Media Days: Sherrill, Morriss & Fulmer

After stringing together several successful seasons in a row, last year was disappointing for Mississippi State fans. Starkville has long had a reputation as a tough place to win, but under the leadership of Head Coach Jackie Sherrill, Bulldog fans had started to hope that dynamic had changed. <br><br>Now, Sherrill is faced with the dual challenges of proving his doubters wrong, while also dealing with an NCAA investigation.

Are you familiar with the new SEC commissioner?
"(Slive) is a tireless worker. He will be successful leading this conference. The toughest thing about his job is dealing with the issues in-house and the league's image.

Will the current NCAA investigation affect the team?
"I'm not going to jump off a 50-foot cliff because somebody is coming in to talk to our players. I know how I've conducted self and how I've operated. If there are any issues we will correct them and deal with them and move on. They are going to play football at LSU, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky and Arkansas in front of packed houses this fall. Players aren't concerned about that. Y'all are concerned about that.

Did last year surprise you?
"Every time we come here, we've been picked low. Last year's team was supposed to be good. I did a poor job with our seniors to get them prepared and understand the role it takes with senior leadership.

"If we had done a better job (as coaches) we might have won five more games.

"The best thing about our team last year was they did not quit. Kept fighting, they went through some stuff and at the end of the year we were a good, competitive football team. Kevin averaged over 300 yards a game throwing, over 37 points a game ... Seventy percent of our production in the last half of the season is back. Justin Jenkins in his last two games had 14 catches.

What about this year's team?
"Defensively, every position on the stat board at end of year is back. Wish I could take back some things. Moved Mario to defensive end and it probably was a mistake. Mario is a great, great leader.

"The question lot of people ask is why in the world schedule Oregon. One for exposure. Two gonna be on national TV. Three play Oregon at home next year on national TV again. Our football team has a great mixture of young guys, older guys and very good leaders.

Improvements?
"I like this football team. We're a faster team, have more skill players in receivers, running backs, linebackers and defensive backs. We had the best spring and off-season. At end of summer workouts, we have our players do what they call Olympics ... The attitude is very good, good senior leadership.

What worries you?
"Our concerns are depth in defensive line, that was our problem last year. It's hard for anyone in this league as a defensive lineman to play 60-70 snaps a game. We have to give them some rest. We have five guys coming back, three of them were leaders last year, but we will have to develop some depth.

"Our schedule is not easy, but everybody can get up here and say that. Everybody has picked LSU and that's probably true, have the most coming back, but you can't discard Alabama. Alabama has a lot of players. They also have the rallying point at Auburn. Look for them to be very good and play very well."

MSU Quarterback Kevin Fant

Talk about last season.
"Disappointing. That's a good word for it. No one wants to be 3-8, but that's what the SEC is all about. We had a lot of close games, and we just weren't able to come out with wins.

"We worked hard as a team in the offseason. Everyone came win and worked together to get better. Getting better mentally was a big key too for us. It's important to have everyone going in one direction.

"There's been no change in my preparation entering this season as a starter. As a backup last year, I got a lot of experience with Wayne (Madkin), and I had to prepare each week like I could enter the game at any moment. The leadership role has changed for me because I must be a leader this year on the field.

Off season?
"I've learned you have great players around you. My job is to get the other 10 to do their best. My job is to get the ball in their hands and let them do what they can do.

You played better later in the season.
"It was a great boost for us. It especially paid off in the off season as something we could work on. We had guys step up at the end of the season that helped us out.

How disappointing was your final record?
"I can't figure it out. Football is a team sport. You have one goal, and all the players have to be going in the right direction. If one player is off doing his own thing, then its 10 vs. 11, and those are not good odds, especially in the SEC."

MSU Linebacker Mario Haggan

Season outlook?
"Last year was very disappointing. We worked hard in the spring. It just didn't go our way last year, and we hope to turn it around this year.

"Coach Sherrill is a great coach. He's worked us hard to do what we need to do to be be better. We need to be leaders, and we know if we work hard we can be better this year.

Can State win the West?
"No matter where you are picked, you've got to come out and play. The West has some great teams, and we want Mississippi State right up there with them.

You open with a tough opponent.
"Oregon is a great team. We want to go out to win, and so we'll go through two-a-days and practice hard for the game. If we're ready, then hopefully well be in a position to win.

Talk about your quarterback situation.
"Wayne (Madkin) was a great quarterback. Kevin has worked hard and knows how to get Mississippi State back to its winning ways. He can step it up and get it done."

Kentucky Head Coach Guy Morriss

"We're anxious to get started and get the season going. I'm anxious to see how far we've progressed. It's going to be extremely important that we get through the majority of the season healthy. Our depth is a concern.

Guy Morriss

"In the secondary, we've got some young kids with ability but not lot of experience. They'll be tested often. If they can hold up and get some confidence we may be able to get on a roll in our non-conference schedule. Those are our 2 biggest concerns going into the season.

How hard is it to coach at Kentucky?
"It's gotten easier just from the fact that any time assemble 10 different guys on a new staff it takes time get that group on same page. The team has got to get accustomed to the new staff. I think the players have done a good job of learning the scheme and the systems. We've asked kids to get a better grasp of what's going on around them. That should make us a better football team.

