Mullen Pushing The Last-Week Practice Pace

Suddenly that spring calendar is looking a whole lot shorter. So there was an April sense of urgency to Dan Mullen as he put the Bulldogs back on the practice fields for the 12th practice of the 2011 session. Urgency, and satisfaction. "It was a pretty good day today," said Mullen. "It was what I wanted in this last week."

The fact that Mississippi State is in the concluding week of camp did result in a busy Tuesday to-do list. Not that any Bulldog practice lacks for assignments, but this list was loaded. Some of it was items to address after the past Saturday's scrimmaging; and some was stuff not seen at Scott Field that day. Either way, Mullen and staff crammed a lot of snaps into a two-and-a-half hour afternoon.

"We're not going to ‘short' any reps at practice," the coach explained. "If somebody missed a rep at practice we've got to make sure we get it at the end."

And in the end Mullen appeared content with checking-off most matters on that list. Whether in unit drills, or team work, there was little down-time Tuesday. Even when much of the squad was assembled on one field for such specialty settings as placekicking, or kickoff and coverage, everybody else had something to be doing at the time.

Typically Mullen has used the first regular practice after a full scrimmage to address issues arising from the game-type practice. This was no exception, though because the Bulldogs had hit heavily on Saturday this was a ‘thud' sort of session; contact to the whistle without actual tackling. Based on scrimmage results and highlights, one Tuesday focus was inevitable.

"One, just a lot of the pass defense that we had to get cleaned up." said Mullen. So there might have been a few more full-team snaps than usual for a Tuesday devoted to throwing-and-catching and more so covering. It did result in a couple of interceptions during 8-on-8 drills, as QB Dylan Favre was picked by CB Josh Morris and QB Dak Prescott by MLB Brandon Wilson. First QB Chris Relf had a pass intercepted as well, though it came when WR Chris Smith slipped on his cut and the already-thrown ball ended up in CB Marvin Bure's hands.

With second S Nickoe Whitley (knee) still out after last week's injury, starting CB Johnthan Banks has shifted back to safety and runs either first or second team depending on the scripted situations. The standard first pair remains SS Charles Mitchell and FS Wade Bonner, and Banks paired with Dennis Thames. But in many of the third-down throwing drills Banks got the call ahead of Mitchell. With Banks shifted for the moment, Bure was promoted Tuesday to first cornerback opposite Corey Broomfield.

The first receiver rotation saw one change, as Arceto Clark moved up to the top group joining WR Chad Bumphis and Smith. Dropping down was WR Ricco Sanders, now with WR Sam Williams and WR Brandon Heavens. The third group remains Jameon Lewis, Robert Johnson, and Michael Carr.

It wasn't all running routes for these Dogs; with spring this far advanced the full-field work featured some field-stretching run plays to the perimeter by backs Vick Ballard and LaDarius Perkins. And a 2010 favorite, a receiver run, was seen again today with Carr breaking it nicely for the distance.

But such plays were the Tuesday exception. A defense that took a statistical beating Saturday responded, even if not allowed to actually tackle. In fact after just three snaps of team-on-team Mullen told the first offense to start over as they'd been routed each time by the defensive line. It still took seven snaps before there was a positive play, with a dump-off catch by Perkins from Relf. On his first hike #2 QB Tyler Russell caught Bumphis slicing between Banks and Bonner for a midfield grab that would have gone to the goal line easily.

That aside it was a good afternoon for a defense that had lost a few pride-points over the weekend, and Mullen liked how they bounced back. "They have to, that's part of it right now, the consistency. I think there's a lot of guys on the defensive side of the ball that are leaders, have to be leaders for us right now that are very inexperienced. They've got to learn how to be leaders all the time and not let a whole day go after Saturday and wait to respond today. That they can just do it all the time."

The offensive line welcomed Gabe Jackson back to first-team left guard for unit drills at least, though he did not participate in any serious work as he comes back from a strained knee last week. For anything involving contact it was Quentin Saulsberry still working at #1 left guard with juco Joey Trapp second. With Saulsberry back in his old role, redshirt Dillon Day is the first center ahead of Ben Beckwith. And after a rough week hiking, Day has gotten snaps under much better control and there were no turnovers or even high snaps in Tuesday team competition.

Left tackle continues a close contest. In the initial 8-on-8 interior running drills it was soph Blaine Clausell going first there; then once in team-on-team converted defensive tackle James Carmon was back with the #1s.

TB Nick Griffin has begun rehab from surgery to repair his ACL injury of late March with the goal of August availability. TE Marcus Green (knee) did not have to report to practice today as he recovers from last September's surgery, while fellow TE Kendrick Cook (back discs) is working unit drills only.

The defense has a few banged-up Bulldogs also. After being held out a few days #1 OLB Cameron Lawrence (thigh) was re-activated, even playing his part in contact periods on the first team. "He probably did more than we thought," Mullen said, "so that was good, we'll see how he feels tomorrow." First DE Devin Jones reported with a protective club—which he used to fine effect at the line of scrimmage—on his right hand. Jones was worked not just at end in interior drills, he saw snaps at both tackle positions as well.

For that matter defensive coordinator Chris Wilson mixed up his lineups more than usual Tuesday with varied combinations of first and second teams at the point of contact. Backup tackles Kaleb Eulls and Jeff Howie got a lot of work in, while when Jones went inside it was Trevor Stigers or Shane McCardell going first-team at the end opposite from #1 Sean Ferguson. Early enrollee John Harris got a few more reps than usual at end as well.

Tuesday also saw some kicking plays addressed, starting with placekicking and then moving to punt coverage (no returns). Getting first shots at gunners were WR Williams and Sanders, then Heavens and Clark. Derek DePasquale showed the kickoff leg well today. And even though not yet a leading candidate at return, when CB Jamerson Love didn't finish his runback Mullen chased him down to remind "You got caught by a kicker!" In fact, Brian Egan had got an angle and forced the return man out on the sideline.

"Then some other things offensively that maybe we haven't gotten enough reps of during spring," said Mullen of his to-do Tuesday list. "Or things we didn't do in the scrimmage. So we ran them a bunch today, and maybe that will set you back because it didn't look great. Because we're maybe not running perfect plays into great looks. But we needed to get the reps done so the guys can learn them."

Not just learn, but perfect. Even when Bumphis and Lewis, for examples, made excellent catches for good gains Mullen called them over to remind of some finer point about angles and leverages that would have made for even greater gains. That follows a Mullen mantra for this third spring. "We've got to be clean, and see some high-level performances on both sides of the ball. And we're doing that. We're going to get this team ready to go to the standard that we believe Mississippi State football should be."

Which means making the most of the last true practice of this spring. Because, Mullen agrees, the calendar has just about been completed.

"It is. That's why Thursday has got to be a great day to finish it up the right way. And Saturday is the fun day, we get hopefully 40,000 here and they get to go out and put on a show for everybody. So really Thursday is the big day, and Monday is kind of non-padded last day where we get everything organized for the off-season."

Mullen will have the Maroon-White draft on Thursday, with a divided staff and special guest coaches (to be announced officially Wednesday) picking their people from a scripted list of ‘paired' personnel. "We match names so if somebody picks Chris Relf the other team gets Tyler Russell. So there some strategy to all the draft I guess, of who you want and who you maybe want to make the other team take! Bumphis and Heavens go together, that type of stuff."

Also Wednesday, Mississippi State has scheduled an afternoon press conference to announce a major gift towards the planned football facility.

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