Fitzgerald looking fine as Bulldogs open camp

Published 7:34 pm Saturday, August 4, 2018

STARKVILLE — Even with nine wins and a bowl victory, one of the lasting images of Mississippi State’s 2017 season was quarterback Nick Fitzgerald’s leg getting bent the wrong way in the Egg Bowl against Ole Miss.

It didn’t affect the Bulldogs much last season, but the question of how Fitzgerald would bounce back from it has lingered since.

Early indications are that he’s just fine.

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Fitzgerald was a full participant in the Bulldogs’ first two practices of the 2018 season Friday and Saturday, and new head coach Joe Moorhead said there was nothing to indicate his quarterback was less than 100 percent.

“In terms of taking reps and being in the team drills and things like that, he’s going to participate in everything,” Moorhead said. “The one thing our training staff has talked about is just managing and limiting his reps as camp progresses, to make sure we’re not putting any unnecessary wear and tear on it. We’re going to be kind of gradual. But there’s no restrictions on him right now.”

Fitzgerald is entering his third year as Mississippi State’s starting quarterback with a chance to write his name into the Southeastern Conference record books.

He needs 28 combined rushing and passing touchdowns to become just the eighth player in SEC history with 100 total touchdowns for a career.

Fitzgerald is also in range to become the SEC’s all-time rushing leader among quarterbacks. He needs 10 rushing touchdowns to pass Anthony Dixon as Mississippi State’s all-time leader.
In his first three seasons, Fitzgerald has rushed for 2,486 yards and 33 touchdowns, while throwing for 4,440 yards and 39 TDs.

Besides those records, however, the Bulldogs are interested in the impact a healthy Fitzgerald will have on their win-loss record. He suffered a broken ankle in the regular-season finale and missed the TaxSlayer Bowl against Louisville. Moorhead, however, was pleased with how Fitzgerald performed in the first workouts of preseason camp.

“One, he looked healthy. His drops were clean, the run-game footwork was good,” Moorhead said. “We kind of went versus scouts. We didn’t go against each other. But he was moving around well, no signs of any lingering issues.”

Mississippi State, which is ranked No. 18 in the preseason Amway Coaches Poll, went through a two-hour workout on Friday night and another Saturday evening. Friday and Saturday mornings were spent in position meetings and walkthroughs.

The plan is to increase the installation each day leading up to the first full pads practice on Wednesday. Sunday will be an off day, followed by practices on Monday and Tuesday.

“It felt great to be back on the field, to see some of the fruits of Coach (Anthony) Piroli’s labor in the summer,” Moorhead said. “Guys are in great shape. Some of them have changed their body compositions, gotten a lot leaner, bigger, faster, more explosive. It’s just great to be playing some football again.”

Besides evaluating Fitzgerald, Moorhead said it was still too early to get a read on most players — especially the incoming freshmen who are adjusting to their first real taste of college football.

“That’s very hard to tell today. I mean, you’ve got kind of like a gym class. Helmets on, T-shirts and shorts. A bunch of young freshmen swimming from an assignment standpoint, but the great thing is guys came out and gave tremendous effort,” Moorhead said. “A lot of retention from the spring game ‘til now, it shows that the guys were studying film and doing things on their own in summer. That’s a very positive aspect of the day. Once we get the pads on we’ll be able to tell who is going to separate themselves.”