Monday Bulldog Bowl Camp Notebook

Mississippi State put in its third practice of Music City Bowl camp Monday, with a two-hour session focused entirely on the Bulldogs themselves than the December 30 contest against Wake Forest. Which is just what the coaching staff wants at this early point, per the head coach.

As Dan Mullen said, during the three-month season everything is into game plans and specific items. This is much more like a pre-season than anything to do with post-season. "So it's a lot of our base, fundamental offense and defense and some fundamentals of the kicking game." With, also to be expected, an emphasis on building that base underneath a lot of rookies, redshirts, and reserves who have spent fall on scout squads.

Now, they can again be Bulldogs given how Mullen and staff have structured the first few days of drills.

"It gives those guys an idea of what it is really like," Mullen said. "A lot of young players have not been in the mix so they don't even understand practice all the time. So this week gives them an opportunity to understand what spring is going to be like when we're counting on them to take the next step forward."

*One still-young Bulldog being counted on is offensive lineman Damien Robinson. A 2010 redshirt, he spent this second season at State with most of his snaps coming on the placekick squad along with some late-game substitution duties at guard.

But now Robinson finds himself working at tackle in bowl camp. Right tackle specifically, and in Monday's case with the second unit. This is an open position come spring with the graduation of senior and three-year starter Addison Lawrence. Up to now it seemed other '10 signees such as Archie Muniz would have an edge at right tackle. Has Robinson been bumped-up already?

Mullen only says it is a possibility for now, and for that matter even this camp move might be temporary too. That's the point of these practices, in fact.

"We'll see, as we keep moving forward trying to find guys and see where to fit young players and where they're going to be their best. Because now they know what they're doing, it's hard when they're really young because they're just trying to figure out what to do. Now that they know what they're doing, it's to see where they best fit."

Still the coach does hold out the opportunity. "He's doing pretty well, he's coming along. Damien has worked hard, as a freshman you expect him to be at a certain level. And he's starting to understand the game and understand the offense and improve daily as a player."

The #2 offensive line today was RT Robinson, RG Justin Malone, C Ben Beckwith, LG Templeton Hardy, and LT Blaine Clausell. Clausell of course is the old hand here with a couple of starts this '11 season as a redshirt freshman. The third line included Daniel Knox at right tackle, Nick Redmond RG, LG Joey Trapp, and so on. Muniz and Eric Lawson, also part of that line class of '10, are very much in the mix and taking their own turns day by day.

*Chris Relf was given his starting quarterback job back for the Egg Bowl and rewarded the faith with his third victory over Ole Miss. He has been first-team all camp so far, though Tyler Russell still alternates with the number-ones in all offensive competitions. And Russell was on the throwing end of the only real touchdown Monday in 11-on-11 work as he beat the first-team defense to hit an open receiver behind linebacker coverage.

But Russell was picked off in pass/skel (the 7-on-7 or 8-on-8 passing and coverage drills) when he stared down WR Chris Smith too long. OLB Deonte Skinner read it and slipped over into the lane for a clean interception in front of Smith and 25-yard touchdown return.

Meanwhile redshirt Dak Prescott has the second offense all to himself now that Dylan Favre has departed the roster. In full-team passing and coverage play, Prescott got to work with the second line and first receivers for a series. But he went down on a one-hand sack by Corvell Harrison-Gay, now working as a backup defensive tackle after a season at end. Later on Prescott threw into coverage with a backup linebacker intercepting. So on the next play he gave the ball to Griffin for a routine carry.

Prescott's best play in 11-on-11 was actually saving a turnover, as backup C Ben Beckwith hiked the ball really high. Prescott went way up for a one-handed snag, brought it down under control and executed the handoff anyway.

*It needn't be one of the early-practice contact matchups, whether bull-in-the-ring or positional pairings, for players to get after each other. In a one-on-one passing drill WR Ricco Sanders and CB Darius Slay managed to knock each other down before the ball could be thrown. Later in the same drill redshirted freshman WR Joe Morrow used his size and speed to position himself in front of classmate CB Taveze Calhoun, then go up for a sideline catch from Russell.

The best battle though was another draw, when starters WR Chad Bumphis and CB Johnthan Banks refused to let each other go and wrassled themselves to the ground while the play went away from their private party.

*While the first-team offense begins each practice with a two-minute situation drive going full-field, the defense has their own version of a ‘hurry up' period on the adjoining field. The first defensive unit rushes into position, runs a ‘play' against air, then hurries to the other sideline while the second team runs on. Then it is the third defense's turn.

*So far senior Damein Anderson has been given the first-team cornerback turns, just as he got the Egg Bowl start. This doesn't mean 11-game starter Corey Broomfield has had it easy in camp. The junior has been mixed in with second- and even third-teams to help younger defensive backs learn their steps. Or from another perspective, to give the youngest receivers a look at how SEC veterans cover.

Among those young pass-catchers, redshirts Morrow and Devin Fosselman seem relieved to be freed from scout team responsibilities and running routes with the varsity. Morrow works from split end while Fosselman is breaking in at slot-receiver, still a top-heavy position due to older hands like Bumphis, Brandon Heavens, and Jameon Lewis.

*In punt return drills, redshirted RB Josh Robinson continues to take first turn each time. He had to work to field some of the kicks though, as the punters hit them very long and high or very short and low to test the catchers. Robinson handled all such tests without a hitch. Lewis was second followed by veterans Bumphis and Banks. Slay also got a couple of late turns.

*RB Derek Milton missed Monday's practice after hurting his left knee towards the end of Saturday's session. LB Chris Hughes attended today's practice but stayed in the re-hab pit or worked with strength coaches.

*Even the most senior Dogs can stumble in a basic drill. Literally, as while practicing ball protection TB Vick Ballard managed to trip over one of the three dummy-pads set on the ground for backs to practice timing and steps. His pratfall was enjoyed by the younger runners, loudly.

*Unlike his first Bulldog bowling experience, the regular season coaching staff is intact for this December camp. Or at least it is so far, Mullen implied. "We'll see, it's still early. It's that crazy time of the year so who knows? We have the whole staff here right now, I might walk inside and it be different. That's what happens this time of year!"

Between the '10 Egg Bowl and Gator Bowl, receivers coach Mark Hudspeth left to become head coach at Louisiana-Lafayette. His place was taken by graduate aide Angelo Mirando.

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