Dog Defense Mauls Offense In Thursday Work

Good thing the dining hall is open well into the evening. Because half of Mississippi State's spring squad was going to be arriving just a bit late. The offensive Bulldogs were still out on the practice fields, running drills on their own, long after the defense was allowed to depart. "They lost," shrugged Dan Mullen. "The winning team gets their Gatorade, the losing team gets their punishment."

Then again it would have been easy to argue that the Mississippi State offense had already taken enough punishment for the long afternoon. But the head coach was sufficiently dissatisfied with how that side of the squad performed through Thursday's scrimmage portion of practice that the guys in maroon jerseys had to hang around to work over-time. The white shirts? They were excused on schedule, saving only kickers, holders, and snappers, who according to PK Derek DePasquale are "always on the losing team."

Regardless, "The defense won today, that's why these guys are still running their sprints and the defense is enjoying their Gatorade," said Mullen. And the offense didn't just run sprints; they ran a whole lot of extra plays against empty air. All three offensive units had to run the two-minute sequences, unobstructed, the length of the field and back…then again, and again, and for good measure again.

For that matter not even the entire offense was totally at fault Thursday. Mullen was merciless in pointing out the obvious weak link(s) in the system. It was up front.

"Just sloppy. They were really sloppy," Mullen said. "Our receivers I thought made some big plays and the quarterbacks made some nice throws. The offensive line was just really, really bad."

Though, Mullen did add in the offensive line's, ummm, defense, they were operating under some stressed circumstances this 9th day of spring camp. First team LG Gabe Jackson was sidelined after a blow to the left knee in Tuesday's contact work that gave everyone a scare. The two-days later evaluation is a sprain, not ideal given that the front-five was already being rebuilt and needed all available bodies. But fortunately Jackson should have no extended absence.

"When he first did it I wasn't sure, but talking to the trainers right away they didn't really think it was much," Mullen said. "And he's a guy that's played a bunch of football, so we need him back just to keep the consistency. But we don't need to rush him back for reps. There are other guys that need some reps more than he does."

That became too obvious in the absence. With first RG Tobias Smith already out all spring, rehabbing from winter shoulder surgery, the Thursday adjustment was putting first OC Quentin Saulsberry back at his former guard spot; at left guard today. This did shore up that slot but created issues elsewhere as spring #2 center Dillon Day had a very rough afternoon. The redshirt freshman wasn't all that sharp with his shotgun snaps during last Saturday's scrimmage anyway, but today he was off-target even more no matter who was calling cadence.

The usually-high snaps either threw off the quarterback, or when he did make a better delivery the rookie struggled to execute his block. This was most true when the #1 defense was on the other side as tackles Josh Boyd and Fletcher Cox came through too easily. Later in the scrimmaging periods reserve C/G Ben Beckwith took over snapping for the first team some series.

At least the younger center knows what to work on, Mullen noted, though he added mental toughness to the list. More technically, "I mean, that's easy, you can get that fixed tonight; take a ball home and sit in your dorm and snap the ball ten thousand times and I imagine it will be pretty good tomorrow if you do that. That's got to be a commitment level out of our offensive line and our centers have really got to pick that up."

As the practice progressed there was another shuffle on the line, as soph Blaine Clausell moved up to first team at left tackle ahead of converted defensive tackle James Carmon. So by the end of the ninth day the first line was RT Addison Lawrence, RG Templeton Hardy, OC Day, LG Saulsberry, LT Clausell; backed by Archie Muniz, Damien Robinson, Beckwith, Paul Thompson, and Carmon.

"We've got a long way to go with the offensive line," Mullen said. "But it's a really young crew. So we'll get it figured out, John (Hevesy) will get them going in the right direction."

As for the gang guzzling Gatorade early, "It was a good performance," said Mullen. "The defense was great at times, because the offense was really bad; they were great at times because they did good; and there were really some glaring mistakes. And you're going to see that. But as we keep developing and teaching you want to see a consistent performance. And that's still not what we're seeing yet. But we have a lot of practice time to get that fixed."

