Tuesday Post-Practice Q&A With Dan Mullen

Dan Mullen said Monday that the best time to make progress is after a victory. So the Bulldogs weren't surprised that their coach was pushing that theme all Tuesday as Mississippi State got back to work following last weekend's SEC success at Kentucky.

Mississippi State (4-4, 1-4 SEC) has a final week off from conference competition but no open date as they host Tennessee-Martin (5-3, 4-2 OVC) this Homecoming weekend. Mullen and team went through specific game preparation today after scouting their FCS opponent, though at the same time the coach was addressing a few remaining MSU issues as he explained in a post-practice conference.

"There's still so many things we need to improve on. And beyond the glaring ones; obviously you don't want to turn the ball over and you want to create turnovers. Just still some plain execution things you want to improve on and get cleaned up. We're still working on that stuff. There's still guys that need a lot of experience. And every day they get a little bit better, it's the growing pains that you go through constantly."

Q: Dillon Day had some spring problems snapping, has he fixed all those things by now? "Well, not enough. He's still needs to work on it more. If that's your skill then honestly you should be able to stand anywhere around the room, hold up a finger, and he should be able to hit it. Like a receiver should be able to catch balls. I watch punt returners in the NFL, they count how many they can catch behind their back. I mean, that's your deal, so just hitting a guy here (in hands) should be simple. He's working on it but he's still got to get a lot better."

"I think he handles the position OK. He's still young. You have to make the calls, you're kind of the ‘apex' of that line, the center point. I guess it's great for us in the future that we have a guy for the next couple of years who could be leading the way at the center spot…unless we can out-recruit him!"

Q: On defense what group has made the most strides? "I think the linebackers have made some huge strides. The comfort level of guys like a Cam Lawrence who came in with minimal experience at the linebacker position. Now, we felt great about him, a great kid, gives you unbelievable effort, he's been on the field on special teams and played a little linebacker."

"Now Matt Wells was a freshman, and Deonte Skinner playing at outside linebacker, those guys have really made some strides. Those guys are probably the most improved group."

Q: How much does it help all of them practicing all three positions? "They get the experience. The great thing is you have Cam who will be back, some outside linebackers will be back. You have that one spot, instead of having to fill two. You feel good about some of the other spots. And a lot of times what happens if you are filling one spot, with experienced guys around him, the experienced guys will pull up that one player's level. Where a lot of times if you're replacing multiples there's no one to pull up, they're all kind of going along together. Hopefully having some experience there next year will help."

Q: Last year LaDarius Perkins came on late playing a lot in the slot, how has his role changed this year? "We like his role. I'd like to get him the ball more. We only ran 50-something plays, I'd like to run 80 plays in a game. So we should have stayed out there for a couple more hours or something, run some more plays! It would have felt better to get everyone the touches they need!"

"There's a lot of things we want to do and get guys the ball. If we don't run the plays we don't get to do that. He's always the threat to have a big game for us. But we just have to get the number of reps for him, too. We have some guys we'd love to get the ball to more. But there's only so many plays in a game."

Q: Who else do you want to get the ball? "Tons of them! Heavens, Bumphis, Jameon Lewis, Michael Carr, Arceto Clark, Chris Smith. Our tight ends, the running backs. I'd like to get the ball more to all those guys."

Q: After missing some games is James Carmon now playing at a level you hoped? "Yeah, he's OK. He's doing good. Give him credit, he's a guy who changed positions and you know there's a lot of growing pains at that position. And he's doing good. I wish he had another year under his belt where he could really grasp it, because he has a ton of potential. But the clock just keeps a-ticking for us! He's still got a lot of improving to do, he could be a much, much better player down the road and I hope he gets that opportunity."

Q: Chris Hughes was at linebacker last game more, what kind of progress has he made? "He's coming along slowly but surely. He's gotten in a role of playing a bunch of special teams, he got some linebacker reps in there with the defense. That's part of the development. He's still a very young player and has a lot of development ahead of him. Obviously as he grows we want him to play more. I like fresh guys on the field, but at times Cam Lawrence has had to play 70-something plays in a game where you'd like to limit his role and keep him a little bit fresher. And to create the depth that we'd like to have eventually."

"Last year our linebackers were playing a ton of plays, I wish we could have got them off the field and got some other guys reps. It's just hard to get those guys off the field when they're such good players you didn't always want to. But hopefully as we move forward we'll be able to rotate guys more and create more depth like some of the top teams in this league have."

Q: Can Brandon Wilson come back next year? "I think he can. We've discussed it, he wasn't sure. Brandon is a very good student, he's a former walk-on and is graduating this year. I guess I'll ask on Senior Day if he knows. He wasn't sure, like this is my fourth year, can I be a senior and run out on Senior Day if I'm going to go get a job and graduate and move on to the next phase of his life?"

"But he's had a pretty good season. He and I really haven't had that talk, it's something we usually wait until at the end to see. If he wants to come back that will be great a thing for us."

Q: UT-Martin coach Jason Simpson signed for football here, then transferred and played baseball and hit a home run to win a game here. He said it would be bigger for him to beat you guys? "Well I'm sure it would be in some ways. Even though I love my memories as a player, it's hard to match those. I still say my greatest championship is the state championship I won in high school as a quarterback! Those are hard to beat sometimes."

"It's exciting. We had a big win at Florida last year, it was exciting. I keep it in context of what it was, but it probably meant a little bit more for me than almost everybody else on our team. There's a couple of guys on our staff that were with us there. But there are still other wins I'm more proud of with our guys."

Q: What does UT-Martin do well? "They're a very well coached team. And they're right there, they're seven points away from being undefeated and potentially being a team to contend for a national title. I don't see them as a team of superstars, sometimes when you look at FCS schools they may have a guy that's a transfer who is kind of a superstar. I don't see them as that, I see them as a very, very good football team across the board. Very balanced and well-coached and sound in all phases."

"And I think they've very dynamic in special teams. You watch their punt returner, #12 leads the nation in punt returns. They've blocked a punt, they do all the little things the right way. And score a bunch of points, they're good on defense, they do a lot on defense, they don't stand still. When you look at those things it makes them a challenge to get ready for. You're scheming so many different things because they give you so many different looks on defense, and then they're very sound and effective on offense."

Q: Do you know anything about the McNair brothers playing there? "I know the families, seeing some of them I think he was out before I got here. A very athletic family, and obviously it's a big game for them coming back to Mississippi to get to play in front of their home fans."

Q: You mentioned special teams, how do you evaluate yours? "It's OK, nothing special. Our kicking and coverage units have been solid. Obviously punt and kickoff are the two most important special teams to me because they're defensive plays and you always start with playing great defense."

"Our punt block team has been OK. A couple of things here and there from maybe having a couple of more hits for us. I like blocking kicks but we haven't had many opportunities to get through, I mean it's hard to block punts especially with the talent in the SEC."

"Our kickoff return is probably the most frustrating one because each return like a lot of things I can point to one guy. We missed one block three times on Saturday night and three of them would have been touchdowns except for one block. And it wasn't the same guy each time. I can pull up about eight of them; look at the crease, one guy will miss. So we spend a lot of time on that, we watch all the film and analyze and can see it's one deal each time."

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