Mullen Pleased With Preseason's Pace

The action ratcheted upwards another notch Sunday afternoon as Mississippi State added shoulder padding to their preseason routine. And that was just fine with Coach Dan Mullen. "We do a lot without shoulder pads. But it's a little more realistic-looking when you have shoulder pads on, as you're trying to teach things and you can teach it at a little more normal pace."

The Bulldogs were working a little later today, fitting the full-team session into a complicated end-of-semester schedule as well as the opportunity for all to attend morning services and still get a good walk-through and actual practice. At least starting around 5:00 allowed the players who had been part of Saturday's second split-session had a little longer to recover. Those who had worked in the morning were more refreshed naturally.

And really, pulling on the first piece of padding gave everyone some extra incentive for their third working day of August. Besides that Mullen pointed out coaches get a cue about some kids at this transition point of training camp.

"Once you put the pads on you can see. Once you're in shoulder pads there's contact and you either love contact or hate contact." Guess which type the State staff favors.

Sunday marked another sort of first-week step. It was the second installation day, after Thursday's first such session. Though he didn't offer details Mullen indicated the process had gone well enough this phase, and Monday everyone gets tested again with another split-team approach.

Much of the attention was still on how so many member of Mullen's 2012 signing class showed-off on Saturday. Today was the first chance to get the head coach's own opinion and he agreed yes, they are an athletic bunch of young Bulldogs.

"But again there are a lot of great athletes out there. It doesn't mean you're going to be a great football player right now. We'll see how he absorbs the information. Because you can be as athletic as you want and you go the wrong way, the guy is going to be wide-open. That is a big part of it."

"But when you look at our team I think we have a fairly athletic team. And I look back to year-one when if first got here to now, I think we're much more athletic than we were then. Now, it doesn't mean we're going to be better football players! We've got to make sure we're better football players as well. That's important too."

Then again the raw material Mississippi State has to work with is impressive already. So despite a reasonably well-set lineup of veterans, Mullen is definitely leaving the door open for freshmen to play this fall…if they can earn the opportunity.

"When you look at redshirting, it is their ability one; how fast they grasp the information, two. And how they deal with that change of understanding that hey, I'm not the most dominating guy on the field, I'd better do things exactly right within my role. And if I do that, I can play."

Meanwhile there are some specific position contests that aren't likely to need any freshmen. Such as the offensive area of most current interest, at right offensive tackle. It's just three days in and for one of those sessions third-year sophomore Damien Robinson and junior transfer Charles Siddoway were separated. Today their competition resumed and while Mullen isn't labeling any leader right now—he even joked about the ‘official' depth chart showing Robinson ahead as in spring—he does like how things are developing.

With, he added, implications for left tackle as well. "They're doing good. We're always going to try to put the best five guys on the field. If they're two of the best give, then one of them is going to have to move somewhere else. Right now they're competing and we have them both at right tackle, and somebody has to be a swing guy, to be able to learn left."

The competition ought not seem as tight at quarterback where junior and veteran Tyler Russell is obviously the top Dog. Yet Mullen really likes what redshirt freshman Dak Prescott brings to the preseason mix, and the in-season plans. Prescott isn't simply settling for number-two status per the coach and that is helping get him ready even faster.

"Well, there's two aspects. One is getting the mentality of a guy who is a redshirt freshman ready to be our starter," Mullen said. "Because you better have two quarterbacks. You're a play away from him having to be the guy. So he has to have that mentality, but also the mentality of knowing that he's going to get in the game either way, that there will be a package for him.

Which, Mullen believes, should help Prescott's preparations; the younger quarterback should be relaxed not wondering if he'll play but knowing he will and in the right situations. "I think he'd be a little bit more nervous if he knew he was going to be the starter game one," Mullen said. "Which he might still be, we've still got a lot of practices!"

No, the head coach was not predicting Russell would lose his position. It is the ever-present injury risk, even to someone wearing a don't-touch jersey. Or off the field. "You never know, Tyler could trip coming out of the shower today, as crazy as it is those injuries occur. (Dak) has to keep that mindset, that he's not taking a backup mindset."

The odds of injuries, or at least bumps and bruises, increase Monday and even more so Tuesday when the full padding goes on. Mullen did say that most of the full-contact days will be more ‘thud' than all-out tackling, to limit real injury risk. Scrimmages are another matter entirely, but that's still a few more days away. For now the installation and repetition take precedence.

It's the right time for it too, as on Monday evening—after summer semester tests are completed—everyone reports to the hotel to begin true training camp. As in, practicing on the famed Farm field starting Tuesday. This has a way of focusing everyone on what they came for, Mullen said.

"We talked about that today after practice. For some guys we're in training camp mentality (already), for other guys they're not quite there yet because there's finals to take. Once you hit training camp, football consumes your life for two weeks." And Mullen does mean consume, as air mattresses and such will be brought to the locker room during the two-a-day dates for the players' camp convenience. Coaches have their own private offices after all.

"I love it. It's something we did a couple of years ago just because when you have a two-hour break you don't want to spend ten minutes in the car each way and have to walk up any stairs. So bam, we just load up the locker room full of air mattresses and just crash there."

Mullen will talk Monday mid-morning about the day's early session.

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