Well, almost satisfied. Though what was lacking for the coach was beyond either his control or Bulldog efforts. Only two days down and already Mullen is getting antsy for some real spring hitting, which begins next week. For these initial sessions the only armor has been helmets…not that lack of padding has prevented some ‘accidental' contact during a few offense vs. defense drills of course. No rulebook is going to keep these Dogs from laying licks after the ball is hiked, especially in full-team periods.
Still Mullen did show a shade of impatience over having to restrict the rattling so far, such as when asked the inevitable generalized opinion of practices so far.
"They look pretty good, I guess. We don't have any pads on yet so I don't know. It's not real hard to look good in shorts, I could put one of you guys in shorts and run them around and be feeling pretty good!" A gross overstatement of course given the athletic credentials of Mississippi State media.
Certainly none of the folk watching Saturday's practice, most of them visiting prospects and families, wanted to see any reporter running around the field. What they did get to observe—indoors at least--was a practice devoted for a second day mostly to the passing game and corresponding coverage. Whether in 7-on-7 or team-on team the ball was going in the air, which was in keeping with Mullen's early-camp attitude.
"It was a lot of passing. It doesn't do much without being in pads the first two days to do any physical inside-run. So a lot of our focus, and we really started that last spring, is to get into a pass emphasis in early practices."
Both halves of the pass/cover equation had their highlights to please fans of either aspect. During the 7-on-7 ladder segment, TE Kendrick Cook beat the first defense for a long grab over on the sideline from Chris Relf. But soon after another Relf throw ended up in the hands of rookie LB Matthew Wells. That segment concluded when WR Michael Carr beat S Charles Mitchell down the left numbers for a touchdown, though the senior safety stayed with it to slap the ball free just across the goal line.
Team work was even more entertaining, such as when QB Dylan Farve escaped pressure to unload long pulled in by WR Arceto Clark. Though a series or so later Favre's protection collapsed and while officially a non-contact practice DE Sean Ferguson and company banged the passer around sufficiently to jar the ball free. Later on it was S Louis Watson picking Farve off deep. The backup offense responded though as freshman QB Dak Prescott picked on the second defensive backfield for a touchdown strike down the middle to WR Jameon Lewis.
Saturday's first receiver rotation, at least in regular three-wide sets, was slotman Chad Bumphis with wideouts Chris Smith and Ricco Sanders. The second group had Brandon Heavens slotted and both Arceto Clark and Sam Williams split out. Afterwards the groups mixed in other combinations such as Lewis in slot with wide men Carr and Robert Johnson.
Day-two did get the running backs move invested in passing patterns as well. At times both Vick Ballard and LaDarius Perkins were combined in the backfield; otherwise Sylvester Hemphill and Adrian Marcus alternated at fullback.
After operating out of some revised front-fives Thursday, this practice had the expected two-deep on the lines. The first unit was Addison Lawrence, Damien Robinson, Quentin Saulsberry, Gabe Jackson, and James Carmon; backed up respectively by Archie Muniz, Templeton Hardy, Dillon Day, Ben Beckwith, and Blaine Clausell. The third unit was Eric Lawson, Nick Redmond, Corbin Stewart, Paul Thompson, and Joey Trapp.
The only change on the defensive front from day-one was the return of Ferguson after a bout of Thursday flu. He worked with the first unit as expected, joining DE Devin Jones and tackles Josh Boyd and Fletcher Cox. They were backed by ends Trevor Stigers and Shane McCardell, tackles Kaleb Eulls and Jeff Howie.
The first linebackers were unchanged initially, with MLB Wilson and outside ‘backers Cameron Lawrence and Chris Hughes. Unlike Thursday, Mike Hunt and Deonte Skinner both got to take more turns in place of Hughes as these run-stopping veterans were given some work in pass rush and coverage too.
Jamie Jones and Ferlando Bohanna are the backup middle-men, while redshirts Wells and Christian Holmes are very much in contention for rotation spots outside.
Cornerbacks are getting competitive again this spring. While Johnthan Banks is well set at the right end of things, there has been shuffling and shuttling among other cover-men to each side as everyone has gotten plenty of practice snaps. Damein Anderson and Marvin Bure took turns at one corner and then swapped sides; while Corey Broomfield holds his lead over those as well as frosh Jay Hughes and Jamerson Love. For all the air-game work done to date, there's been no sight of a true nickel package just yet, though as Mullen noted Thursday new linebacker Wells for one is filling a hybrid nickel position.
The cycling of personnel is naturally a way to test individual abilities, but Mullen explained today some of the mixing and matching is to test intangibles.
"We're putting guys in different situations. A lot of times I want to see some leadership. A guy that runs with the ones, I want to see with the twos what type of leadership they have. Also, an older guy can go with the twos and the threes and pick that group up a little bit because he raises the level of play for everybody else."
One open position is punting, where Baker Swedenburg is getting a real challenge from William Berg. On Thursday both hit the ball very well in semi-rush drills, though Mullen isn't handing out any easy praise just yet. "At times both those guys you'll see pound out 65-yard punts and you're like wow; then you'll see them shank one. So they have to learn it's not just the one, it's the consistency." Following practice, while much of the team left, the placekickers hung around for their own drills. Derek DePasquale and transfer Brian Egan matched field goals, without any rush.
Mullen has had to adjust his spring schedule once, working Thursday instead of Friday in anticipation of the same rains that forced Saturday's session indoors. Now the Dogs can get back on track as they don't work again until Tuesday. "We'll give our guys a break tomorrow, let our coaches go see their families," Mullen said. "We'll watch the film on Monday and be back out Tuesday. So it will be a chance for the coaches to get caught-up and for guys to get ready to go when we put pads on." Even as he said that the coach lit up a little in anticipation of some real football practicing Tuesday and Thursday prior to their long spring break.
Because, he expects the next thunder-and-lightning to come from how his Dogs are hitting each other.
"We're going to be pretty physical next week, we get to go pads so that will be pretty physical practices. And it will be a lot more emphasis on first down and run because we've gotten a lot of emphasis the first two days of pass."