Mullen Grooming Dogs For Scrimmage

This is still a two-a-day date for the Bulldogs. But Thursday won't be the usual sort of double-duty practice scheme. After putting his team through a stiff morning session, Coach Dan Mullen is going to relax the load just a little this evening. In fact Friday's single practice will be in the cooler hours. Because come Saturday…

It is getting down to crunch time of training camp for Mississippi State, with the end in sight for everyone. Mullen might be a bit sorry to see this most intensive stage of preseason end because their days on the Farm have gone well. Very well by all accounts. But all good things have to end and by next week the Bulldogs are mixing classes and practices.

Before then Mullen wants a good read on his team. Saturday's closed scrimmage on Scott Field will be the best indicator, not to mention a last chance for many Bulldogs to earn their depth-chart promotions. The coach is so serious about this scrimmaging that beside a lighter Friday evening session he is giving the team Sunday off from practicing. Monday, too.

"Basically we're wrapping-down training camp right now," Mullen said. "I talked to our guys about tomorrow. We're going to have a lighter evening practice, just helmets and shoulder pads. Then Saturday scrimmage, and then we're off for a couple of days. Coaches will kind of start putting a plan together of exactly where we are, who is ready to go, who is definitely ready to go, who is on the borderline ready to go, and who probably needs another year developing."

How much will the scrimmage factor in that?
"It will play a part. It's not solely based on that. It is much more based on overall. But if you come out and have a huge, a great scrimmage… To me it's not all playmaking, its more about doing your job. About the consistency of being able to do your job on a regular basis so we can trust you on the field."

John Banks said this preseason the players are pushing each other more than he's ever seen, even young players pushing veterans?
"I think we did a couple of different things in format to help the guys get a lot more reps early on. The split squad practice, and also splitting the squad during practice, two groups going at the same time."

"I think what that did for the younger players, it game them a better opportunity to get reps, to understand what the system is. So at this point in camp they know what they're doing a little bit more, so they can compete a little bit better. And you get that competition out on the field."

Have any particular groups or players stood out differently than you expected?
"Nah. Every day some guys do good, some guys have off-days. But I like the way in training camp that our team is coming together. I see a lot of guys still stick together as a team."

"When you get in training camp even though you get tested, you have position groups. You know, running backs when the line misses a block they're mad at the o-linemen, you know what I mean? Then the linebackers get mad at the d-line; the d-line gets mad at the corners because the let a guy open. Offense and defense start getting chippy in practice."

"What I've seen out of us is not a lack of competitiveness. Guys still get chippy. What I've seen is everybody really believing in the team aspect of things. That it is going to take every person doing their job for us to succeed, probably the best I've seen since I've been here with that kind of team chemistry."

What areas have you seen Dak Prescott progress in?
"He's doing a whole lot better throwing the football. Now he still has a little ways to go for me. But Tyler Russell has a ways to go. Every quarterback, I watch the 49ers some, Alex Smith still has a little ways to go in my mind!"

"So you never stop developing. But the one thing, Dak is really smart, he has really progressed within the offense. He knows what's going on. For a guy who is a redshirt freshman right now he knows what is going on on the field, checking plays, comfortable with the system, getting it to the right receiver. Now he still makes mistakes, but I'm very happy with where he is at this stage of his career."

What will you look for in the scrimmage?
"On Saturday I look for them running on-and-off the field; running to the ball, finishing plays, not making silly mistakes, no penalties, none of that stuff. When I come back to watch the film I want to look at who is executing, who is consistently doing their job. What are we consistently doing well on offense, what are we consistently doing well on defense. If we have to tweak schematically gameplan-what our focus is going to be."

Do the players know how important this scrimmage is as far as rotations and depth chart?
"Oh yeah. They know. Everything has been towards that. You have practice tomorrow night, Saturday's scrimmage, and at that point we're going to have scout teams next week. It doesn't mean that we've set who is playing and who is not playing, there are still guys who are going to be on the edge one way or the other. But we're going to have a good idea of the direction we're headed in."

Practice is late Friday, like a walk-through?
"No, a practice but under the lights at night to get out of the heat."

Will you do normal kicking during the scrimmage?
"You know, I've looked at the kicking. I'm not going to do normal scrimmage kicking. But we will do kicking just so we kick in the stadium. PAT, field goal, we'll do as part of the scrimmage. But as far as punt, kickoff, kickoff return; kind like in spring we'll do maybe eight kickoffs to start the scrimmage, or four punts in the beginning or the middle or something like that, kind of mix it in."

What is different this camp with new field goal kickers?
"I don't notice any of that stuff differently. I mean, you've got to coach the guys a little harder about their fundamentals. Or if you have a guy like Baker Swedenburg who has been in the program four-and-a-half years or whatever it is now! You don't have to tell him a whole lot, he's got it. I mean you're always working with him, trying to get better. He understands running on-and-off the field, being on-time for practice, and where the drop spot is the for the punt. So that stuff is a lot easier."

A week ago you said you were disappointed with the kickers but they had time?
"They're getting there. We've got a long time to go, I still let them kick and they're getting a lot better. I haven't put them in tough pressure situations. Hopefully we'll get some big field goals in the scrimmage on Saturday, of situations where they actually have to run on the field and perform. So we'll see how that goes in the stadium."

Banks said yesterday the offense looks the best in preseason since he's been here, are they ahead of last year or two years ago?
"I don't know if that's the case. I think we're throwing and catching the ball pretty well but we have some experienced guys at those positions. So that's part of it."

"I'm hoping we don't have a bad defense! The hard part you don't know in training camp, maybe our offense is really good; if the offense has a great day you could say boy, I think the offense is really good. Or as a head coach at night I lay looking at the ceiling saying boy, I hope our defense isn't really bad. Or vice-versa. If the defense has a great day optimistically you can say I hope we have a great defense; we might just have a terrible offense, I don't know!"

"So it kind of goes back-and-forth. But when you can throw and catch the ball efficiently, you have the older receivers that are experienced where to be and how to be there and have good hands. And you have a quarterback who has been in the system and knows where they are going to be, I think you can look more productive on offense."

You sound pleased with the receivers?
"I am. They're playing how they should play as seniors to me. We don't have a superstar to me, I don't have one, I don't have two. But we probably have four or five guys I feel very comfortable can do the right way, catch the ball. And our quarterbacks have done a good job getting it to them."

"But again you don't know until you start playing the reality of what your team is going to be like this year."

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