Cool Weather, Hot Pace Mark First Practice

Quentin Saulsberry has served his share of sweltering starts to training camp. So he wasn't at all complaining that the first day of his senior preseason began with a cool breeze and concluded indoors after an evening thunderstorm. "That's the best weather I've had for a first day!" he proclaimed.

Fortunately for Mississippi State more than the weather went right on opening day of 2011 practices. Coach Dan Mullen came away from the long initial session, lasting nigh onto three hours counting the move from practice fields to Palmeiro Center, satisfied with the results.

"I thought things went pretty smooth," said Mullen. And yes, he was in fact including the interruption which actually didn't spoil anything. "We were plotting it, when to come here," Mullen explained. "And we had a break right when we did come in." No, seriously, he added. "Last year we had a study of weather patterns that it rains between 4:00 and 5:00, 5:30 every single day here! I guess we should have gone from 4:00 to 6:00 and suffered through the heat!"

Not to worry, that will come soon enough. Regardless, it was a good day's work from Mullen's overall perspective.

"So we got what we needed to do when we were on the full field, and what we could get done in here we did. So it broke up pretty well."

Without, old Dog Saulsberry pointed out, any break in efficiency. In fact he though the divided session showed something promising about the squad. "It was good for the guys to go outside, and come inside, just to see the intensity level is. They got the best of both worlds on first day.

"It was a lot of intensity. The intensity level was high, the attitude was better than ever. I saw more guys flying to the ball, I thought it was the most energy."

Speaking of ‘best'…Saulsberry and Mullen alike agreed that this was the best opening day of their experiences at Mississippi State. And they didn't just mean from charitable weather. Mullen saw an efficient session in just about every standpoint that allowed the Bulldogs to get farm more done than usual at this initial stage. "It was a lot faster," said Mullen, though he actually expected this.

"There's a lot of guys that know what they're doing now, there's different expectations on the field. And then you see the bigger separation now; the young guys have no idea what is going on and ‘holy cow this is college football'. The old guys who have been through it, Chris Relf knows how to act and the tempo we expect is not a shock to him."

Then again Mullen made sure there was an up-tempo attitude from the start. No sooner had stretching finished than teams lined up for two-minute offense, the ones and twos against their counterparts with the reserves following. It worked because when that period transitioned to regular position drills everyone stayed involved with not a lot of stand-and-watching. After an hour or so the theme changed to 7-on-7 drills for the skills on each side while offensive and defensive linemen stayed in their working areas. At which point the rain finally arrived, just prior to a scheduled pause.

This was only tough on first-day fans who'd turned out in good numbers hoping to see some team-on-team drills. It happened, but all indoors with only media left to observe the passing-dominated periods with ones on ones, twos vs. twos, and so on.

If there was a stat-star for opening day it was senior S Charles Mitchell, as he picked off Relf twice. The first interception was in 7-man; the other in full-team as Relf hung a deep throw meant for WR Brandon Heavens, with Mitchell undercutting the route.

"Yeah, I got a couple of them thrown to me! That's one of my goals this year," Mitchell said. He wasn't the only ball-hawk of the evening though. Third team LB Jamie Jones intercepted Dylan Favre, as did cornerback and transfer Darius Slay. A series later Slay barely missed another pick of Favre. At least the #3 quarterback was able to get his squad on the board when WR Jameon Lewis beat freshman S Kendrick Market into the end zone.

#2 QB Tyler Russell was also picked off, by CB Jay Hughes. Relf was able to lead a touchdown drive against the first defense, taking it in from the five-yard line himself. Russell ought to have had a score to his credit on a completion to TE Malcolm Johnson, save the receiver slacked-up at the end where LB Jay Hughes could catch up and strip him.

Maybe Mullen might take the turnovers more seriously as camp progresses. For this first day out, he was more relaxed over such things as long as drills moved along promptly and guys—at least veterans—operated as experienced players should. "Just guys getting adjusted to being back out here. With older guys some recollection, with younger guys just trying to figure out how to line up, how to run to the ball, just what a college football practice is all about."

Friday they get to find out twice what college drills are about. Mullen will divide Friday into morning (9:00 start) and evening (7:00). Generally, it will be starters and freshmen in one session and second/third teams the other, though numbers might mean some mixing. Either way, "Everybody right now gets the same reps," Mullen said. "The threes get the same reps the ones get, so everybody gets the same opportunity. It's not like you're only getting sparing reps.

"Early on we try to get everybody going for the first couple of day, as equal reps as possible so when we do start to cut it down and there is a separation you're ready and everybody is ready to step into a role. Practice will be a little bit shorter because we're going to have less guys, but we're going to get more reps. We'll be two-deep at every position." That includes a Saturday split-sessions before returning to full-team work Sunday.

And, presumably, to more typical August temperatures. Talk about catching a break, ""I checked the ten-day and this was the only day it was going to be in the 100s," said Mullen, almost in regret. "Maybe we'll come indoors and turn the heat on! But most of the guys have been here with Matt Balis all summer so it's not something you worry about too much."

