At this point in his coaching career, it’s hard to argue with Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen’s work with quarterbacks. Mullen has coached several high-quality players in his career, from No. 1 draft pick Alex Smith at Utah, Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow at Florida and 2016 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Dak Prescott.
Rising junior Nick Fitzgerald has shown signs of extending the Mullen-quarterback lineage after a strong debut as the Bulldogs starting quarterback. But according to Mullen, a crucial piece in how far Fitzgerald can go this fall in his own hands this summer.
“For him, it is the constant development of being a quarterback,” Mullen said. “I bet if you look this summer, Tom Brady's working on his pocket, his throwing, his throwing motion, how do I become more accurate, how do I become a better passer. Those are skills that are developed over a very long period of time. And the more you develop on them, the more successful you'll be as a quarterback.”
Fitzgerald proved himself a pest to opposing defenses in 2016, throwing for 2,423 yards, rushing for 1,375 and scoring 37 total touchdowns. Fitzgerald’s sophomore season was one strong enough to put him on the radar in an ever-improving conference of quarterbacks; The question is, can he continue that growth?
Senior wide receiver Donald Gray believes that’s exactly what his quarterback can do. He said Fitzgerald began coming into his own about midway through the 2016 season, a point in which he really began lighting up scoreboards.
Gray listed a number of areas on which Fitzgerald can improve such as being more vocal, running faster and breaking more tackles. His comments weren’t an attempt to say Fitzgerald has a lot of room for improvement, but that he still has potential left untapped.
“He’s more comfortable now,” Gray said. “He’s able to lead. He’s able to become a better quarterback, and he showed last year that the ceiling is very, very high.”
Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema’s team got the upperhand against Fitzgerald and the Bulldogs last November. Still, Bielema could plainly see Fitzgerald is another dangerous quarterback that Mullen has time left to mold.
That tends to be the case when the opposing quarterback puts up 459 total yards and six touchdowns.
“(He’s) a tremendously talented young man,” Bielema said. “He has size, speed and agility and throws the ball very well. We started to see firsthand how he kind of grew, and I knew he got even better after we played him. So it is going to be a tremendous task in front of us, but seems to be a guy that has got all of the things that you need to have position, especially in that type of offense.
“Unfortunately for us, it will be another tough task.”
Jordan D. Hill: 770-894-9818, @lesports