Ironically it was the defense taking early-practice abuse from the coaches, the line in particular. In 8-on-8 interior running drills the blocking was better, the backs got gains, and when it was done the defensive linemen stayed behind for several sets of 50-yard up/downs as punishment. Perhaps this inspired that unit to better things once it went to team-on-team scrimmaging, because the d-line took command.

The linebackers didn't escape ire either. With regular #1 OLB Cameron Lawrence held out of contact today for unspecified reasons, Deonte Skinner got to run with the first team in that drill one snap before he was yanked in favor of Christian Holmes. But by the time team-work began Skinner had regained his temporary status as first-team.

The first and second defense did their jobs nicely on the initial pair of scrimmage series, stopping them quickly. It took #3 QB Dylan Favre hitting WR Arceto Clark inside the five-yard line to get something going, but not enough. Three snaps from short range were stopped and a field goal attempt by DePasquale was blocked. It became a somewhat similar story after #2 QB Tyler Russell hooked up with WR Michael Carr on a third-down swing pass that became a 40-plus yard gainer into the red zone. Again the offense had to settle for a kick attempt with Brian Egan missing.

DePasquale did bounce back and hit a 45-yard field goal after #1 QB Chris Relf had managed nice gains on throws to WR Chad Bumphis (had the pass led the receiver it would have been a touchdown) and WR Jameon Lewis. Favre and Lewis had a sharp connection in traffic against the second defense; then it was WR Ricco Sanders turning a sideline throw into a ten-yard scoring play. Relf got a touchdown pass of his own when Bumphis made a catch, a move, and a miss for a dive into the end zone. The other long gain came against the backup defense as Favre found WR Brandon Heavens open across the middle for a 50-yard play.

But such results were the exception and the first defense gave up very little, knocking the ball from Relf one series with LB Chris Hughes recovering. A Favre throw was batted at the line and picked by Skinner on a dive, and safety Dennis Thames came up with another tipped pick.

Mullen was pleased with such results, along with the general effort by his defense. "They were running around, excited, coming from everywhere. The biggest problem I had was the mistakes were glaring mistakes. There were a lot of big plays, which I love, but we've got to get the other things cleaned up."

Injuries have forced some shifts on the defense this week, too. With regular #2 safety Nickoe Whitley sidelined by a knee sprain, instead of just promoting a backup State moved 2010 cornerback Johnthan Banks back to his 2009 safety slot. He was paired with first SS Charles Mitchell in running drills. For full-field pass coverage it was usually still Mitchell and Wade Bonner, with Banks and Thames the next pair and Louis Watson mixing in.

Today's cornerback depth charts were Corey Broomfield, Damien Anderson, and Jamerson Love on the right side; Marvin Bure, Jay Hughes, and Josh Morris the left. But such orders weren't always clear when State coaches began mixing in players with different groupings, for mid-camp evaluations Mullen said.

"We were rotating guys. Because when you do this, you want to throw guys in. there's a lot of guys we've seen make a lot of plays. When we get in situations sometimes you have a limited number of reps at practice and a limited amount of time. So I don't need to feel great that Charles Mitchell is going to make the plays at safety, I feel pretty good about that. I want to make sure all the other guys get all the reps that they need."

Mullen said he hopes to get Whitley on-field again before camp concludes. "He'll be out the rest of this week, and possibly back for Tuesday just depending. The earliest he'll be back it Tuesday, but nothing big." The tight end corps is operating short-handed these days. First TE Marcus Green can practice but not scrimmage as he comes back from a fall knee injury, and now veteran Kendrick Cook is being held out due to a spinal situation.

"Right now we're just waiting to hear, they're doing some more test on it and it's really just precautionary. He's fine, he wants to play, but they're doing more precautionary tests before he's allowed to do any contact." TB Nick Griffin (knee ligament) is done for spring.

The Bulldogs are back on the field Friday for what Mullen calls "a much lighter day," though that is a relative term. He doesn't plan to push the team too hard in advance of Saturday's 10:00am scrimmage at Scott Field, which will be a game-type session and critical to setting some summer depth standings.

So for Friday "We'll kind of clean-up a lot of the things we did today. A little bit more individual, a lot more slow it down, teaching, than full, live stuff. But we'll probably still be pretty physical, because I like physical football."

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