Double-Duty For This Dog?

The two-way play topic annually arises in training camp discussion, as versatile athletes get looks at possibly expanding their game repertoires. Dan Mullen isn't shy on the subject either, as his Friday morning practice review proved (see story previously posted).

Mississippi State already has a few double-duty Dogs, such as WR Chad Bumphis or his receiver cohorts getting direct-snap chances to rush the ball. Or starting cornerbacks and safeties who move around in various blitzing and coverage packages beyond their typical assignment. Then of course there are kick return and coverage tasks. But a true two-way player?

Yeah, Mullen has considered it, and CB Johnthan Banks is the first name offered today. Maybe any day. "I'm sure by the end of the year he will have played corner, he'll have played safety, he's going to be used in special teams in the return game," said Mullen before tossing out "You never know how it shapes up, he might get some snaps on offense!"

Asked about this option today, Banks shrugged. "We've got a lot of guys back there that can really play football and are really good at what they do. So I don't care about going over there to play receiver, if that's what is best for the team I'll go over there and do it."

Now don't think Banks equivocal attitude is indifference. The prospect of running routes, not just covering them, is interesting for a fellow who played all over the high school field. He's also very much in the mix for kick return duties this fall, too. Besides all that, he practiced extensively in spring at the safety position he played as a true 2009 freshman and will slide over there again without a blink.

"But right now what is best for me is over there playing corner."

It also needs noting that Mullen is not suggesting switches from fear there aren't players at possible positions already. No, this is how the head coach looks to get the very finest play-makers on the field often as practical. Banks has the credentials. The confidence, too, as when he was asked what MSU defensive back would make the best wide receiver.

"I ain't going to say that! But I'd say to anyone asking that question, I think I'm the best at anything out there!" Which Banks quickly qualified, saying that Corey Broomfield is probably the best cornerback on the team, as shown by the fellow junior's pursuit of the NCAA interception-touchdown return record. "To my mind Broom may be our best cornerback. I'm a cornerback and I say he may be our best corner!"

Since this corner won't answer one question, how about another: which receiver would make the best defensive back?

"Ohhh, I think they're all great! But from experience I'd say Arceto, because he played corner." That was during the 2009 season and part of the following spring as part of Clark's one-year sidelining. "But I think we've got great athletes at the receiving corps. Ricco Sanders, Chad Bumphis…Chris Smith can play safety, I mean we've got big guys that can do anything."

No wonder the head coach doesn't dismiss the idea of do-it-all Dogs on this team.

SPEED STRIPES: Having an officiating crew at Mississippi State scrimmages is typical. Some other contact practices will often feature an official or two, offering advice on what a unit or individuals are doing that might merit a flag in games. But all those zebras running around training camp appear too young to be real refs.

Because, they aren't. Those are Mississippi State managers, who daily don the striped shirt while still going about all the usual duties. Phil Silva's troops aren't really officiating, they are just showing the stripes all around the practice field so that Bulldog players get used to the sight. After all, they play the games with real zebras running around, so why not make it entirely routine?

Dan Mullen said he picked up the idea on a summer visit out west. Way out west. "I went out and watched Oregon practice, and all their guys have it (ref shirts)." So he borrowed the concept which might not be anything greatly game-changing but does add another degree of familiarity. "So they get used to handing the ball to an official," Mullen said.

And, by extension, speeding up the play-to-play sequences, if only by a second or two that an un-striped manager would in the past have needed to throw in another ball to a cohort, who would in turn spot it where the next play was to start. Again, a little thing…but it can be in such slivered seconds that a series will either continue or screech to an untimely halt.

And Mullen is counting every tick of the play clock this camp. More so than his first two years here, the coach has accelerated the practice pace. There are more periods of two-minute or one-minute offense (and by extension, defense) this preseason; more drills of down/distance/time so all units get comfortable with such pressurized situations. Those play clocks posted behind Farm field end zones keep clicking, as do the Dogs.

Senior S Charles Mitchell, who has been through this preseason thing three times before, noticed the shift right from day-one this time. "The tempo was faster, the practice was different." The result being, Mitchell said, "I think a lot of guys were really into it."

Because even with the grinding demands of practices, keeping everybody moving just keeps, well, keeps practice moving along. Mullen doesn't over-state the change, understand; such as when it looks like he's gone to a hurry-up offensive approach this August. "Well, we're kind of no-huddle anyway," he reminded. The difference is he's not huddling-up a lot of personnel who have gotten used to this way of playing. Or, working.

"I don't mind having a little bit of tempo in there anyway, especially with your more experienced players. I think that is going to help in our system." Especially investing so many practice periods in two-minute drills. Because, Mullen said, "In this league there's going to be a lot of games that come down to the final drive. We'd better be prepared."

So it would stretch things to suggest Mullen and MSU have appropriated intact many major ideas from peers. In fact the coach says after watching Oregon, a noted tempo team, he came back believing the Bulldogs work at a comparable pace. "I thought we practiced just as fast as they did before. So it wasn't the pace of practice."

Still there are inspirations found everywhere, as State staffers have gone to compare notes and notions with friends at Northwestern, Virginia Tech, Texas A&M, Texas, Oklahoma, "We might take a little part of an idea from three different schools, and combine it into our own idea," explained Mullen.

"I don't know if you go visit and look at something and say OK, that is perfect, we're going to do it exactly the same. But you say I like what they're trying to accomplish with that idea, how can we implement something similar that fits our program."

Including, outfitting managers with officials shirts. Though, mercifully, the famous Preston ‘Stick' Rogers has only been seen in stripes (more mercifully, vertical on his lanky frame) once publically. It's just one of the small concepts coaches compile from everyone, everywhere to mold into their own schemes. "There's some guys that give up probably more than others! You just know them for longer periods of time," Mullen said.

"If they call and say how are you doing something, especially something to me head coach/managerial-wise; this is what we do in period-one of practice, this is how we start, we finish every day by doing a certain drill, I give all that stuff up. I don't mind sharing those ideas with anybody." Of course in his tenure as the hot offensive coordinator of the then-new spread offense, Mullen got used to spreading his ideas around. Now he's a head coach.

"I'm an information gatherer more than a releaser. I'm a taker!"

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