Smith column: Conner leaves, MSU backfield depth solid

The news on Friday that Montrell Conner has decided to leave the Mississippi State football team is unfortunate, but not devastating to what the offense will be trying to accomplish this fall.
There have been times in the past for the Bulldogs where the departure of a player would mean a big scramble to find replacements.
This appears to be a situation where it was Conner's decision because of the perceived lack of playing time in the upcoming season. He has already agreed to sign with Copiah-Lincoln Community College in Wesson to play at least one year.
Conner received the blessing from MSU head coach Dan Mullen to do so.
"Montrell has been a good student and a good citizen," Mullen said in a statement Friday morning. "We wish him the best in the future."
Every highly recruited player, which Conner was by former coach Sylvester Croom, thinks they can come in and be the savior of the program.
It was becoming increasingly unlikely that Conner was going to play much of a role as the season-opener with Memphis on Sept. 4 gets closer.
With Robert Elliott, Vick Ballard, LaDarius Perkins and emerging freshman Nick Griffin, Conner was being pushed way down the depth chart anyway. Conner was in the mix, but he must have figured there were too many ingredients.
The Bulldogs are going to be fine without Conner. Sometimes a player just feels like he doesn't belong and would like to try another path. It happens.
Elliott, Ballard and Perkins have all had their share of snaps with the first team offense. The competition has been intense among them, but not to the extent where there's any discord.
"It's all friendly competition and we all love each other," Elliott said. "We're all real cool and have good chemistry."
MSU running backs coach Greg Knox wouldn't comment on the specifics of Conner, but still likes what's available in the backfield.
"I feel good about where we're headed," Knox said. "The veterans Ballard and Elliott, even though Ballard hasn't played in a season, I still kind of feel like he's a veteran because he went through spring ball. Their experience is really helping the other guys."
Knox expects to see exactly what Griffin can give the Bulldogs as a freshman, while Mullen plans to keep a close eye on him as well.
"Like all of our freshman, if he's ready, he'll play," Mullen said. "If not, we'll protect them until they are ready."
Even though MSU loses a big, physical runner in Conner, it still has plenty of running backs to use.
Mullen said the offense was going to use a four-man rotation in the backfield anyway and can still get that accomplished with Elliott, Ballard, Perkins and Griffin.
With Conner, there just may not have been enough footballs to go around.

Danny P. Smith is sports editor and columnist for the Starkville Daily News. The opinions in this column are his and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Daily News or its staff.