Thursday Afternoon Football Notebook

CATCHING ON: One might think Bulldog running backs have been, well, kind of bored with their first few days. What with practically all the 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 plays being called passes, there were not that many balls to haul from scrimmage. Not until two-a-days, which features morning periods devoted to ground game work, could they do what they do freely.

Boring? "No, it's been OK because we're pretty much involved in the passing game too," LaDarius Perkins said. "We've been working on protections, and we have certain routes out of the backfield. So it's OK."

Not a few of those routes have involved Perkins of course, who showed how quickly he can turn a short pass into a huge gain last season. Especially in both the Egg and Gator Bowls, where Perkins took tosses from Chris Relf and tore downfield. Naturally State has been busy refining such routes this preseason. Where in many offenses that would be a default play, giving Perkins the ball anywhere, any time has big play potential.

Otherwise Perkins and cohort Robert Elliott have done blocking duty in passing sessions. Results have been promising, from his backfield vantage point.

"The quarterbacks have been real good," Perkins said, including what he's seen of Relf. The top triggerman has been on-target. Something else really good for the offense has been pushing the practice tempo, hustling to the line and getting the snap off ASAP.

"We've been trying to pick up right where we left off in spring, trying to compete with the defense. We're trying to run fast so they can't line up, and run all our plays at a fast pace."

Ahhh, there he said it…run. Because all this pitch-and-catch stuff is good fun for starting a training camp. But with full pads comes contact time, and now everyone is turned loose to tackle. Or in Perkins' case try not getting tackled. He came to State to run the ball, after all.

"Yeah, I'm looking forward to that. I can't wait."

CONTACT SPORT: Those aren't eyeblack-strips Cameron Lawrence is sporting. Those are just plain old-fashioned black eyes, the result of A) a practice accident and B) just being himself on defense. "My helmet came off when we were doing a blocking drill the other day. You can't just stop in the middle of a drill!"

So, Lawrence didn't stop, loose helmet or not. "Me and Marcus Green were doing blocking and my helmet flipped up. I hit facemask-to-face pretty much." No matter how tough a Mississippi State linebacker is expected to be, even they come out second-best in collisions with helmeted and 240-pound tight ends from that angle.

"I finished the play and I came away with a couple of black eyes." But, with the increased respect for why he loves life on this side of the squad. Lawrence isn't shy to suggest had a running back or receiver or, heaven forbid, quarterback's hat come loose the play would have finished then.

"Yeah, as soon as their helmet came off they'd have probably blown the whistle! But it's all good. That's what us defensive players do!"

And make no mistake, while he spent his very first college practice day as a quarterback way back in March 2009…this is a defensive player. Heck, even at Magnolia Heights Academy he played quarterback like a linebacker, or at least a strong safety. "I was the guy that wasn't going to slide or step out of bounds!" he boasts. No wonder a week into that freshman spring Lawrence found himself on the other side of the ball, where he's stuck ever since.

"I feel like I have a defensive mentality. It's more of an aggressive attack, not turning away from hits, and stuff like that. I fit on defense," he says. "At linebacker I feel comfortable and that's what I was meant to play anyway."

Coach Geoff Collins is certainly comfortable with Lawrence at one of the outside linebacker spots, even if the first-year linebackers coach and co-coordinator isn't defining the junior veteran exactly the same as his predecessor. Where Manny Diaz labeled the three by strong and weak sides around a classic middle ‘backer, this staff isn't quite so strict.

"The nice thing is I expect there to be six guys in that room that can play in SEC ball games and help us win," Collins said. "They all know every position, like today we had Cam playing sam, and Jamie Jones playing sam and will, Chris Hughes played will. So we'll move guys in and out, just the co-mingling of all the positions, the best six are going to play and hopefully the next two are on special teams."

With Lawrence and now either Hughes or Matt Wells, both also converted safeties, on the other side of Brandon Wilson, the '11 starting group definitely is smaller than what State fielded last fall. In '10 it was 240-plus pounders, literally, like Chris White and K.J. Wright with one hybrid linebacker. Now? It looks like Wilson is willing to run a pair of these lighter guys. Though, as Lawrence said, ‘small' is a relative term. He is now up to 230 pounds, having enrolled at 200. "Coach (Matt) Balis has done a great job of packing on pounds!"

Regardless, "I guess we've got smaller linebackers than probably a bunch of the teams," Lawrence agrees. "But we like to emphasize speed. We're covering the whole entire field, where maybe you've got a big, heavy guy up there who has to fill the middle. But we've got more athletic linebackers and it's going to be great for us."

It best be because the linebacking bar has been set very high here. Which Lawrence, who split snaps at sam last season with graduated Emmanuel Gatling, knows better than anyone.

"We've definitely got some big shoes to fill from K.J. and Chris, they were really good players for us. But we learned a lot from them and we've got a bunch of young guys that are coming in and playing with chips on their shoulder. And we're playing good ball right now, and I've got high hopes for the linebacker corps this fall."

QUICK KICKS: Thursday morning, Coach Dan Mullen offered an encouraging update on placekicking…which on Monday he'd described as ‘terrible'. Indeed it was that day with the two kickers, Derek DePasquale and walk-on transfer Brian Egan missing all but one made PAT (DePasquale). Review showed some flaws in the senior's balance which were addressed, with good results today.

Holding, either by P Baker Swedenburg or others, is something else in need of polishing. But Mullen is confident the other member of the team will be a success, even if former tight end Reed Gordon must follow the near-perfect record that Aaron Feld established over four full seasons.

So it was interesting to hear Mullen say Gordon's delivery times are even better than Feld's. "Which is a real positive. The difference is going to be he's never been in a game situation. So we just have to try to keep pressure on him. But we did that last year a lot of times, as a true freshman he's out there the two long-snapper.

"And I'm rough on those guys in practice, I try to create adversity, I try to make him nervous…I try to make him scared at practice! Because when they roll out there in a game you're going to know. It's not like a receiver that misses a block one play where 60,000 people didn't really notice it on the back side; it's a lot of pressure when everyone's eyes are on you just as a long snapper."

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