STARKVILLE • Mississippi State went through its first practice of the fall on Friday evening and one thing was apparent to second-year coach Joe Moorhead.
The Bulldogs are in better shape.
Moorhead marveled at the job new strength and conditioning coach Cory Bichey did with team during the offseason and allowed them to hit the ground running as they opened camp.
“It was apparent that the guys came back in great shape,” Moorhead said. “We went over the testing numbers during the summer and just seeing the guys running around bigger, stronger, faster, more athletic and more explosive was an incredible positive.”
MSU must replace four starters on offense and seven on defense so there are plenty of position battles and competition to keep an eye on throughout camp.
“One of things I was most encouraged with about today was the sense of urgency and the execution has been increased because of the enhanced competition at every position,” Moorhead said. “Going across the board where there are battles going on, guys that want to get on the field are looking behind or in front of them and know they have to be on top of their game over the course of practice if they want the opportunity to play.”
Of course the position battle that peaks the most interest is at quarterback where junior Keytaon Thompson and Penn State graduate transfer Tommy Stevens are competing for the starting job.
Moorhead stated he will rotate reps between all of his signal callers so each has an even amount of reps directing the first, second and third team offenses.
When the first day of competition was completed, Moorhead mentioned that all of his quarterbacks shined at some point, including freshmen Jalen Mayden and Garrett Shrader, and even walk-on Logan Burnett.
“It was one practice in helmets and shirts and they all had their moments today,” Moorhead said. “I’m just excited to see how the competition plays out.”
But it was not all encouraging news coming out of the opening day of camp. Three players were absent on the first day and one may not arrive on campus at all.
South Alabama graduate punter Corliss Waitman had his waiver for a sixth-year of eligibility denied by the NCAA on Thursday. Waitman is currently weighing his options and MSU does have the option to appeal the decision.
Running back Kareem Walker, who began his career at Michigan, is the only other signee that has not yet enrolled but Moorhead expects to have the ex-Wolverine on campus by early next week.
“He’ll be here, he’s just finishing up a few administrative items academically,” Moorhead said.
Izuchukwu King Ani was also absent from Friday’s practice. The freshman defensive end also missed most of spring after having surgeries to repair some preexisting injuries sustained during high school.
“He’s had a couple of things both upper body and lower body that he’s gotten fixed and is working to get healed up,” Moorhead said. “Hopefully (we will have him) at some point this season and if not, he’s a great redshirt candidate.”
Kendell Jones was limited when camp opened on Friday but the Bulldogs are hopeful to have the senior defensive tackle ready to go for the season opener against Louisiana-Lafayette on Aug. 31 in New Orleans.