Mississippi State spent the tenth day, and 12th practice total, of August still laboring on the Farm field. It was a shorts-and-headgear session since Mullen plans to pick up the hitting a good bit Monday morning. Putting the pads on will be a good measure of whether the group Mullen specifically complimented Sunday is really stepping up there game.
Coach Dan Mullen: "I guess one group (that) stepped up, the offensive line is getting better which is what you want to see. I'd say I'm nowhere close to figuring out who the five guys we put on the field to start with (are), but some of those younger guys you're starting to see them improve consistently. Which is what we need. Because we don't need a starting five, which we don't have set yet; you also need at least eight. I mean that showed pretty quickly last year when boom-boom, two starters go down in successive games."
"So you have to have guys that are ready to play. But I think they are starting to come, starting to be more comfortable, starting to be more consistent as a group. Guys like Justin Malone, Damien Robinson, and Charles Siddoway. And Blaine Clausell. Those three guys are kind of taking control. The guys that haven't played a whole lot--Ben Beckwith is fighting for a job, he's looking better. And Archie Muniz. Those are the guys that really kind of stick out that are newer. The guys that you already know are going to perform, Dillon Day has played a whole season; Tobias Smith and Gabe Jackson, those guys are performing for us. And we expect them to. Even if they have an off-day they're still going to be good. I thought that group did pretty good today."
"We just went in helmets and shoulder pads. Tomorrow we're going to go full-pads in the morning practice, and going to some of our first scrimmage action. We're going to be live tackling and all that stuff tomorrow morning."
Do more options on the offensive line help? "It helps because you want to have that depth, you want to be ready to go. Like I say you need eight. I'll take ten! If we've got ten ready to go I'm going to feel great. But within I guess 20 days we step on the field, we've to have eight that are ready to play live action in game situations."
Have you started discussing giving any walk-ons scholarships yet? ""Oh yeah. We've done that every year, I want to say in my three years here probably about 12 to 13 walk-on kids (were) given scholarships. We'll wait and see before the start of school."
Coach Hevesy says he has four tackles, do you have a rough idea how the tackles will end up? "Where they end up, well, because we have to have some ready to be swingers. Guys that can go, because if you're best tackle is your left tackle and then second and third are right tackle, and fourth is your left tackle; and the one left tackle goes out and have a better player sitting on the bench he's going on the field. You have to have those guys move around."
"So I think in his mind he's getting those guys ready to play and figuring out who the best guys are. I wouldn't be surprised early in the season, if we were playing today, we would be playing more than two tackles in a game. You know, we'd be giving guys opportunities to get in there and see in live situations in the stadium who really stands out."
Have you seen the game slow down for the junior college linemen who've come in? "Absolutely. The most critical thing for those guys is graduating early. If they don't have a spring it's a struggle. I mean, Charles it was a struggle all spring but now he's been through it. He understands when we're teaching things what is going on. In spring his first day on the practice field he's trying to figure out the pace we're going at. When we started installing the offense for him it's like day-one of Chinese class. ‘OK, it's outside zone', everybody knows that. But when you start hearing the terminology that we use it's a different language, even with experience with it he has to learn a language."
"But I think he's grown into it. He's gotten bigger, I think he was 280-something in spring. He's 305, 310 now, so he's prepared himself to play in the SEC."
Looking back, how has your offense changed in the years since? "It's evolved greatly, and it evolved every step of the way. And Bowling Green the original plan was…we used to use the term ‘gun' in the huddle because we were more under-center than shotgun. As that continued to evolve, we ended up being more shotgun than under-center. If we wanted to go under-center, we'd call under-center. We used to call it gun for whatever got us under the shotgun."
"Then it involves getting to Utah where you didn't have an athletic quarterback, so we went to option football to get the ball out of his hands more. More options to get rid of the ball and balance out the running game to keep people on edge. At Florida, we started getting into more gap schemes because of the great defensive linemen you saw in the SEC into now."
"I think we're coming full circle. Our offense is now going to be very different than all of those places, but it has part of all of those places that we've kind of blended together to make this offense fit. Kind of like day-one at Bowling Green. We went and researched all this different stuff, put all these ideas on the board and put it together to make an offense that made sense. I think we've kind of gone full circle back now. We have some different things we've added but we've gone back this offseason--our offensive staff has done a good job of making sure everything makes sense and we don't just run a play because that's one we did at Utah, even though it doesn't really fit what we're doing now. We've kind of gone full circle in making sure everything fits together."
