Not all was review, because not everything has been installed. Today's practice stood out in that regard because when everyone re-assembled on one field for full-team competition it was with a different looking defense. Instead of the base set built around four defensive linemen, it was an odd-front only by the first, second, and third defenses. And the secondary added a safety or cover-linebacker type player for what will be the usual Bulldog ‘dime' set.
The results were interesting. Even entertaining, which Mullen admitted he expected on a day where the defense was ordered to blitz and the offense knew it. Both sides produced under the circumstances with not much in the way of in-between. Either the offense completed a pass or broke a run against the aggressive attack; or the defense flooded through and snuffed out whatever was planned.
Though to be clear, Mullen did have the blitzers working under some restrictions. None of the three quarterbacks were to be touched, much less hit. This allowed Tyler Russell and Dak Prescott to keep some plays going that turned into positives, even big gainers. Had that limitation been lifted, the first and second defenses would surely have scored some solid sacks. And secondly, despite a full-pads day there was not much true tackling going on as whistles stopped most action a little early.
That said, even under pressure the offenses acquitted themselves nicely in other times. Russell had another of the sharp sessions which have typified his spring so far. He and the receivers connected repeatedly in the vertical passing game, with Russell this day showing a preference for either WR Arceto Clark or TE Brandon Hill. Under rushes Russell also showed a good awareness of when the blocking was broken and found his running backs. And perhaps the best single snap of the day came as Russell not only read the blitz but exactly how it was coming, adjusted the offense at the line, and sent RB LaDarius Perkins into the vacated area.
It worked beautifully for a short pass and 80-yard scamper down the sideline. Russell didn't have a turnover all day. Prescott could not say the same. Under pressure he forced a twenty-yard throw down the right hashmark, where second-team S Zack Jackson slid over for the easy pickoff and return. That was the third turnover for redshirt freshman Jackson, too. He intercepted another pass in 7-man competition, and for good measure took advantage of a careless moment by classmate Derek Milton. When the running back relaxed at what he thought was the end of a rushing gain, Jackson kept going for a strip, recovery, and return before the whistle finally blew.
Prescott bounced back to make some fine throws with the best a 30-yard connection with WR Jameon Lewis, and also showed a preference for tight ends Hill and Malcolm Johnson if the blocking gave him the time. Nor was it only passing plays against the blitz and dime packages. Perkins and RB Josh Robinson beat the onrushing defense several times on quick hits through traffic.
To work on dime and blitz schemes the defense showed that three-man front for all of 11-on-11 snaps. The revised set did have one interior man right on the ball, but not the usual nose-tackle. In fact big bodies Curtis Virges and Dwayne Cherrington and versatile Devin Jones didn't have to take a single scrimmaging snap.
Instead, it was either first team DE Kaleb Eulls, #2 DT P.J. Jones, or backup DT Quay Evans lining up over the ball. And with Eulls moving inside, this promoted juco transfer Denico Autry to the first team along with DE Shane McCardell. The second pair was soph Preston Smith and redshirt John Harris.
All full-team snaps were in scripted down-and-distance situations. There was no goal line or short yardage work Tuesday, since this was a heavy emphasis last Saturday when the tackling was for real. In those sets the defense used a five-man front with Cherrington or Jones in the middle.
A strong northwest wind had its effects on some passing and coverage drills, so much so that even throwing an interceptable ball to cornerbacks and safeties was often a challenge. At least the rain stayed away. Placekickers weren't as bothered by the breeze though, making their field goals into it and lifting kickoffs high with it. High, but not too long, as kickoffs were meant for returns to the first and second squads could get practice fielding around the five-yard line and bringing it back against scout coverage.
Six practices into 2012 spring there have been no position changes observed. For that matter the depth chart has remained practically unaltered beyond mixing in personnel for tests with various groupings. Though, midway of 11-on-11 today, second-team LT Joey Trapp was sent to the side and spring freshman Justin Senior put in his place.
CB Taveze Calhoun did not practice Tuesday with an unreported injury. He joined recovering veterans OG Tobias Smith and SN Reed Gordon in the Pit, along with OT Archie Muniz as he comes back from December surgery. There was a new face in the Pit today; redshirt OL Daniel Knox had work done on his right knee just before spring work started and reported to practice Tuesday in an immobiliser wrap on the right leg.
Following practice Mullen met with media. "We got a lot of work in. A lot of review of other stuff. You're kind of almost done with installation now, so you get a lot of opportunities to review different things. And a lot of guys, when you put together everything that was done over the first five days prior, that's when guys' brains start to freeze-up a little bit."
Q: What did you see in reviewing Saturday's practice? "You see some good things. Guys made some plays on the offensive side of the ball, especially the receiver in the throw-game in hitting some big plays. But we can get a lot of that cleaned-up with the secondary guys as we keep moving forward."
Q: The defense forced some turnovers today, did they look better? "Well, a lot of days in spring are based off installation. Today was a big blitz day for us, we were putting in certain dime blitz packages. So what you're going to see out of that at times are a lot of big plays. And we gave up a lot of big plays today, and they made a lot of big plays today. When you're kind of coming after them with heavy, heavy blitzes you're going to see a big play no matter what happens. One way or another!"
Q: Was Zach Jackson a case of right place, right time? "I don't know, we'll see. Like I said today is a big, big blitz day. So high risk, high reward on defense; and you saw high risks with some big plays given up and high reward with a lot of turnovers created."
Q: With so many veterans is the offense learning at a faster pace this spring? "No, we've kept it pretty simple, just for our guys to really grasp and improve on our fundamentals. And really understand why we're doing what we're doing on every play. That is what you want from some older guys with experience, so when they run a play they know exactly why we're trying to do it and they're getting themselves in good position to make plays because of it."
Q: Are Charles Siddoway and Dylan Holley getting up to speed? "Yeah, those two guys, obviously it's critical you have them here. You see at times they're doing things really well and other times they're doing things really, really poorly. But that is because they've had six practices. There are a lot of practices we have to play, but they need to continually improve throughout spring. And then make some strides over the summer."
Q: Are you using a two-tight end set with Malcolm Johnson and Brandon Hill? "A little bit. But as the depth grows at that position, it's really a position we've never had depth. Every time we looked like we started having a little depth at tight end we'd be crushed with injuries. It's a package we have and right now we're healthy so we're able to stay with it a little bit longer. We have receiving-type tight ends, so you have to look at some of that stuff. Brandon and Malcolm are really small tight ends or big receivers. So to me it is the same things, just different personnel on the field."
Q: How is the right side of the offensive line performing? "Those are two young guys that have not had a lot of playing experience. Where you look at the left side, those guys have played. Blaine Clausell has played in a bunch of games and Gabe Jackson obviously has played a bunch. When you get Justin Malone and Damien Robinson over there, those guys are really starting to grow into it. We know they have talent and ability, they just need to start playing up that level."
Q: Has there been thought of moving Holley to guard? "Not right now. Obviously we've got to get some guys dual-trained because you want to have your best guys on the field at all times. So there will be some mix-and-match done. But I don't want to do that until I'm comfortable that guys know their initial position first; and then we'll start mixing and matching them."
Mississippi State resumes spring practice Thursday afternoon, and will scrimmage on Friday.