Mullen Energized To Start Third State Spring

He's so eager to get his team together and on a practice field, even mention of storms due the day spring drills begin doesn't dim Dan Mullen's mood. "Well, it's been beautiful, so I imagine we're going to have a nice cold front come through with some snow. It always seems to hit as soon as we get on the field. But you know what, we'll play in some stormy weather, so tough luck for you guys!"

We ‘guys' being the usual media lot assembled to query the coach about Mississippi State spring football. The semester session opens Friday afternoon at 4:00, weather or not, with the first of 14 scheduled working Bulldog dates. Mullen has not booked the 15th available practice day so far, preferring to save it for use at a time of later choosing. Most likely, a time after camp officially concludes April 9 with his third spring game.

As will be discussed more in the following transcript, Mullen's third spring itself is different in that there will be four workouts (March 4, 5, 8, 10) prior to the University break; with work resuming two whole weeks later and still relatively spread-out. That is to keep just enough of a practice pace for consistency but still extend the session late enough for a ‘Super Saturday' spring game.

Another and likely more meaningful difference is barely mentioned here, but has been addressed by Mullen in a previous interview with Dawgs' Bite filed two weeks ago. Specifically, that for his third act Mullen will work with a team that has just experienced serious success in the form of a 9-4 season, another Egg Bowl victory, and the New Years Day romp over Michigan. So how is that a potential pitfall? That, now he is working with winners instead of guys starved for success. And, of course, that some of the leading lights of 2010 are currently preparing for another level of the game as NFL prospects.

Yet this is exactly the stage Mullen had intended to bring Mississippi State to. So it is reasonable to believe he is equally prepared to alter the approach and keep pushing the program forward. No wonder, then that Mullen began by stating:

"I'm excited to get back out there on the field. It is a little bit different than what we've done in the past, obviously, splitting up practice over spring break. And we're back on the field a little earlier than we have been. But seeing the guys on our team they're ready go get back out there, I'm excited to get back out there, and start watching our guys play some football."

Q: Will anyone miss spring or be limited with injuries? "Tobias Smith, I don't know if he'll do anything this spring with that shoulder surgery he had in January. He can run around fine with the arm pinned to his side! It was from during the season, he finished out the season. Everybody else will be limited here and there, able to do certain things, I think he's the only one that's not going to be involved in most of the spring drills.

"Chad Bumphis is full-go, he's been cleared for over a month. Marcus Green will be limited but he'll be out there doing things. Curtis Virges, Archie Muniz, all those guys that have gone through some different surgeries and issues, we expect all of them to be if not full-go then partial-go. Sam Watts is another one, there's some guys with some issues but nothing that should hold them all out."

Q: Besides James Carmon to left tackle are there any position changes? "Not lately. I don't want to throw you off, because if we did they were done a long time ago. But I don't really see anything that's majorly different with guys moving around the field."

Q: Are there going to be a lot of new faces at some positions, like linebacker? "Yes, some. The linebacker position is guys that have been out there and played, but it's some new faces when the one-defense goes out there. And you'll see."

"But this well be the first practice with this team. That happens every year, there's always going to be new faces. Friday will be kind of be the football birth. I know this team was born back in January and we've been working together, but it is our first opportunity for this team to be on the field. And we have to see how this team gels and how this team is molded into hopefully a championship caliber team."

Q: On the defense, what will be changing with three new linebackers and different coaches? "I don't see that changing at all. The coaching staff we're not going to change that, we're just going to tweak to the personnel that we have this year. I've said my concern when I walk out there on the field is not going to be not seeing coaches out there; not seeing Pernell McPhee, K.J. Wright, and Chris White are going to have me a lot more concerned than any lack of coaches or different coaches out on the field!"

"But those guys are going to have to step up, some young guys. Cameron Lawrence played a whole lot and Chris Hughes so that sam-linebacker spot is wide open and it was pretty much rotated all through last year. But the two inside linebacker spots, its' going to be a wide-open game. A Deonte Skinner, Mike Hunt, Jamie Jones are guys that have been in the program. Christian Holmes, Ferlando Bohanna, Brandon Wilson, all of those guys, now is there opportunity for somebody to step to the forefront. Now it's their time to go make the plays and they can't just sit there and rely on anybody else."

