Teaching, Technique Are Day-Two Camp Focus

LaDarius Perkins did not take it personally when, while running a stretch play, the head coach suddenly threw that blocking pad right at his full-stride feet. Other first-team tailbacks might have taken offense, but not Perkins. "He's trying to make us pick our feet up, and help to break contact."

Perkins comment summarized the approach Coach Dan Mullen and staff took in Saturday's practice session. Mississippi State put in over two hours of work on their second day of spring camp, again in shorts and headgear. The full padding comes on next week.

So with this day designated for more non-contact work, and coming less than 24 hours after Friday's opening practice, Mullen focused largely on teaching and technique. "We were trying to learn things yesterday," Perkins said. "Then we put in some more things today. So it's getting harder, but I mean we're out here grinding every day. And we're getting better every day."

How much and in what ways the Bulldogs are getting better only practice review will tell. Still Mullen seemed satisfied after the first two spring sessions.

"We've got a lot of players who haven't played, and a lot of guys who haven't played a lot," Mullen said. "So with all of them it is the continued development and growth. That the young players get experience in offense, defense, kicking game, schemes and they really grow. And older players to see them take that next step, whether it be in a leadership role or just honing and fine-tuning all their skills to go from being a good player to a great player."

That fine-tuning included twists to routine drills such as, yes, trying to surprise runners with a 2x3 pad suddenly appearing at their feet. The backs are used to Mullen swinging that pad at them in-passing for tests of ball security and balance, so this was a new twist. Only walk-on RB Jimmy Perry was, literally, tripped up in the process, and only once.

RB Nick Griffin did just fine, though he might have been worried that the head coach was trying for some practice payback. "I think I did run him over yesterday, he kind of caught me off-guard! He's just trying to give us different things because it's never going to be the same thing any time you run the ball. You've got to be prepared."

Saturday was about preparing for upcoming contact camp days with an obvious emphasis on technical matters. This was both to build on what they were exposed to on day-one as well as correct early flaws in form.

Wide receivers had to run routes not just with cones setting the steps but under gates to improve balance. Linebackers also had to come out of their stance under gates for the same reason, as well as for focus. The running backs had the most demanding sorts of circuits, working through and around pads and gaps. Perkins, Griffin, and younger runners were kept busy with the play calling a little more balanced than Friday's passing-dominated script.

"Basically we're trying to share the load and make sure the young guys know what they're doing," Perkins said. "And play a big part in the leadership this year. Yeah, we understand everything now. I mean, you're going to have some cracks and nicks in there because we're starting off right now. But as we get into next week everything will be perfect."

Day-two saw a change in a one-on-one passing/cover drill. This time it was first team QB Tyler Russell throwing to the running backs and tight ends against linebackers; while backup Dak Prescott and Sam Cowart tossed to the wide receivers versus safeties and corners. The first group benefited from having the #1 passer on their field with much better results, while the younger quarterbacks struggled to connect in coverage.

Russell was sharp Friday with his timing and tossing, but if anything looked better today. Not in terms of pure percentage maybe as there were more incompleted passes. The difference was a stiff wind that depending on direction the offense faced required real adjustments in touch. Russell looked equally comfortable throwing with or against the breeze and was never picked off in any sort of situation.

Though, he did get some help. WR Chris Smith made a smart adjustment on a long throw by Russell, catching it in front of CB Jamerson Love. CB Taveze Calhoun tried to jump another Russell pass, miss-timed it, and WR Ricco Sanders came away with the sideline grab. WR Chad Bumphis made Russell look even better with a leaping grab over the middle against the first-defense. It wasn't entirely an offensive day. Prescott tried a similar throw in medium coverage and LB Deonte Skinner made him pay with a leaping, twisting, interception. The defense made a point on the last snap of the day as WR Robert Johnson was tagged twice on a post pattern.

There were no changes in either the first or second defenses from Friday as far as unit drills and 7-on-7 situations. But for full-team competition this time the theme was mixing and matching as both coordinators would fit one or two Dogs off the second team in with the starters; then do the same with the third squads. This ought to accelerate the instruction process, especially for brand-newcomers. On defense it allowed transfer DE Denico Autry to run some with the first line, as the right end; or true freshman Quay Evans to run second-team at right tackle.

Also, with a pair of seniors on both corners, this is a good spring for practicing backups Taveze Calhoun and Jamerson Love with the first defense so old hands Johnthan Banks and Corey Broomfield could help critique them between series. There was not nearly so much M-and-M'ing on the offense other than letting second- and third-group receivers run their routes with the varsity.

The same four players as Friday were held out of action. Though, S Nickoe Whitley finished his rehab work in the Pit early and reported to his unit to play ‘quarterback' and throw interceptions. OG Tobias Smith observed the offensive line's drills around his own rehab process. TE Rufus Warren and DS Reed Gordon did not practice either.

There was a round of punt block work, one man only rushing to judge who has a knack for such things. Or more likely the nerves since the blocker was charging un-padded where a booted ball, or for that matter the kicker's foot, could catch him hard. None seemed to shy away from the risk though.

Coach Matt Balis get the players to himself Monday, before practice resumes with a Tuesday session scheduled for around 4:30. It is still very early in the spring, but according to Russell…so far, so good.

"And I think everybody is hungry. We had a very good off-season, and everybody was happy to get out here and finally do the things that we love."

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