Bulldogs Go Full-Pads For Wednesday's Work

Delaying the week's first practice was the right call after all. Not only did temperatures climb into something resembling spring, but a few Bulldogs battling weekend illness were able to work on Wednesday. Still, "Even bumping practice back a day they get antsy," said Coach Dan Mullen. "Not just the players but the coaches want to be on the field."

Mississippi State's spring squad was on the field today, for over two-and-a-half hours. And for the first time this semester in full pads, as this was the third practice date. While this didn't result in a radical amount of contact the full-gear did appear to give the Bulldogs a little more bite in both drills and team-on-team periods.

Observers expecting a clear ‘depth chart' on day-three were disappointed as the coordinators and position coaches mixed-up their lineups in both 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 situations. This was most evident at the corners, where first-teamer Jamerson Love worked more often with redshirt Kivon Coman than veteran Cedric Jiles this day. Jiles then would pair-up with either Justin Cox or Will Redmond on the alternate group. At other times the #2 defensive front seven would find redshirt safeties Quadry Antoine and Deonte Evans behind them.

Offensively the two-deep on the line was the same as listed Saturday. The shufflings were at wide receivers for several combinations of split ends and flankers. Though, just as the first two days, the greater percentage of completions were to tight ends. The difference from Saturday was even more of these were involved. Where previously Malcolm Johnson and Brandon Hill were the top targets, this time Gus Walley, Rufus Warren, and Atrimas Samuel were hauling in throws. Shorter throw, that is; because the defense did not give the same time to let longer plays develop.

Some of the best competition came early in the one-on-one drills. S Jay Hughes made a fast recovery to deny WR Robert Johnson a ball, then it was Redmond making an impressive breakup on WR Fred Brown. When Brown did make a catch later, Love ripped it away for a fumble. And in a matchup of current vs former linebacker, Zachary Jackson busted-up an underneath throw meant for Christian Holmes.

It wasn't all defense. WR Michael Carr got a step on Coman slanting across the middle. And WR Joe Morrow just shot right by CB Rishunn McCaleb for a long catch and longer run. One into 7-on-7 the tight ends got more attention, and Samuel caught the first defense napping by going down the middle for a long haul. Warren looked about to do the same but after his catch S Dee Arrington dragged him down one-handed. Love did pick off QB Tyler Russell in this period, getting shaken-up in the process but returning soon.

In full-team work the mingled lineups played to the defense's benefit, especially when walk-on quarterbacks were trying to stay on the same page as unfamiliar receivers. CB James Baldwin intercepted QB Sam Cowart, though the walk-on quarterback did get some pride points back as he found Brown with separation on Redmond. Then Cox got in the way of another pass and picked it cleanly.

The ground game wasn't overlooked in full-team, and on these plays contact was much more liberal. Still there were some breaks for gains, such as when RB Derrick Milton bounced around the left end and was gone. On the last play of the day RB Josh Robinson slipped through right guard and got down the sideline. He kept running even after the whistle, wisely as LB Jackson kept chasing too.

After practice Coach Mullen met briefly with media. "We're learning. I mean, it's just install-three, we put a different install in every day. So a lot of learning going on out there on the field."

"You can look at a lot of things, say ‘wow that's a big play…' But usually when it's a big play on one side of the ball, the other side of the ball somebody making a mistake on the opposite side! So we just have to get those things cleaned up."

Did you see any difference with the pads on now? "I think it's easier to get things done obviously, you know what I mean? One of the hard things is teaching guys, especially young players--college kids don't get to be out here all the time--is how to practice without pads. There's a lot to that. So you feel safer being out here in pads. I think we had some injuries the first couple of days, a couple of guys get banged-up. Out here today you're a little safer and protected. So I think it's good having the pads on."

Are the new coaches getting in the practice flow? "It's good. I think a lot of them understand what we expect, being around. But I think if you're a coach this is where you want to be, out on the field coaching, teaching, and doing football. I think our coaches, even bumping practice back a day, they get antsy. Not just the players but the coaches want to get out there on the field. So I think they're enjoying themselves."

Was Russell feeling better today? "Yeah, he's still a little under the weather. But he understands that's part of being the starting quarterback, you're never always going to feel great."

"But he did good, a couple of new things we're looking at and trying. The great thing thought about him when you're an experienced guy is he's going to look and say I like this, I don't like this, can we try this a little differently. As he said, maybe we want to get more camera film on him so he can see some steps and some certain new things we're doing out there on the field. And just get an individual camera on him on the field. And it's great having a guy that really wants to study all of that." He said you suggested him going more under-center and he seems to enjoy it? "Yeah. But I think he has a lot of work to do on it to. One of the things in the off-season a lot we'll practice it more under-center, because it makes you ‘strain' a little bit more. He's got to get from here and all the way back there, he's got to work a little more under-center. But I think it's good for him and will give him comfort as he moves into the future playing as well."

How much of that is getting the ball out and not second-guessing himself? "It is. It's decision-making and having a good idea of what you want to do before the snap. You know what I mean, don't assume you know where you're going with the ball; but anticipate what is going to happen out there on the field. And if it's not right you have to know how to change it quick. But if you are right you'll get rid of the ball on time or even quicker than on-time."

You warned us to look for a lot of jumbled lineups, and that has been the case already with ones, twos, and threes working? "Yeah, because there is a lot of opportunity to be had out on the field. One tough thing in spring is you end up with whole substitution, you know? But when you're in a game situation you don't whole substitute. So a guy's got to play with other guys, and I've got to be used to different numbers of guys around him. So by doing that it allows you to kind of get more comfortable with everybody on the team."

Based on the first few practices the tight ends are more involved? "Well, you look, we have them now. They're kind of growing up, a little bit more a strength of the team and a little bit of depth. We've got to keep everybody healthy, but I see them having a much bigger role even this year, even though they've had some pretty big roles in the past. But it's expanding even more."

Is it good to have depth and health? "Well it helps. If you're trying to develop a package and all of a sudden one guy gets hurt and you just have really one guy in a whole package, it doesn't make you feel real comfortable. When you have a group of guys in a package you know there's a pair and a spare there to come in to take the reps. You feel a little bit better about it."

Will there be any scrimmage work Friday? "Yeah, we'll do a little red zone stuff. But what happens in all this installation you're not playing the game. Everyone, you're counting the reps to make sure we got everything repped that we need to rep at practice. It doesn't really lead to game situations much."

Mississippi State has further altered this week's practice schedule. There will not be a Thursday session as originally set. And Friday's full-pads practice will be at 11:00am, so players and staff alike can get a few hours jump on the Easter Weekend.

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