Wideouts Hitting Practice Field At Full-Speed

Angelo Mirando claims everyone in his meeting room ought to be full-strength. Well, maybe there is some question about the receivers coach himself, after weekend unwinding during the retreat at head coach Dan Mullen's lakehouse in Georgia. "My back is killing me," Mirando admits about some boyish games these grown men played during their last summer break.

Sore or not, look for Mirando to be right back exerting himself same as always this evening when Mississippi State opens preseason practices. And ‘exert' is the right word for it. Even before promotion to full-time status on Mullen's staff, Mirando participated in Bulldog drills with the verve of a player. Don't look for him to relax his personal practice pace either.

"We'll coach the crap out of them," says Mirando, who takes a very active hand in workouts.

In fact the youngest member of the MSU staff will need all his energy this preseason because there's more ‘them' to coach this preseason. When Mullen took over, bringing along this then-graduate aide, he made clear there weren't enough SEC-caliber receivers on the roster. Not one-third enough, in fact. Three recruiting campaigns have just about filled up the list to Mullen's minimum at last…but with numbers comes increased responsibility for their position coach.

"We've got ten scholarships right now, and (veteran walk-on) Sam Williams has worked himself into a two right now," counts Mirando. "Of course that always changes, that is just going into camp. So yeah, there are eleven guys. And if we have two young freshmen step up we can put them out there."

This good numbers-news implies even more promise for the pass-catching corps, albeit qualified by their coach's ‘just going into camp' comment. Better yet are the reports Mirando has gotten from summer sessions. Sure, the report-ers are the players themselves. Even so everything and everybody is upbeat for August.

"Well, what they tell me is they've had one of the best summers running routes and that they know the offense," says Mirando. "We'll see, that's what they tell me! The quarterbacks say the same thing, so… I'm always worried, you know! You just want to take care of your guys and make sure they're doing things right and everything is perfect." Along that line, everyone seemed to come out of summer weight and conditioning work well. Very well, if video evidence indicates.

"Sam ‘tweeted' a picture (of himself) and I'm like, man!" laughs Mirando at how some Dog wideouts are showing off their new and improved physiques. "They said they're in great shape and can run all day. And they will run all day. We practice at high intensity, that's what we expect of you."

Just about perfectly capable on the physical front, too. "We met with Coach (Matt) Balis yesterday, he went through what everyone did in the summer, and everyone seemed to be healthy." That includes split end Chris Smith who ran afoul of a summer incident at home that left him with a broken jaw. The Meridian native formally reported ready to go, though. "The metal is out of there, I guess!" Mirando quips. "He seems to be doing well. I expect every guy out there."

At one time today, he means. Because this is the second preseason where Mullen will have a couple of split-squad dates. On Friday and Saturday the head coach will, tentatively, combine the first teamers and alternates with fourth-group guys for a session; then come back with the second and third team players in another. It is a great way to stay within limits for total practice time for every individual player, but still get everyone as many early-camp snaps as practical.

This is a challenging approach to line coaches John Hevesey and Chris Wilson given their numbers, or perhaps lack thereof at a position or two at this point. Mirando has plenty of guys to fill out all route-running jobs in either session by contrast, so his trick is how to split the ends.

"Old guys, young guys," he figures. Not so much in separate sessions, as a blend of the two for a very specific reason. "I'm going to try to put the older guys in leadership roles so they can go with the freshmen. Old guys, young guys, it's pretty simple.

"There's no set depth chart; there is one for reps and who goes out there now, but every job is up for grabs. There are guys going into day-one of camp number ones which is always subject to change."

True, because Mirando has worked long enough with Mullen to appreciate the boss' desire to keep camp competition tight as possible. Making it clear to everyone that no job is secure is the obvious approach. This is no insult to proven playmakers, either; just a spur to their pride to keep ahead of this new season's curve.

All that understood…the Dog expected, even demanded, to set a tone is an obvious choice. Mirando is telling Chad Bumphis to do more than lead in receiving stats--which the junior has done in his first two State seasons—but to take charge of all intangibles this season. Mirando, who knows whereof he speaks, compares Bumphis' role to that of former Florida superstar Percy Harvin…

…though "I don't like making that comparison at all because Percy was the freak of all freaks. He needs to be a leader, though, and needs to develop all aspects of the game. He can't be all buddy-buddy with guys at times, when it's time to work it's time to work. He needs to take that leadership role." The good news comes from informal off-season sessions.

Coaches can't supervise in summer; but a lead Dog can. Mirando reports, second-hand, that Bumphis and classmates Smith, Clark, and Heavens accepted the responsibility. That bodes very well for redshirts and true rookies when they line up this afternoon. For Mirando too, in fact.

"The amazing thing is when the players are coaching each other up, it makes our job easy. When Chad is teaching Devin (Fosselman) and Jameon (Lewis) how to run a route, I don't have to go out there. And that's what I expect these younger guys to start doing."

Speaking of the younger guys, Fosselman and Joe Morrow are the two frosh Mirando was referring to. For day-one the 6-4 Morrow will be introduced as an outside (either field- or boundary-) receiver, while Morrow gets first crack at inside duty. State has lacked a true ‘tall target' with real downfield speed and Morrow hopefully fills that void. "Physically Joe can do it," Mirando says. "Again it's a mental thing, did he work hard over the summer." Instead, the coach jokes, of spending his evenings occupied with the combat games Morrow brags about.

Fosselman would seem to have the tougher task; not for lack of potential, but because the inside slot (‘H') is perhaps the deepest position on the whole Bulldog lineup. Bumphis, Heavens, and Lewis are 1-2-3 there already. Mirando has an easy answer though: play more than one H at a time, and do it more often. Besides, as shown last season often, Bumphis and Heavens got lots of chances to rush off end-arounds and reverses or just take a direct snap. Lewis is of the same mold, which is why he spent a lot of last fall playing scout team quarterback to prep the Dog defense for ‘wild' formations.

"And those guys are on special teams," reminds Mirando. "So I believe you can never have too many of those. And it's very simple: we're going to play our best players, whoever that is."

Out of opportunity, he means; not out of sheer necessity as was the case when Bumphis-Smith-Heavens were freshmen thrown into SEC action immediately. "That hurt our passing game the first year," says the coach. But it paid off in excellent 2010 results, and now should produce third-year veterans ready to coach-up the new kids.

For that matter even those who played as rookies last year, such as Michael Carr, who now have the advantage of serious spring coaching to go with hard experience. Even Clark, a first-teamer in spring, is still a little behind others after missing 2009 under suspension and practicing at cornerback anyway. Then all Clark did was show off in the Gator Bowl, much as Smith had in the Egg Bowl after Bumphis went out with a shoulder injury.

Mirando expects bigger things from veteran Carr and redshirt Robert Johnson after their (admittedly differing) first years in the system. Literally bigger as both are the physical pass-catchers State wants to work in traffic. The fresh(man) presence of Morrow will give both a healthy push as well. Not so long ago MSU had to put new guys on the field ready or not. Now, it's up to them to earn playing time.

"We have these kids in camp, how bad do you want to play? Do you want to redshirt or do you want to play?" says Mirando. "And it's very simple: we're going to play our best players, whoever that is."

Because Mirando doesn't mind hurting any feelings. His back, maybe…but not player feelings.

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