Saturday Morning Practice Report/Notebook

Temperatures weren't all that was rising Saturday morning. Lots of tempers were spiking as well during Mississippi State's practice session. Whether it was coaches barking at players, coaches snapping at each other, or players riding each other, attitudes were off the proverbial scale. As Ricco Sanders said, "We're probably fixing to go in the locker room and fight right now!"

The wide receiver was actually speaking specifically of the morning's ongoing feud between his group and the defensive backs. But it could be applied quite accurately to just about everything that went on during competitive practice periods, the 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 work that led to almost all the temperment tantrums.

Fortunately, results were just about as intense as the attitudes. Especially with a whole lot of entertaining passing plays that highlighted the morning session, first of two on this split-squad day three of Mississippi State training camp. While even Coach Dan Mullen got in on the barking, at most everyone at some point, he also had to come away reasonably pleased with how the Bulldogs performed on their first day in pads.

There was no post-practice press conference with the coach, as Mullen will wait until the 2:45 afternoon session to comment on the entire day's activity. That one will match, just as on Friday, the second- and third-team players. The morning pitted first team offense and defense against each other for team work, and a reserve team made of freshmen with some walk-ons and #4. The idea being that while those squads rarely squared-off on the field, during section drills the new and green guys could learn from the old Dogs.

Certainly they learned a thing or two today about how to keep things cranked-up from start to finish, as the staff wasn't sparing anyone any criticism.

Saturday's first session followed the general script as seen Friday, with some adjustments because now everyone was wearing padding. Instead of, say, one-on-one passing drills for offense and defense, there were the one-on-one contact matches pitting receivers on defensive backs, rushers on linebackers, and linemen on linemen. Though technically not a ‘tackling' day, bodies managed to end up on the ground.

There were adjustments to a few drills. Where Friday's ball-protection work involved footwork and dummy-contact, this time handoff technique and gap direction were emphasized more. Not that Coach Greg Knox wasn't riding his guys about taking care of the ball, too, particularly youngsters Josh Robinson and Derrick Milton and walk-on James Baldwin. Vick Ballard was the lone veteran tailback, due to #1 status, with Adrian Marcus the fullback.

For that matter this morning's roster was almost identical to Friday's. The lone noticed difference was at tight end, where #1 Marcus Green is the only veteran available. Freshman Rufus Warren was back for the morning, after putting on a Friday show with the reserves; but he was joined this time by walk-on McKellar Proffit who put in a Friday evening practice already. It was redshirt Malcolm Johnson missing this morning, possibly because he had cramped up badly after Friday's morning session.

Otherwise both squads and all positions were unchanged.

Something a bit different, and better, was just how efficient the passing game was by both squads. The 7-on-7 drills, which really pit four to five receivers against seven defenders, was even sharper than before. Though, #4 quarterback Dak Prescott was intercepted just three plays in by #1 CB Johnthan Banks. Prescott would be picked on a tipped ball by other starting corner Corey Broomfield in the same period.

Banks didn't have an easy day against the varsity once practice shifted to 11-on-11 though. #1 QB Chris Relf found #1 WR Ricco Sanders going down the right sideline, a stride in front of Banks where he could complete an 80-yard touchdown strike.

Relf had an outstanding day slinging the ball around, with Sanders by far his favorite target. There was a three-play stretch of consecutive completions between them, all over in the right flat, for good gains. This was partly due to a hurry-up approach on offense that wasn't quite as fast as a two-minute sort of drill but was much quicker than no-huddle. For this session at least it favored the offense, or the first-team offense anyway.

Things had been reasonably calm on the fields, other than the natural yelling and shouting and such coaches cannot operate a practice without. What might have turned tempers the wrong direction was a dump-off pass by Prescott under pressure that Milton caught, only to have stripped by #3 MLB Brandon Maye. Reserve DE John Harris recovered for a turnover. The coaches were allowing quite a bit of contact for a non-hitting day, and taking plenty time before blowing the whistle to keep things intense.

The real trigger came when the first offense, having run a set number of plays, didn't get off the field fast enough. Mullen sent them to the far end for a quick ‘gasser' run. A series later it was the backup defense lagging and paying the same price. When Prescott and Robinson muffed an exchange, which the quarterback had to fall on, attitudes weren't improved.

Then it was the first offense not getting back on the field as quickly as needed, with a delay in getting everyone on the same sideline call. Some shouting between coach and coordinator ensued, but was happily short. Nor did it interrupt the real work, which actually (coincidentally?) improved.

Certainly Relf was on the right call with the final period. Instead of 1:45 and a timeout to go 70 yards, the offense had 50 seconds and two clock-stops to go just over half a field and score. The first offense needed just three snaps with Relf finding TE Green twice, including for a 30 or so yard touchdown connection down the middle.

The reserve offense wasn't as fortunate or effective; on the first play Prescott tried to hit a home run only to have his heave in Joe Morrow's direction intercepted on the gallop by Kendrick Market and run all the way back to end practice. At least Prescott made an effort to stop his classmate, albeit likely earning a facemask call in a real game.

The afternoon session should end around 4:15.

NO REMATCH: On Friday, first CB Johnthan Banks came away openly upset he had allowed freshman WR Joe Morrow to catch a tough pass over him. Banks even said he would be ‘stalking' the rookie today to get even for the insult.

Sadly, for interested observers, nothing happened. The old and new Dogs ended up matched on each other just once all morning, since the first and fourth teams rarely were onfield at the same time. In that lone exception the pass went all the other way allowing Morrow to jog on a mock route…and Banks to watch, annoyed at lack of opportunity for payback.

HOLD YOUR HORSES: State players of all sports are told to be careful with social messaging. The same might have to apply to MSU administrators, after a Friday funny from athletic director Scott Stricklin was misinterpreted by some over-eager fans.

"One of our soccer girls tweeted out ‘MSU soccer loves their AD'," Stricklin explained today. "So I responded to her ‘That's it, we're building the girls a new locker room'." Soon after that Stricklin saw a message from someone proclaiming love of the football program, which the A.D. responded to with, "OK, that's it, we're expanding the stadium!" he said.

"Basically I was giving them what they wanted," Stricklin joked today. Then again the nature of the ‘net is how humor gets taken seriously by some, so there was the assumption that State's announced plans to renovate and expand Davis Wade Stadium has been pushed forward faster.

Not quite. Or not yet, Stricklin clarified today.

"The stadium, we actually got the IHL project approval in the spring. And we've kind of locked in on our programing on that north end zone. What that means is we have an idea right now what the mix of seats is going to be, from the regular seats to premium seats, and where those are going to be positioned. So now you've got to go through, like, three more IHL approvals during the design process. We're moving as quickly as possible but unfortunately there's only so much you can quicken the pace of the process."

The state college board has approved State's request to raise $80 million in funding for the DWS project. At the same time the IHL has also agreed to the University's project for the Seal Foundation football facility which will start much sooner. How soon? It's close, Stricklin said.

"We've hoping to get one more approval this month on the exterior look of the football building. Once we get that, and we get our bid numbers back and we'll choose a contractor, we could get going relatively soon."

Helping speed the process is being able to use the baseball outfield road for construction access initially, meaning that a final access road—to be built behind the Palmeiro Center—can be delayed.

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