Thursday Bulldog Football Notebook

The subject has been a source of steady comment since spring ball. Still it's worth repeating just how impressive are the changes in LaDarius Perkins' physique. Is that a clue he wears on the left wrist, the white elastic band reading ‘Churchs Chicken'? More to the point, does Coach Matt Balis know?

"He doesn't care what I eat, it doesn't matter!" Perkins laughed. "He's OK with it!"

Perkins has a point. His fondness for pre-game snacking heavy on candy and other sweets is well-known, and the strength coach has been OK with that too. Besides, the results can't be disputed. The junior running back packs 194 rock-solid pounds on that 5-10 frame and looks better than ever.

"I gained a whole lot of weight since I got here," Perkins said. A whole lot because the St. Joseph High product came to campus back in 2009 at just 170. Now for a fellow who arrived with the reputation as a fast back, putting on so much poundage sounds risky. But Perkins reports he is just as fast and quick as ever, and repeated spring and preseason practicing showed no loss in endurance either.

Which was the goal. "Coach Mullen worked with me to run with the weight on me. Because when you gain weight you get tired as you keep going, but Coach Mullen worked with me on things like that and I got better."

So much so that Mississippi State is counting on the most experienced runner to be lead Dog in the ground game. True, there are three talented and younger backs pushing for their own playing time, and Coach Greg Knox definitely intends to test them all on opening night. But this is the opportunity Perkins has worked for after two seasons as the backup to Vick Ballard and he plans to play every possible snap.

And every potential play-call, too. He may have looked like a freshman scatback once upon a time but the 2012 edition can handle any hauling duty. "I feel like I can get to the edge or go inside more. I've gained weight and I can take a pounding. It's whatever the play call is and the game situation is." By the way, Perkins is one of the experienced kickoff return men on this team, too. Mullen has been working others in that role this preseason, whether senior receivers or faster freshmen, but Perkins would love taking turns on returns again.

"I don't worry about my body wearing down. Because Coach Mullen has me in the best shape of my life now. It's not an issue at all." What ought to encourage Bulldog fans is the fact State has so many other athletes who can take this load off the proven Perkins. It isn't who has to return, it is who gets to now.

Perkins does expect to share series with Nick Griffin, Josh Robinson, and Derrick Milton of course. Yet again there has to be a leader of any pack and it's a role the fourth-fall junior wants. So he's been more focused than ever honing technique this preseason. Just, he said, like the rest of the offense. In fact Mullen waited later than usual to transition from drills to game preparations.

"We were working on individual things a lot in preseason. But now we get to game week and it's more different plays, different situations. Third down, red zone, things like that to get ready for a game." And even for a veteran there are the twinges of kickoff anticipation. Right after 6:08 Saturday though it's back to business.

"All the butterflies should be gone, it's time to have fun then. You're supposed to execute at a high level and mainly just have fun."

And, stay strong for the long haul, meaning more candy and chicken in Perkins' case. It's enough to drive others crazy, that while they grind off extra weight the now-stout back enjoys his daily diet. "I don't have to eat that much, but it does take a good bit for me to gain the weight and keep it on."

HOME TEAM: As a Greenville native, Perkins understands what in-state games can mean. He's 2-0 playing against Ole Miss after all, and for that matter Perkins is becoming an Egg Bowl star. He has rushed for 164 yards and one touchdown, and caught six passes for 167 more yards and three other touchdowns against frustrated Rebels. Two years ago he rushed for 56 yards and a touchdown against Alcorn State, too.

This is his first first-hand shot at Jackson State however, having sat out the 2009 game as a redshirt. There won't be any special solo angle to this game either. "I've heard a couple of names but I don't know anyone personally."

This is not so surprising as it might seem. What is, is that only 41% of Jackson State's official roster is made of Mississippi natives. By contrast 63% of Bulldogs come from the home state, or 72 out of the 115 in the media guide. The real 2012 season roster is being finalized for opening weekend so the percentage can change a bit.

