Game-Prep Heats Up Bulldog Practice Pace

Dan Mullen literally sighed in relief entering the interview room. "Ahhh, air conditioning!" Which prompted a query about why not take advantage of the Palmeiro Center on an afternoon that left both the head coach and his Bulldog team sweated-out. "What kind of question is that, I'm not getting that soft yet!"

Just the opposite, in fact. The Mississippi State coach is pushing the practice pace pretty hard these days. Each afternoon the Bulldogs can practically hear the clock counting down to next Thursday's kickoff at Memphis…which Mullen admits should be at least somewhat cool by September 1 standards.

"But game-two is going to be at 11:00(am), that's going to be a hot game. Especially because we didn't have any hot days in training camp, we're still getting used to the extreme heat. I mean it was hot during training camp but one maybe ridiculous day. And I don't ever want to be shocked on game day."

Not by the weather, not by Bulldog reaction to conditions, and least of all by anything Memphis might throw at MSU in the Liberty Bowl. Tuesday was the next step, as State continues the change-over to game preparations. Mullen was more satisfied with this afternoon's efforts compared to how Monday's drills played out.

He also announced that senior safety Charles Mitchell and senior tailback Vick Ballard will serve as team captains for 2010.

Mullen's review of the Tuesday session opened with discussing how work against real scout teams mimicking Memphis went. "We did a little less of it today. Because you're still in that transition, kind of in-between camp where you're just working on our stuff to scheming for an opponent. In that transition there is still some both going on. So I think guys are getting used to it, just learning how to do it. And it's everybody. The older guys on our team, even the starters know how what to do in scout team, but they're still getting back in that mode of what look for when we get to those periods of practice."

Q: How was practice overall compared to yesterday? "A little better from the start. I liked the finish yesterday a little bit better, but there were some good things in the finish (today). The effort throughout practice I thought was a little sharper and crisper today. A little sloppier in execution. Talking to guys coming off the field, guys weren't happy today. That's OK for me. I'd rather them be unhappy with themselves because they didn't perform at the level they expected than me be unhappy because I'm upset with the effort."

Q: How has Gabe Jackson done in camp? "Gabe is becoming a steady player, someone we can count on. He got the experience last year, and I guess for a sophomore it's kind of weird to be a vet on the O-line. But he is, and understands what we expect and what we do in the program."

"Really he is the one that is working with the left tackles, he's the one working with the new guys. Where everybody else has kind of worked together on the line before. But I think he's helping that out a lot."

Q: What have you noticed about his work with the left tackles? "It's just getting used to working with a guy. Last year he was between two seniors and they helped him out a lot. Now he has a senior inside of him, so the teamwork and communication, all that is great. Working with the tackles outside is just getting used to them as being different. You get used to working with Derek Sherrod, and somebody comes in with a different skill set. You have to get used to that."

Q: Do you have a starter now at left tackle? "We have a good idea who is going to start in that first game. But you went in last year, you felt good who the starters were and you felt good who the backup was. As you're getting ready for the games it's not just who the starter is, it is who is the next guy on the field? You didn't just lose Derek Sherrod. When you lost Phil Freeman it might not seem like, wow. Phil wasn't an all-American, but you lost two senior tackles last year. Those are the shoes that are being filled by these young guys, and just sort of the older-guy gap that we have in the program has to be filled in by younger players and obviously a junior college player."

Q: Charles Mitchell and Vick Ballard were named captains. With Ballard and last year having two junior college guys as captains what does that for the respect these guys earn? "I think the guys that we recruit, we tell them what to expect coming into our program. And we go out and recruit certain guys. We recruited Vick Ballard because we liked his skill set, but we loved all the intangibles about him. That's important for us in recruiting."

"And obviously nobody else realized that because I don't think he was any stars by anybody or anything. We saw that, and he comes in and understands what we expect in a work ethic in the program; and if you sell out, if you work, if you're committed, you're ready to sacrifice to be the best you can be great thing happen to you. You have a hard time finding any two harder workers than Charles Mitchell and Vick Ballard."

Q: You had four captains last year, two this year, any reason? "No, we had two the year before. It just depends on team votes and balance between the offense and defense sometimes. I look at those two guys, they represent what our program is about. Great students, great people, hard workers, tough football players. That's Mississippi State football."

Q: Talk about contrast, one was a high-recruited high school star, and the other like you said not that highly rated? "Yeah. And I bet people look back on that now and would like to have both of them on their teams. You can tell I guess what those things mean in recruiting!"

Q: Does it seem football is finally creeping up? "It's not creeping up, it's jumping on us! One week from today we're walking off the practice field, get your walk-through, loading the bus getting ready to go play. So it's upon us, and I think our guys are doing a good job. Our coaches have to keep stressing the sense of urgency to shift out of training camp. Nine days we walk off the field and it can't be like, oh, you had a bad practice today; it's permanent at that point. So you can't do that."

Q: How important will be the freshmen who redshirted last year? "It's huge in development within the program. It's what we want. That junior class that we have right now is kind of small when you look at it. There's a bunch of true juniors and a couple of redshirt juniors but there is not a lot of guys in that class. So we're counting on a lot of young players within the program to make a difference. This is their opportunity. Fortunately a lot of them understand, they have been through a training camp, been through a season, been through spring ball, been through an offseason, and understand what our expectations are for you and how hard we expect you to play."

"Because they're going through it for the first time. A lot of them dressed last season, but even some of the older guys haven't played before…they've been through it but they haven't been through it where they're being counted on as the man. And that can be anybody, from our punter, long snapper, to all the guys at the linebacker position. Last year you had Chris and K.J., so I've got to be ready for a couple of plays. Now everybody is looking at it as you're the man, we need you to make the plays. And I think, not that they're not ready but it's just different and we have to see. Everything is kind of new to them, they're preparing kind of differently than in the past. You hope they prepared that way last year, but when you know you're only going to play ten plays, and this year I'm going to play 60 plays, human nature makes you prepare differently."

Q: Is Kaleb Eulls a possible starter at defensive end? "He's got a chance. Kaleb, what I love is his athleticism and size. It gives him the potential to play end or tackle. Kind of like a Fletcher Cox in that way. He's got the size to play d-tackle but has the speed to play d-end. He works hard at fundamentals, works hard at the scheme, he believes in our program, you're not going to find a better character kid. Now, he has to be prepared when the lights come on to go perform. Showtime! The curtain is coming open and it's showtime."

Q: Where has he gotten more reps, end or tackle? "It's probably 50/50 right now through camp. Maybe a little bit more inside through camp."

Q: Obviously you're concerned with Memphis, how much have you looked ahead to Auburn and LSU with the short turnaround? "As the coaching staff you do a lot in the spring. Not with our players. Before summer vacation you've got to do some stuff on LSU. Because you've got to travel back from Auburn on a Saturday night and if you do it off a game-film it's already Tuesday morning the next day and two days have just vanished in thin air! So you have to have a little bit of a foundation of what we want as a coaching staff to prepare for that game. But again, it's game-three so you have to see also what's changed, have an idea and a foundation and then be ready to adapt to the new things that they're doing."

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