Q: Was there anything you saw in December with the young guys that can carry over? "Yeah. I'm hoping it gave them some foundation, that they're ready to pick up right where we left off. They got a lot of reps in that week that we used as a prep-week that they weren't going to get if we didn't get to a bowl game, or weren't going to get even in game-prep week. So hopefully that got them a lot of extra snaps that keeps everything a little bit fresher in their mind and gets them a little bit closer to ready to play come next September."

Q: What are your thoughts about working around spring break? "It will be interesting, I've never done this before. It will be interesting to see how it plays out for us. I know a lot of people do it, so you can talk to everybody and find pros and cons of doing it every different way. This is our first time trying it and we'll see how it works out for us."

QB: Talk about quarterback competition with Dak Prescott joining Tyler Russell and Dylan Favre? "It should be great. It should be a wide-open race. I think you're going to see everybody repping with every group and us just rolling quarterbacks through. Les (Koenning) and I talk, every three plays and a new guy goes in. So if we're going six reps with the ones it will be two different quarterbacks during that series. Just throw them in and out and how they respond to a lot of different situations."

Q: What is the feedback from Coach (Matt) Balis on off-season conditioning? "Good. We're around them a lot in the off-sesaon, and I like the attitude of our team. I like the approach, they've come back to work harder than we have in the past. And that's a hard thing, one of the biggest things you come to deal with, and Matt and I always talk about, these guys now have worked really hard and got to see some success and people are patting them on the back. They have to understand they have to work even harder now. That is what is needed for us to take the next step, and I think they have."

Q: How have the mid-semester guys adapted to the weight program? "It's a shock to the system! Because usually they haven't been through anything like that. Nick Redmond has taken 30 pounds off his body and thrown it all onto John Harris! I think they're roommates, too, so it's like some metamorphosis in the middle of the night or something!"

"For those guys it's just very different for them. But I always think the opportunity to come in mid-semester makes the transition very much, much easier for high school players. Because they get to come in, they get to go through an off-season to see how had they're expected to go. And also the spring ball being spread out, where (August) training camp is piled up on top of each other, it's a much better learning environment. I think that is what gives these guys an advantage or a leg up on everybody else."

Q: What does a guy like Russell or Favre or even Prescott have to do to challenge for that first-team spot with Chris Relf? "We grade everything. So they have to complete passes, take care of the football, manage the offense, get us into the right plays, make good decisions, all of those things. Like we will at every position, what we'll do at the end of spring we'll evaluate where we are, who performed where, and that will at least give us a starting point to start off fall camp and go from there."

"A lot of those decisions are not made until really game week at a lot of positions. That's where the competition, and hopefully even past game week the competition always keeps going. But they're going to have the opportunity every day to make plays and prove themselves, and over the whole body of work is something we'll evaluate, not just one scrimmage or one day or any of that stuff. We'll evaluate the whole body of the work going into next season."

Q: What do you want to see out of the wide receivers this spring? "Well, you saw some improvement, I saw a lot of improvement in the bowl game. I guess I look at different things. To me, how are they blocking, are they running routes, are they getting off man coverage; more than catching and running with the ball. It's all the intricacies of playing the position. And I think that's what is hard. A lot of these guys are so athletic, sometimes in high school they can get away with athleticism at the receiver position. When you get to college now you're facing, especially in this conference, primo players every single week that you don't have an athletic advantage over. So it becomes a much different deal, you have to win with skill, you have to win with your fundamentals. The development of those players, learning those fundamentals, developing within those fundamentals is huge."

"The tough thing now is our older players are now older players with some young guys there to look-up to; but they never had anyone to look up to. I think that is the toughest thing that the Chris Smiths and the Bumphis' and the Brandon Heavens', they didn't have those older guys. They came in and had to play right away, they didn't have older guys sitting there saying OK, this is how you go through training camp, this is how you go through off-season, this is how you prepare for spring ball. Those are the extra things that we do. They've had to kind of learn that on their own from us and I think that hurts their development; so hopefully with them in place showing younger guys how to do things it will accelerate the development of our younger players."

