How Much Should Mullen Play True Freshmen?

Every February fans like to prognosticate which signees will see the field in the upcoming season. Then the players get to school and reality sets in. The reality that SEC football is on another stratosphere from high school and they may not be as game ready as they thought. These revelations culminate in the crux of the issue: should they redshirt?

This is a multi-faceted issue that Coach Dan Mullen has to approach with a sense of uniqueness to MSU. You may wonder what I mean by that. A school like Alabama or Ohio State may have a bit more leverage in asking players to redshirt. They recruit in the top 5 every year and are loaded with 4 and 5 star talent. A player going to these schools know they may have an NFL guy in front of them. MSU doesn’t sign as many high profile guys and its led me to a slightly different opinion than the majority of Bulldog fans.

One thing I constantly hear is that Mullen should redshirt everyone he can. I hear that if these true freshmen players aren’t on the 2 deep and don’t redshirt, its a wasted year. I vehemently disagree with this sentiment. Before I give you reason why I want to preface that there are certain positions that need to redshirt the majority of the time and they are QB and OL. Those 2 positions just need the extra year of development. The rest, not so much.

Reason number 1 is that I don’t want Mullen to have the reputation that he doesn’t play true freshmen. Regardless if its a ridiculous thought, you don’t want that perception used against you on the recruiting trail. The truth is that leading up to National Signing Day, all recruits think they can play/start immediately. You have to understand that they are operating under ego-driven, over-inflated feeling of self worth and the program needs to exude the perception that they can achieve their immediate goal. That is, until fall camp and they come to the realization of the intense competition. The more true freshman that Mullen plays, the better for this perception.

Next reason is that they can plain help you win games. One place I love to see young, elite talent is special teams. So many games are won or lost on coverage units and that is where a young guy, no matter how raw, can excel. Lets use an example. You sign a 4 star, 6’1 and 215lb RB who runs a 4.45. He is your 4th string RB but is a running and hitting machine. Plug him in on punt and kick off coverages. The flip side is that you redshirt him and put a 2nd string, 4th year JR safety who is not an elite athlete on the coverage units and he can’t make the plays the true freshman could. That can lose you games ladies and gentlemen.

The last reason I’m pro play true freshmen is numbers. You only get 85 scholarships and can sign 25. If you redshirt everyone, that’s 125 players in a 5 year cycle. That puts you 40 players over. That’s means you need 8 players worth of attrition a year. So you can root for discipline problems to get booted, injuries, or cutting guys if you support redshirting them all. I admit that’s a little extreme but hopefully you get the point: playing more true freshmen is actually necessary.

Now I want to break down the 2013 signees and what I think about there playing chances.

Chris Jones
MSU currently has 3 really good DE’s in Autry, Smith, and Brown. All are SEC starters. Mullen could get away with redshirting Jones. Let me be clear: Chris a Jones has to play. You don’t sign the 2nd best player in America to redshirt. You’d get hammered with that on the recruiting trail. You rotate him in and let him get most the reps in big wins. Maybe make him a 3rd down specialist.

Fred Ross
He actually walks into a really good situation with all the experience MSU lost from last year. A big time 4 star WR should be able to earn reps from the start. WR is a position where an impact can be made immediately and Ross should do just that.

Ashton Sumpert
In a slightly controversial opinion, I think he should play (if ready of course). Although MSU has 4 RB’s, he could be great on coverage units. If Shumpert can help win games by playing on special teams, he should. The goal is winning now, not 4 years from now. Also think about RB. It’s not out of the blue to have an injury or 2 as the year goes on (LSU last year). Wouldn’t you feel better if he was making plays on ST all year if he gets forced into late action?

Surprise Players
There is always at least 1 guy who you think is a redshirt who plays, like Ryan Brown last year. I expect at least 1 but probably more guys to play out of the group: Shelby Christy, De’Runnya Wilson, BJ Hammond, Tolando Cleveland, Kivon Coman, or Gabe Myles.

Playing too many freshmen is never good but Mullen is at a point where his depth lets him pick and choose his spots. I say take those spots and play aggressively, play to win, and use as many true freshmen that can help you achieve that. I’ve heard that the coaches give the players an honest evaluation of where they stand post fall camp and ultimately the players make the call to redshirt or not. So it’s not a 100% exclusive coaching decision. I just think there is plenty of benefit of getting more guys ready to play and not sit out a year.

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