Perkins, Bulldogs Still Polishing Rough Edges

Their coach had said this week would see a change of practice pace, looking towards the opening game. But a good team can adjust as needed, and LaDarius Perkins says the Bulldogs needed to keep up the camp approach just a little longer. "We're still in preseason camp mentality."

Meaning that Tuesday and Wednesday practices still leaned towards polishing off some remaining rough August edges, before Mississippi State finally turns entire attention to their September 1 debut with Jackson State. Which is not all that far away, really.

"We're still trying to clean up a lot of things, just getting prepared for the next week," said Perkins. "Because when we go into game week it's all focused on the game, nothing else."

If Perkins and players are at all concerned about still sticking to camp mindset as late as August 22, it did not show. Due to class schedules Tuesday's practice in full pads ran late, with Bulldogs getting off the field around 8:00.

This was the first chance to talk with Perkins since Coach Dan Mullen affirmed the expected: that the junior tailback will get the ball first against the SWAC Tigers. Or maybe it wasn't so obvious given close camp competition from sophomore Nick Griffin and redshirts Josh Robinson and Derrick Milton, all of whom have gotten good practice reviews. Still as the squad's SEC veteran Perkins is the obvious first Dog up on opening evening.

Perkins has heard that word too. His response? "It doesn't change anything. I come out there every day to prove myself. Every day, no matter what day it is, whether we have pads on or not. I try to prove myself every day."

It's a sound attitude towards preseason, this practicing as if the job was wide-open. What Perkins really cares about more though is not so much that he gets the first handoff from Tyler Russell. He wants to get the most handoffs. It isn't about being greedy understand. Perkins simply intends to prove himself as a feature-class back, or the proverbial every-down runner.

That was the job description for Vick Ballard in 2010-11, getting roughly two-thirds of the called rushes with Perkins the rotation runner. Now Ballard hauls balls in NFL training camp and State's leading role is left here for the taking. So, in drills and scrimmages alike the older Dog pushes himself. And pushes, and pushes on through some more. It is part of proving something to the offensive staff as well.

"Some days out there it's hot, you're exhausted, you've got to keep going," Perkins explained. "And I've seen myself get better at that. That's how I realized that I really can carry the load, on days when you're tired and about to give in. You've got to keep going and I can tell that I've got better at that."

He's gotten stronger and even a little stouter, too. Even back in spring ball fans noticed the impressive upper arms and back muscles. "Balis made!" as Perkins boasted. The extra strength and a hard summer's conditioning have Perkins in peak preseason form, not to mention equally confident attacking between the tackles or making moves to the edge.

So he has the body for a feature back. He has the experience and the want-to, too. It appears all that will keep Perkins from averaging Ballard-like numbers each game is that group of talented younger Dogs who want in on the 2012 act. "Those guys are going to get carries, too. And when I get out of the game and they get in I know they can make big plays also."

Yes, the big plays. Every August interview, not just with offensive Dogs but their defensive peers also, has brought talk about all the big plays being made in this camp. Older hands who've been through this camp drill before are openly impressed, and even Mullen—not overly free with his practice praise the first three years—has had uniformly positive comments so far.

It all sounds too good to be true, yet Perkins insists.

"Oh yeah, we're clicking pretty well right now as an offense. And that's what we're supposed to do, we're supposed to make big plays, a lot of times. And it's not supposed to be one big play, we're supposed to make big plays a lot of times at practice. I see that a lot now and we've got to keep making progress."

Now that comment might contain the key difference in 2012 over preceding seasons. The ‘supposed to do' bit. Up to now Bulldog offenses have hoped, wanted, tried for big plays. Suddenly that goal seems a whole lot closer to season reality. Not least because, per Perkins, there is a genuine comfort level with quarterback Tyler Russell's running of the offense. Especially the passing game, be it deep, short, or spread side-to-side.

This plays to the strengths of all four running backs, in fact. "Because we're passing the ball more this year and running backs are catching the ball more. So we've been working a lot on catching the ball and handling it and individual things like that," Perkins said, then adding "We're going to be ready for the run too." Then again many of the throws State has practiced for '12 are just long handoffs for all intents and purposes.

"Yeah, those pass plays can turn into long runs," said Perkins, who is very well-suited for such situations. "I mean you get dump passes coming out of the backfield, screen plays, things like that." Even better, he said, this is an offense that will evolve on into and through the season with new twists each week. Might that include, say, direct snaps and even a chance for Perkins to throw it?

"Uhhhhh, we'll have to see!" he said, thinking of that memorable if not successful attempt to toss against Georgia in 2010. Never mind. Russell can take care of the chunking just fine, and Perkins is proud of it.

"We have grown together. Me and Tyler came in together and we redshirted together. And we've basically picked up on the whole program pretty quick and we know what we're doing out there now."

Perkins gave a positive report Tuesday on the guys who aren't supposed to touch the ball, or not other than center Dillon Day. The blocking Bulldogs might be a work in progress still but the rest of the squad is confident.

"Oh, I don't question the offensive line. Coach Hevesy is a great coach and he's going to have them guys right. I talk to Dillon every day. Especially when we get in the huddle I make sure he has the guys right and we're ready to rock and roll."

Mississippi State should start rolling into genuine game-preparation any day now and address issues directly related to playing Jackson State. Not least on the list are kicking teams. The specialist spots seem settled with eterans Baker Swedenburg and Brian Egan on punts and kickoffs respectively getting strong reviews. And freshman Devon Bell has performed as hoped on placekicks.

Those aren't the squads that involve Perkins directly though. He is among the many candidates for return roles. Kickoffs were his '11 specialty with a team-best 22.7-yard average. But there are teammates who like fielding kicks too, including some fast freshmen such as Brandon Holloway, Cedric Jiles, and Xavier Grindle eager for that opportunity.

Might Mullen decide to save Perkins' physique for routine, and route, running?

"At this point I really don't know. Whatever Coach Mullen wants me to do I'm going to do. if that's special teams also I'm down for it because I've done that ever since I've been here and it's nothing new."

Thursday's practice is set for an earlier finish, with Mullen to go over impressions with media afterwards.

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