Q: Does it feel good to have Marcus Green again? "Yeah, he made some plays. He's very athletic, a tough miss-match guy. We're going to be careful with him in the spring, because he's played football before, I know a little bit of what he can do. We just have to get him comfortable and ready to be back on the field."

Q: What concerns you about Carmon at tackle? "Just the learning curve, of getting used to the offense, learning the offense, knowing not just what to do but how to do and how to utilize the offense to the best of his ability. He has all the talent in the world, it is going to be working on his fundamentals, understanding the offense and how to use the offense to help him be a better player."

Q: Have you done anything to help him? "I think him and Quentin Saulsberry, they've told me they've spent a lot of time together. Quentin is a senior guy, and Addison Lawrence and some of the older guys, of really spending the extra time with him to get him sped-up and ready to go take on that role."

Q: Are you looking forward to seeing Saulsberry at center? "It will be interesting. The benefit is when you look at last year Quentin, Tobias, Gabe Jackson all rotating, now there is just no rotation. Even though Tobias will be out for the spring he's there (for the season), so really there is just one new starter in my mind if you take those other three as starters and Quentin going to center; then with Tobias, Gabe, and Addison you're returning four starters in the offensive line. Which is a big advantage, that's where you want to be strong, on both sides of the line."

Q: Would you call the move of Carmon experimenting or tinkering? "It's permanent right now to me! But there are situations that can come up. A lot of it is depth-based, we're an injury or two away in the defensive line where there's no choice but have to have him go back. But in our mind that's a permanent move, and all things going the right direction he will be your starting left tackle."

Q: What do you want to see from Vick Ballard and the running backs? "The great thing, I think there are some backs that are tremendously talented. Vick is just such a hard worker, he kind of out-works people to be the man at tailback for us. But there are some guys with enough talent at that position to make that an interesting competition coming in. And hopefully allow us to do what we did last year and rotate backs and keep guys fresh. You get to see the emergence of Vick Ballard maybe being taken away in a game and people really focusing on him; and there goes LaDarius Perkins having huge games at the end of the year. That's where we want to be, is have that balance where you can't just take away one player and slow us down."

Q: How flexible is the early depth chart and how important is it? "Huge, I think it's already changed for day-one! I don't pay much attention to depth charts, so probably what you saw will be very different when we break the first huddle on Friday! And on Saturday it might be different again, and the following Tuesday you'll probably see a different lineup when we break the huddle!"

Q: You will probably have four guys drafted, how big is it for the program for players to see that? "I think it will be great. You know our guys last year that went on, it kind of shows a little bit in our program the development of our players to have Kyle Love play with the Patriots and Jamar Chaney and Anthony Dixon both get starts as rookies in the NFL; the development that they got here. Because they didn't walk in as first-round stars. So they had work ethic and approach to the game that hopefully this year's group with them. As they continue their career playing professional football we hope the best for them."

"And it's scary, because we look out there and some good players are not going to be there. But for us in this program it just shows how hard those guys worked, how much they bought-in to this program. And hopefully a lot of our younger players see that, that ‘if I work as hard as Pernell McPhee, if I work as hard as Derek Sherrod and K.J. Wright and Chris White, I'm going to have more opportunities past college to play football'."

Q: When will Pro Day be? "Next Thursday, March 10. It will be closed, we let those guys do their thing with all the NFL teams."

Q: Is defensive end one of your biggest concerns? Well, because we had a great player leave there and a guy that played a lot of plays; and nobody else that is really a proven guy at that position. The depth at that position right now is really scary for us, having young players not in the program any more that you developed, guys that are supposed to step into the role with what happened to Nick Bell. You feel that on the field too, because our program is based on the development of players. You like to see guys come in and develop throughout their career and improve. And when you're faced with not just an emotional tragedy but also leaves a big hole on our roster for a guy we thought would be a great player for us."

Q: You know it's supposed to storm Friday? "Is it? Well, it's been mid-70s, beautiful weather. So I imagine we're going to have a nice cold front come through with some snow in the next couple of weeks. It always seems to hit that as soon as we get on the field. But you know what, we'll play in some stormy weather, so tough luck for you guys!"

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