LINING THEM UP: As line Coach John Hevesy said Wednesday, James Carmon began camp as the #1 left tackle. But contrary to his projections, there was minimal sharing of such first-team snaps with his competitor. Instead Blaine Clausell ran almost exclusively with the second team. The first and second squads were the same as ended spring camp. True freshman Daniel Knox-on was the #3 left tackle.

There was a change in the first defense though, with redshirt and former safety Matthew Wells running number-one at outside linebacker. The spring leader, Chris Hughes, worked second team today. And while coordinator and line coach Chris Wilson has made it clear one of the d-end positions remains up for grabs, somebody had to get the first first-team snap. That went to Shane McCardell today, likely because in team drills the emphasis was on passing. Trevor Stigers is his alternate, though Corvell Harrison-Gay is right in that mix as well. Sean Ferguson is the established #1 on the other end.

Full depth chart updating will resume after Sunday's full-team drills.

FRESHMAN FACES: As noted already, juco defensive back Darius Slay got an interception in his first college day's work. He lined up at corner usually, while true frosh Kendrick Market and Dee Arrington were on the third team as safetys. Taveze Calhoun was at cornerback and Zachary Jackson a linebacker along with Benardrick McKinney. Preston Smith ran third-team at defensive end, opposite spring freshman John Harris. P.J. Jones and James Maiden were reserve defensive tackles.

RB Derek Milton moved in as #4 tailback, in the absence of injured redshirt Nick Griffin; while Justin Malone was fourth right tackle. Joe Morrow and Devin Fosselman got their rotation turns at wideout with Rufus Warren at tight end.

Also, though his clearance is not final, RB Josh Robinson was able to participate on the first day of drills. As he awaits expected final certification he can practice up to 21 days. But it was a rough start for the rookie, as he fumbled two kickoffs in early drills and had his evening end in full-team session with a gimpy right ankle.

Clemson transfer Brandon Maye, who has stated his goal of taking the middle linebacker job, opened camp on the third unit behind Brandon Wilson and Ferlando Bohanna.

PRESENT AND REPORTING: The opening-day roster listed the full 105 allowed by NCAA rules; 54 on offense, 43 defense, and eight specialists. Teams can add up to 15 more players when semester classes begin.

The last-minute addition to the roster was the final freshman to be cleared for eligibility. RB Josh Robinson received his NCAA certification just in time for the start of practices, and will wear #34. Not making the academic cut were defensive back Justin Cox and running back Shaquille Perry, the only non-qualifiers from February's recruiting class.

Not on the roster as of now are TB Nick Griffin and TE Kendric Cook. Griffin injured a knee late in spring and is on rehab track for activation in September, though he could be taking part in drills much sooner should someone on the current 105 drop off and he be cleared for work. Griffin was walking around the practice fields today with a brace on the left knee.

Cook is out with a neck injury and due for a medical status much like former OL D.J. Looney. Both are now assisting as student staffers. Mullen said in spring there was the chance Cook might return. But, "With the injury he had, narrowing of the spinal column, it's not something you want to mess with. The doctors didn't have a strong opinion either way but there was a risk if he did play, we talked multiple times and we let it go through the summer and said pray on it.Iit's a great decision for him and we're glad to have him out here helping us coach."

With the roster expanding in two weeks, State was able to select some walk-ons for first-day reporting and leave others to show up later. They included Reed Gordon, the walk-on tight end of a year ago who in spring earned the starting deep-snapping job. Other volunteers who have practiced before, either last fall or spring, were WR Randy Moulds, RB James Baldwin, OL Ben Beckwith, OL Corbin Stewart, S Ivan Muniz, S Asian Ruff, CB Jonathan Phillips, OL Paul Thompson, ATH McKellar Proffit, ATH Allen Tolbert, and DL Ethan McKee.

Newcomers for this fall are ATH Sam Cowart, a transfer from Mississippi College; RB James Baldwin of Birmingham-Vestavia Hills, ATH Kasey Akins from East Mississippi CC; ATH Taylor Higgason of Petal HS; OL Hunter Cunningham of East Webster HS; DL Allen Tucker of Demopolis AL; DL transfer Dewayne Cherrington from Holmes CC; and specialists Derrick Roos of Holmes CC and Winston Chapman from Fairhope, AL.

Not counted among the above are two others who walked-on last fall; specialists William Berg and Brian Egan, both reporting for practices as the #2s at punter and kicker respectively. Egan is the transfer from Western Illinois.

Also no longer counted among ‘walkons' even though they came here on their own initiative are varsity Dogs like #1 middle LB Brandon Wilson, CB Marvin Bure, FB Sylvester Hemphill, RB Adrian Marcus, and WR Sam Williams. All lettered last season. In all, some 28 players on this first roster either began careers as or are currently new walkons.

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