Dogs Keep Hits Coming As Spring Work Resumes

For the first three working weeks of camp that infamous ‘Pit' where injured Bulldogs go to rehab was occupied by just a pair, both the result of scheduled winter surgeries. But now it appears the Pit's population is expanding as an intense stretch of practicing is taking its spring toll.

When Mississippi State resumed work Tuesday, there were two additions to the injury list. Then by the end of the day the roster likely grew by one more, as first-team OG Gabe Jackson went down during a full-team contact period. The injury occurred in a pile-up with, apparently, CB Corey Broomfield diving in late and Jackson taking a blow to the right knee.

Jackson had to be helped off and after practice struggled to put weight on the right leg. As to status, "We'll know that in a couple of days," Coach Dan Mullen said. "I didn't get to see it clearly. We'll see it on film, and get it checked out."

Even before Tuesday work began there were others on the sideline. Most serious is freshman TB Nick Griffin, who hurt his left knee on an awkward fall last Friday during a passing drill. Initially it seemed just a sprain but today a torn ligament was found. "Nick has an ACL," Mullen said. "Hopefully he'll be back for week-one." Whether that is of August camp or the 2011 season depends on whether the tear requires surgery, presumably.

#2 strong safety and first nickel safety Nickoe Whitley also has a hurting knee, the right one, a result of the Saturday scrimmage. He observed much of the practice after release from the Pit and might be able to return. Already out for spring were #1 right guard Tobias Smith as he recovers from winter shoulder surgery, and backup center Sam Watts following off-season work on a foot. State has been short on tight ends lately, too. Marcus Green is being held out of contact drills as he comes back from September knee repair, but can practice with his unit otherwise.

Thus things have gotten very busy for the training staff just as Mississippi State reached half-way point of spring training. "A couple of guys got dinged-up," agreed Mullen. "But they get dinged-up every day." Besides, the head coach himself is ‘playing' with pain. As a result of a pre-vacation weight workout, when he tried to keep pace with LB Cameron Lawrence in a leg press workout, Mullen has two bulging discs in his back. The coach was moving awkwardly during last week's practice when he first admitted the ‘injury, and he even took an epidural shot Monday to ease the pain.

"They told me not to run and still be careful, but I better so I felt more like myself!" he claimed today. "I forget that I'm getting a little bit older, if you're around 19, 20, year olds all the time you feel younger. Then you get woken-up sometimes."

More seriously, the number—and as importantly, specific names—of State players now either limited for the rest of spring, out of remaining practices, or even questionable now for the 2011 season, would appear reason for concerns. And after Jackson was helped to the sideline Mullen did relax that particular drill slightly with no more tackling-to-ground and a quicker whistle.

But anyone thinking this coach is going to change his practice ways radically…nope. Because, Mullen said, for all the health distractions, Tuesday's drilling did live up to how he wants the program to operate year-round. Effort-wise, anyway.

"I liked it. I liked the intensity of the kids," Mullen said, adding "I'm disappointed in out execution. Today we kind of simplified things down to the basics. But it felt like a Mississippi State practice, kind of high-intensity, high-energy, tough, physical practice."

Rugged workouts are nothing new of course, and the Bulldogs have had two whole days to recover from their Saturday situational scrimmage. So this was not a case of being tough just for toughness' sake. Mullen also said that Tuesday's practice script addressed some of the technical items he saw in reviewing the scrimmage. For one, "We just tried to simplify some things and let guys play fast."

Such as on the offensive side of the trench. The blocking had some rough stretches during the scrimmage, in both the run and pass games but more noticeably the latter. So protection items got plenty of work today. That included not just the full-team work, but a long period devoted entirely to one-on-one blocking between offensive and defensive linemen. Given the nature of the drill the would-be tackler generally had some advantage and it showed, but as things went on blockers did break even more often.

Once into team-on-team again the defense tended to score more often, with the offense gradually getting a grip on things. Issues on the front were anticipated this spring anyway with the need to replace left tackle Derek Sherrod and center J.C. Brignone. Mullen pointed out the rebuilding goes a little deeper.

"We only lost two starters on the offensive line from last year's team; but we lost thee more that were in the two O-line. So when you're looking at that youth and inexperience at that position, we've really got to keep some things simple." Now the uncertain status of Jackson makes things that much more worrisome up front, especially with Smith out at right guard all spring. Nor would line coach John Hevesy want to move '10 starter Quentin Saulsberry back to a vacant guard spot now that he is practicing as the starting center.

By the end of the day the first line ran, right to left, Addison Lawrence, Templeton Hardy, Saulsberry, Joey Trapp, and James Carmon. The second group for now becomes Eric Lawson, Damien Robinson, Dillon Day, Ben Beckwith, and Blaine Clausell. Last week Hardy surpassed Robinson at right guard.

There was plenty of good contact in interior running drills prior to team work, with no changes on the defensive front where versatile Devin Jones remains a #1 end opposite Sean Ferguson. Whitley's injury did adjust the backfield though. While SS Charles Mitchell and FS Wade Bonner remain the first pair, Louis Watson was promoted to second group alongside Dennis Thames. In at least one late team-drill starting CB Johnthan Banks even lined up at the sort of safety slot he played as a true 2009 frosh.

The team-on-team certainly looked like a scrimmage, when starting QB Chris Relf was team-tackled by LBs Brandon Wilson and Chris Hughes. He'd earlier burned the defense with a big strike to WR Chris Smith. In that series Tyler Russell subbed in after a set number of snaps for Relf, and completed the drive by going to again Smith as the wideout beat Banks and Bonner for a 60-yard touchdown. Russell did get picked-off by backup S Jay Hughes later.

All joking about hitting the quarterbacks ended as soon as Jackson went down, though, and the rest of the way there was some slight checking-up. This favored the offense, as against the second defense tailbacks Robert Elliott and LaDarius Perkins each broke clean through the middle and were gone for long gainers.

Still Mullen was generally satisfied with the intensity. "And we got after some guys. Guys were coaching hard out there, guys were playing hard. That was a pretty physical practice coming off of the scrimmage. That's what I like." Yes, even as guys get dinged-up by greater or lesser degrees, the hits will keep coming for the rest of this camp. Especially the rest of this week.

"It will be real physical again Thursday, lighten up a little Friday, and then the big scrimmage. We'll go over to the stadium Saturday morning. So we'll try to go a physical day, and tomorrow they're off; so physical/day off, physical/day off, physical." And in case anyone misses the point, "I like to be physical!"

Besides, the coach reminds, this is the half-way point and so much remains to be done.

"Because you're sitting there through eight practices right now, we've got seven left; one of them is no-pads, one of them is the spring game. So guys have got to take some big strides over the next week-and-a-half."

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