Will the NCAA probation affect the team?
"Everybody talks about sanctions and all the stuff going on. Can't control it anyway so we don't waste a lot of time worrying about it. If you're an outside observer, all been hearing about is the negative stuff going on and all Kentucky football is gloom and doom. Obviously, we don't feel that way. We feel Kentucky football is in as good a shape as it's been in long time.

"We just hired a new athletic director and glad to see that happen. Obviously Kentucky's a good academic school. There's a lot of things we can sell that are very good at Kentucky. I tend to overlook the positive things.

Talk about Jared Lorenzen
"He really doesn't go up and down. He kind of stays about the same. I really stopped making an issue out of the weight. I want him to continue to bring his weight down, but I have shifted gears to just get him in the best shape that we possibly can.

Can you win at Kentucky?
"We feel we have a good plan in place to restore Kentucky football. It's a matter of staying true to that plan. I make a concerted effort to keep our staff in tact. I just think at maybe this particular time we have the right coaches in the right place at the right time. We'll get strong support from our administration, and I think maybe the stars are lining up for Kentucky football. I really feel that. That's what we're trying to sell.

Goals for this season?
"Coming out of two-a-days to be healthy, we've got favorable schedule, three of first four at home. If we can come out 3-1 or 4-0 and get confidence rolling we might peck around enough to find two or three more wins. I think that's a realistic goal. Who knows? It's why you line up and play them.

UT Head Coach Phillip Fulmer

"We have a lot of high expectations at our place. That doesn't change. But as always, we've got to play the games. We've got a good looking football team. We have made a real transition. After spring practice, we weren't real excited about leadership of seniors, but we have had a metamorphosis over the summer and the seniors have stepped up big time and handled a couple of issues over the summer."

Phillip Fulmer

Team strengths?
"When you have a veteran quarterback, it is a good place to start. Casey Clausen is an exceptional player who has a lot of outstanding wins under his belt already. Midseason or so, he really took off as a football player. He sees the field extremely well and can make all the throws. I think this will be a big year for him. We've just got to keep him healthy."

"The offensive line might be the best group we've had in sometime. Michael Munoz is back at 100 percent. At one point they were talking about him not playing football anymore. Even though we lost a good player in Reggie Coleman, I think we'll be better at tackle. Scott Wells is anchor in the middle. He is a good leader for us. This will be his third year to start. And Will Ofenheusle one of those guys you want to get off the bus first."

"Jason Witten ought to be one of the best, if not the best, at his position (TE) in the country."

How good is (Kelley) Washington?
"It's phenomenal what he was able to accomplish last year. He had a great spring and summer. He is a tremendous worker and has some lofty goals set for himself as for what he wants to accomplish after college football. He understands route-running and coverages a lot better."

Who'll start at tailback?
"Two or three have not played a lot in games. We'll lean on them. They're talented and can make some things happen for us. I think we'll be good there."

Problem areas?
"The biggest question mark we have is the defensive front. Two ends came to see me the other day and we were talking about the expectations of our team. We've got four defensive line seniors who have all started games for us. We're looking for some young help at defensive end and defensive tackle."

Defensive backs?
"Our secondary should be the best we've had since 98. We've had some play-makers last year, but we've got to make more plays. We had hands on lot of balls last year that we didn't catch."

"The thing I like right now is our attitude and work ethic. We've had a real good summer. We're going into the season with only one freshman who had a basketball injury and will be limited some."

What about the allegations of academic fraud?
We went through a year-and-half of scrutiny. We are very confident that issue is over. I think it did make us better. We've corrected some things institutionally that made us a little bit more accountable."

UT Quarterback Casey Clausen

Any thoughts of leaving early?
"I don't think a lot about the NFL. My number one goal is to go out and take care of business. I want to play hard and compete. Anything after that is just a bonus for me. The awards come after the season is over."

What about losing the SEC championship game?
"Getting that close to playing for a national championship and not getting there was probably the hardest thing. We just didn't get it done. WE have to go out there this season and get after it."

"Our biggest goal or challenge is to take it one game at a time. If we can do that, we have a good chance to win some big games."

Season outlook?
"My focus is on this season and this team. I'm never satisfied with the past. I want to be the best I can be. I want to help my team to be successful."

"This is an opportunity for a lot of young guys to step up. I'm excited to get out there and see what the young guys can do."

UT Linebacker Eddie Moore

Can your defense be as good?
"That seems to be the biggest question of the day. I think a lot of people aren't taking into consideration our guys coming back now have played a lot of football and as far as the guys who left, they didn't play every snap of every game. So, I feel very confident about that."

Are you healthy now?
"The shoulder is fine. I had a great rehab. I'm just working with the trainers. I got back a lot quicker than people thought I would."

Season outlook?
"There's a lot of pressure. I don't know where we were picked, but we have to realize that doesn't matter until we get out on the field and play. We need to go out and show everybody we deserve to be where we were picked."

On dealing with young players
"I try to teach them the way the guy before me taught me really to understand the defense. There is a difference in learning the defense and really understanding the defense. They come to me and I try to help them out as much as I can. Whether it is a little bit after practice or coming over to my house to watch film, I just try to do everything that the guys above me did for me."


BamaMag Top Stories