"Practice Field To Prime Time" For Mullen

It's not the same exact feeling as four years ago. Opening day as a first-time head coach is different than first game as a veteran head coach. Still Dan Mullen is one to obsess over the details, including some of his own. "I'm paranoid this week because you're kind of out of routine."

Fortunately the Bulldogs are finding their own routine in the build-up to Saturday evening and kickoff (6:08) against Jackson State. Even the prospect of rough weather coming through the South is not throwing Mississippi State off game-week stride beyond the chance of going inside for a couple of days.

This ought not present many problems. Mullen said full-pads practicing finished Monday, with State shifting to helmets-and-shoulder pads Tuesday. That would be ahead of the in-season routine but then the Bulldogs are coming off three long weeks of heavy work. Still it's that time of year, at last. "We're kind of getting into our normal game week. Yesterday was first down, today is third down."

"It was a good day. There's always that transition and figuring out. You're into scout periods, you're into game planning; of keeping things fresh and learning how to do it and how to perform under those circumstances, being with the scout team and doing all that stuff. But it was not bad. The effort is good, the attention is good, the focus is good. It's just now the adjustment of the speed of what we expect practice to be like."

How will practice adjust to the weather? "Last I saw it's going to miss us, we may get some rain or something up here. We'll go indoors, depending. If the weather becomes a distraction then we go inside. If it's a lighter rain then it becomes more of a focus (thing), because you're going to have to play in that. Then we'll stay outside. But we have that opportunity to do either."

Have you wanted to see LaDarius Perkins separate himself at running back? "Yeah, and I've really seen Perkins do that from day-one with the other guys. Perkins from day-one has been at the top, but I've seen the other guys…I don't know that he's maybe separated, he's pulled their level of play up. So you feel pretty good. I like the way the guy's been running the football. I'm going to feel pretty comfortable giving any of them the ball, and giving them that opportunity and see. Because it's going to be a change from practice field to prime time."

Moving Josh Boyd over to Cox's position, what did you see? "One, you want a dynamic player at that position. I think he's our most dynamic defensive lineman. I think he would have been great at that position, you start rotating guys last year and there's talk like you always wanted to have both of them on the field together, but it's a good one-two at that position last year. So I just think the ability to put him in position to make plays, that's the position we want him at. And I think he's done a nice job. He certainly has all the ability. We've just got to see him now have the production on the field."

Has he taken ownership of this d-line group? "Yeah, I mean I think he's worked at it. I don't think it's all natural for Josh to be a leader as much as it is for other guys. But I think that he's worked at it and he knows that it is his responsibility."

Who is the first kicker you roll out for field goal? "It's different every day. Oh, on Saturday? Oh, I don't know. I'm going to get the chart on Thursday. What we do is move the kicks around, so every day it's a different guy that foes first, second third, so they're always getting a different spot. After Thursday's practice I'll get a chart of where everybody has hit it and I'll go from there and pick one at that point."

"Obviously I'd like to see more than one guy kick, if we have that opportunity on Saturday. Because there's very few guys that have done it in a game on the roster. I mean, (Baker) Swedenburg has done it. But the placekicking, (Brian) Egan has a couple of attempts in his career. So I'd like to get some guys, here's your chance, go do it in the spotlight and see what you can do. If it takes a couple of weeks, if one guy statistically separates himself both in practice and during the game, then it will be easy."

Will you send Swedenburg out to kick? "No, no. He's the only one in that whole group that has been on the field before. No, I don't think he can kick! Sometimes you're like the emergency, no, he's not the emergency anything!"

Who is the emergency kicker? "Well, I don't need an emergency kicker, I've got like four of them all competing right now. If we get to that point we'll put an ad in the Reflector and see who shows up. But punters, you've got Berg and Mordecai at punter, so there's guys out there. The emergency gets more when you go travel and have to cut down to travel roster."

Do you script the first ten to fifteen plays? "Twelve."

What are the pros and cons of doing that? "When you look at it, it's a group effort. One, you want your quarterback involved in what he feels good early in the game. Two, it's what you want to see or what you're trying. You've got a play you want to make sure you get called, or you want to see early. You put that in there."

"Obviously the circumstances can throw you off that. I mean, you get a third down, you might go over to your third down calls; you get down in the red zone, you're going to your red zone calls. But I think it just kind of gives you a starting point of where you want to go, how you want to start the game, and what you're looking for. If I want to see how they play empty, well let's get into it early and see what they're going to do in it. I want to see how they're going to play a 21 ‘I' formation, let's get in the ‘I' and see. OK, what if we do unbalanced, what do they do to that?"

"Whatever it is you're looking at doing, how you want to see what those adjustments are, you script it out that way. Like four years ago we ran a double-reverse pass on the first play. But I wanted to make sure we put a stamp on what the future was going to be. Now I'm kind of here! So I haven't thought about it like that."

"That double-reverse was planned out like a year, a long time ago. Now we're four years in, we'll probably hand it off up the middle…booooo, you know!"

Do you want to not give Auburn a lot to look at for next weekend? "We don't hold back. We had that discussion, let's go do what we do. I want to do what we do well, and not hold back any. Let's just go play and put our kids in position to make plays in the course of the game. I think that's within our gameplan and that's what we've done."

Have any players with the weather said they had to get in touch with families? "A lot of them. But we're in the safe place, a lot of them their families are coming in this direction instead of our guys going. Certainly they don't need to go down there to check on their families this moment, right now. But with our guys and where they are, I've talked to a bunch of our guys. I think some of the families that maybe were planning on coming up for the game Saturday, are already up here."

Are you thinking about subbing Perkins out of kickoff some? "Well, I'm hoping we only have to do kickoff return once a game, so then I wouldn't have to sub them out! I'll have to get on Chris (Wilson) about that, the defensive guys!"

"But no, I think he can be pretty dynamic there. So I don't mind putting the ball in his hand on those opportunities. I'm always very conscious of plays at the end of the game. I think with our backs we have the opportunity to roll some backs through, so his play total shouldn't get too high. And if it does then that's one thing I'd have to look at. If we don't feel as comfortable with the other guys and his play total on offense is starting to get up there then we're going to have to cut that back."

So after a long kickoff return you could take him off and play Griffin or Robinson? "You could. But it's just like breaking a long run, he's going to be ready to go the next play. He's in pretty good shape."

How is opening game different now than four years ago with Jackson State? "It is different. It is very different. You still have the first game of the season-type feeling. But the first game in a career is a very different The first game of the season, a couple of years in…I don't know how many game it is. 38? This is game #39. So it's the first game excitement, first game jitters. I'm paranoid this week because you're kind of out of routine."

"I mean I'm going through do I have my whistle in my bag, do you have your pen ready that you need on the sidelines? You know, all of those different notes of reviewing it. You get nervous about that stuff, where's the two-point chart exactly where I need to have it? By week six you're rolling; week one? I'll probably forget something along the way and mess something up. But the overall feeling is the excitement for the first game, where that game was different."

Will any true freshmen play in the first game? "I have an idea. But we'll see Saturday. I mean it's only Tuesday today so… I never tell any of them they're going to play, I want to make sure they're prepared to play. And if they prepare all the way through kickoff and I think they're ready to go and they're going to make contributions we'll throw them out there on the field."

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