LINING UP: The spring and preseason competition of most outside, and for that matter inside, interest has been the wide-open right tackle job. The graduation of three-year starter Addison Lawrence leaves that position up for grabs, with Damien Robinson and Charles Siddoway each trying to take it.

Siddoway appears to have won the battle for now as the listed starter. It is exactly what the junior college star was signed for in December after all, and the benefit of winter enrollment and spring practicing has paid off. At the same time Robinson, a third-year sophomore now, is right there. Robinson was signed as a tackle out of high school, practiced there a year before shifting to guard for another. He even came out of spring as the number one.

Now, Mullen sees the scale tipped Siddoway's direction. "Charles has picked it up and gotten used to the speed," said the head coach. "I also think he had a great offseason from when he got here ‘til now. He's put on 15, 18 pounds, gotten used to what it's like to compete against SEC guys in practice." Siddoway has also shown the benefit of having played a few Division I games already when he was at California before spending last fall in junior college.

Don't overlook Robinson though. Coaches are convinced his gradual development will ultimately produce a top college tackle and pro prospect. Mullen expect both to play. "And hopefully playing significant reps in the first game to get them experience under their belt."

That approach applies to all first-game positions, should the game develop as most anticipate of course. And even if things stay tight, "I'm going to force guys onto the field no matter the situation, to gain them experience, to get them ready to play for the long season," Mullen said. "In game one I want to give everybody an opportunity after working hard in camp to show what they can do when the lights come on."

ROTATING TRIGGERMEN: This most definitely includes backup quarterback Dak Prescott. Having redshirted it is time for the talented freshman to play, and as the only other scholarship quarterback on the '12 roster Prescott has to be prepared for SEC season right now. Mullen is not locking himself into a specific quarterback script just yet, such as subbing on this number series.

Or even giving Prescott a complete series the first few times. "It might be situational for a couple of plays here or there. I just want to get for him the most important one, get him out there, call a play in the huddle in front of a big crowd, on TV. Get a snap even if you've got to hand it off, just go out and function in your first play. I think the first play is the hardest one."

It is worth recalling what happened when starter Tyler Russell made his own MSU debut two years ago as a backup against Memphis. After starter Chris Relf led a touchdown drive for a 7-0 lead, Russell subbed-in for the third series. He did hand off the first play, too, with Robert Elliott gaining eight yards. On second down Russell threw a 14-yard completion to Brandon Heavens, and five more plays later found Heavens again for a 20-yard touchdown. Russell would go on to tie the program record with four touchdown passes in that game.

Few would forecast a record-setting debut for Prescott…but neither is an impressive opener improbable. "He's our backup quarterback, so it's everything right now for him in what he's got to be ready to do."

Mullen has broken-in his share of quarterbacks over the years. One such experience stands out as a lesson about best-laid plans and all that. "I remember Alex Smith's first drive (at Utah). His first touchdown pass, he called the cadence wrong, sent a guy in motion the wrong way, fumbled the snap, managed to scramble around and still throw a touchdown pass. It was a happy ending to what was just an absolute disaster of a play. But after that you saw confidence build."

FIRST CONTACT: Mullen expect lots of Friday-night and pre-kickoff nerves from the youngsters. Thing is, veterans are not immune either. One Bulldog though puts an interesting twist on the idea.

Brandon Heavens is ready to get hit. Sounds odd, especially for a wide receiver, but it's true. "I like to get tackled for the first time, that's when all my jitters go away." The senior has a point, nothing knocks out butterflies like getting knocked down. Still, wouldn't Heavens prefer to catch a ball and run untouched for a while? Like, into the end zone?

"Yeah, I would!" Heavens grinned. But really, he does look forward to the first good, hard lick Saturday evening to settle him down for the game. The season, too. "When you first get tackled, you know what to expect."

LEADING BY ACTIONS: The Bulldogs have selected their team captains for 2012. Senior CB Johnthan Banks, senior OLB Cameron Lawerence, and senior OG Tobias Smith have the privilege of first Dogs on the field Saturday evening for the pregame coin toss.

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