Bulldogs Brush-Up In Advance Of Scrimmage

Dan Mullen labeled it a ‘soft' day. If that is what the coach considered Thursday's practice, then the Bulldogs had best be prepared for a really, really hard Friday. Because their nominally non-contact work today was pretty darned vigorous in preparation for the 11:00am scrimmage Mullen has booked for tomorrow.

Mississippi State spent well over two hours Thursday practicing in shorts what they will play in pads Friday. The session was moved indoors in advance of the oncoming weather, yet even after rain ended around 5:00 Mullen opted to stay in the Palmeiro Center. Maybe it was to save wear on the scrimmage field. Or maybe he was satisfied with how well things were proceeding and did not want to interrupt an efficient practice.

It would have been hard convincing WR Joe Morrow this was not a hitting day though. In pass/skel the freshman took a shot at the goal line from S Dee Arrington that separated Morrow from the ball, and knocked the wind out as well. Morrow was OK and back in action soon, even hauling in a corner-pattern pass from QB Tyler Russell in the end zone.

These 7-on-7 passing game drills were showtime for both quarterbacks. Because this day all such snaps were red zone situations, whether from the 20, the 15, the 10, and on in, and despite the short field Russell and Dak Prescott had no trouble finding open receivers against the linebackers and defensive backs chasing in coverage. It was much easier to record the number of plays which did not result in a touchdown throw than the ones which did.

Russell as to be expected was on his game and spread the ball around; wideouts, tight ends, backs, everyone seemed to get at least one catch and score. And Prescott had some very nice throws here, such as a bullet to Clark when CB Jamerson Love was right there in tight coverage. Though a few snaps later another Prescott attempt in traffic was tipped by CB Darius Slay and intercepted by S Louis Watson. This was very much the exception.

The 11-on-11 work was likely a good preview of what will be run Friday as far as play selection. Presumably though the defense will have a more fair chance of making stops when full contact is allowed. The first offense's first set of scripted snaps were heavy on the ground game, and all three tailbacks showed nice timing and reads of the blocking. Russell still got to throw against the full defense in other turns, and showed a preference for working the deep middle with Chad Bumphis and Brandon Heavens making the best grabs.

For his part Prescott had good success working to his tight ends and backs. His fine footwork came in handy on a play not tried by the first unit, as Prescott began rolling to his left before a quick stop, turn, and throw to Morrow left all alone back on the right end. The big frosh blew by two tacklers and left Arrington (revenge) on the turf with a quick move. The third teams weren't ignored either, and WR Devin Fosselman got to show off against a scratch secondary in these matchups with Sam Cowart finding him.

Neither passer was picked in 11-man work. The only setback was an unforgivable loose ball from TB Derek Milton, fortunately within a few minutes of the session ending because it meant a shorter exile for the freshman.

The first offensive line finally saw a spring change, though not one anticipated as right guard Justin Malone was supplanted by Ben Beckwith. Malone, a true freshman in his first spring, had run #1 for the first six days in place of recovering veteran Tobias Smith. Beckwith is a longtime walk-on and has practiced at both guard and center in his time. The third right guard has been Nick Redmond.

For that matter the second line showed a fresh wrinkle of its own. For a number of snaps in both partial- and full-team matchups, #2 RT Charles Siddoway flipped to the left end but with #2 LT Joey Trapp still in place making for an overloaded line. Towards the end of 11-on-11 the overload went to the right side, with Trapp still inside and Siddoway outermost. Malone was second RG with Dylan Holley at center and Templeton Hardy at left guard.

The defense showed both the four- and three-man lines again today, the latter for blitz or pass coverage packages. There were a pair of such passing situation sets, too. Besides the regular nickel with an extra safety, or actually corner as CB John Banks moved inside with Slay taking his spot outside, there was a four-linebacker set used other times. First-teamers Benardrick McKinney (middle), Cameron Lawrence and Deonte Skinner (outside) were joined by OLB Matt Wells for a quartet. Wells has been alternating with Skinner some on the first unit already.

The three-man line had end Kaleb Eulls moving to nose with pass rushing specialists Denico Autry and Shane McCardell the outside linemen. The four-front was unchanged on the first team with Eulls and McCardell at ends, and Josh Boyd and Curtis Virges the tackles. The second four-line was ends Autry and Preston Smith with P.J. Jones and, for a change today, Quay Evans at tackles.

Thursday also found Arrington getting to work first-team safety alongside Jay Hughes; with Louis Watson lending his experience to the second secondary paired with Kendrick Market or Zack Jackson.

With a real scrimmage coming up, Mullen had the placekick and punt teams start today's practice off. Brian Egan hit a 37-yard field goal but line-drived another into the back of his blockers. Charles Grandfield was wide left from 37 and 42 yards. On punt teams, WR Sam Williams and CB Jamerson Love were the first gunners with Slay and CB Taveze Calhoun the second pair.

It wasn't all competition Thursday. There were extended instruction periods, most obviously with both lines of scrimmage as State is still gauging the blocking. He may well be redshirting but teen-ager and spring signee Justin Senior still takes his turns with the third, or even second at time, teams at left tackle. He is very raw to football of course but can learn fast and even stuffed SEC veteran Eulls in a drill. Later on, DT Evans was struggling with interior-rush drills. Mullen took him aside, offered some advice, and on the next snap the true frosh had no trouble sliding off a block by OG Hardy and getting into the backfield.

If he can do the same tomorrow, Evans might not be allowed to actually hit the quarterback(s) but he can certainly pressure a passer. The rest of the offensive team is fair game for tackling, and based on how that unit has shown-off in the first seven working dates the defense probably has its own point to make.

Mullen did not have a post-practice interview today in advance of the scrimmage, but did say he expects to give the first teams 70 snaps. The second team will get the same, and the third…as many as the coach wants before he gets tired, or mad.

The scrimmage is on the practice field adjacent to softball and tennis stadiums, and is open.

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