback behind Robert Isaac and juco transfer James Johnson.

Rainey's strength as an inside runner has endeared him to Amedee, who hopes to pound him between the tackles -- as he will with Johnson -- while Isaac is used as a wideout.

"Rainey came off the scout team and performed as well as he did (last year) then had a carry-over and had an excellent spring," Amedee said. "He's done some good things (in preseason) to the point where you've got to use him. He's a good ball carrier."

Rainey rose from fourth to first at State's injury-ravaged tailback position late last season. He gained 237 yards on 50 carries, including a 22-carry, 84-yard game in the finale at Ole Miss.

Amedee played down a sub-par performance by sophomore quarterback Matt Wyatt in last Saturday's scrimmage and stressed Wyatt's improved strength, quickness and decision-making capabilities.

Amedee believes Wyatt will perform such that freshman quarterback Wayne Madkin of Huntsville, Ala., will be redshirted.

Bulldog Notebook: MRI results returned Tuesday revealed a torn anterior cruciate ligament for split end Cameron Floyd of Pontotoc, the first major casualty of preseason drills. Floyd was hurt in last Friday's practice. ... An MRI was also performed on juco transfer offensive lineman Craig Moore but with more pleasing results. Moore has a strained knee and will miss three to four weeks. He should be back for the LSU game. A potential starter, Moore (6-3, 315) is one of the more highly-touted signees in the juco class.

... Wide receiver Kevin Cooper, a juco transfer from Northwest, is still rehabilitating the knee he hurt there last year. Amedee said Cooper is doing more in practice and should be ready for the Aug. 30 opener at home against Memphis. ... Calhoun City's Kendall Roberson has passed Adesola Badon and is running No. 1 at right cornerback now. Roberson started nine games at free safety before tearing a biceps tendon against Alabama.

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