Might there be more option football this year like at Utah? "Option football is always going to be a part of our deal because it keeps the defense honest. If you don't have to account for the quarterback, it's a lot easier to play defense. With Tyler, who reminds me a lot of an Alex Smith with their skill sets, we threw the ball a lot, we ran the ball well and had some option football in there. I've obviously said, with Alex Smith, you go back I think his last year there before he went in the draft, he had 800 yards rushing that year. If you go look at some of those runs, he's running by himself down the sidelines for 70 yards."
"I don't think we called one run play up the middle for him. It was all an option and the defense never covered the quarterback on the option and he just ran until somebody got near him and he ran out of bounds. Our backup was true freshman Brian Johnson who was 17 years old and that was it. So, I mean, it was rough duty but we just managed it that way. Tyler kind of fits that mold. Our option football here is not to have Tyler run the ball. If you're not going to defend him, he's going to run. I think he had a couple runs today at practice. They're not allowed to get near him but there wasn't anyone near him anyway. I told them don't touch him but you can at least get near him! His runs today, there was nobody near him."
Was there anything from Bowling Green or Florida you worked on a lot and people caught on to? "The shovel option, to me. And we used it at Florida. We used it at a lot of places. It was a play at Utah, probably, was one of the biggest ones. We used it a lot and it was one of those, I think we were like the only team that ran the shovel triple-option at the time. And after that first year, I think people got spooked because it was going up and down the field. It was a pretty good deal. So I think defenses really kind of spent some time on it. And you can defend it."
"What you started seeing it was them defending it and making the quarterback run the ball for four yards. Like I said, when we run option, my goal is not to have the quarterback to take a pounding for a three or four yard gain. With stuff like that, a lot of times what we'd look at was if you spent enough time defending it, you weren't practicing other things. So, we'd have it in the plan and if we ran it early in the game once or twice and you had an answer for the shovel option, great, we'll just move onto something else. To defend it, you had some put some time into it. That was kind of a philosophy we took."
Have you noticed any changes in practices from indoors to outdoors? "Not a limitation in performance. It's actually a better performance, because there's no sun recovery issues outside. For me, I've gotten much more comfortable being indoors than maybe in years past, I guess. Now it's grown on me, being in the Palmeiro Center. Still have to raise the roof a couple of feet for the kicking game aspects of it! But I guess just being experienced for me, just my comfort level has changed going into the indoor. I used to be very anti-going into the indoor facility, and I'm not as anti-going in there as much any more."
Did Xavier Grindle practice today? "Yeah, he was out at practice today. (He) went home. Like most freshmen, kind of go home homesick. Mom put him in the car, drove him back up. He was back out there practicing."
Did you talk to Pearl River C.C. about him? "I didn't talk to anybody. They came in, said hey, Xavier got in his car and went home. I talked to Melvin (Smith), he called his mom, said when I get home tonight I'm going to meet with him. She got home that night and met with him, got in the car the next morning, drove him back up here, and he just came in here. My first discussion on it was him coming in and apologizing for leaving."
"I didn't talk to anybody anywhere. I didn't even talk to Xavier until he got back. With guys like that and homesickness, those are big family, you need the family support obviously. You've got some great family support at home to help him get going in the right direction with things. We're obviously going to guide kids, but that's kind of something with more the family. When it's not a football or school or any of that issue, because the first question I asked was, are you unhappy? And he's like, no. Just kind of like all freshmen."
The junior college coach said Xavier was going to sign, did that come up with Grindle? "Not with me, it didn't."
Will he face any discipline? "Apologizing to the team. It wasn't like he stormed out or it was a big discipline issue. A young guy, all these freshmen, I see it with all of them. We're always on constant high alert to watch and see who the midnight runner is, the next midnight runner! There will probably be another midnight runner or two before it's all said and done."
Are you working Grindle on returns? "A lot of the freshmen, we do."
Has that been narrowed down yet? "I have a good idea. I have a good idea at punt returns, Banks and Bumphis will be returning some punts. Perkins and Jameon Lewis will probably be returning some kicks. But the freshmen are going to have some opportunities. We give a lot of guys opportunities, but all our return specialists are back from last year, so I expect those guys to do a lot of it."
Did any other coaches come in spring to look at your offense? "Yeah. They did."
Can you recall who, any BCS teams? "Yeah, I think. There is always that that goes on every year. I know like one staff came and said, can we install your offense and learn how to do your offense, which happens sometimes, I guess."
What do you say to them? "It's kind of a compliment, I guess. I want to charge for the system, right? I'll sell you wristbands and all for this much money! I should've copyrighted that Utah thing back in the day, right? Should've copyrighted some of those plays. A lot of people use that stuff now, or have used part of it."