Mullen Tunes Dogs Up For Saturday Scrimmage

"It feels more like bowl prep than spring ball," Dan Mullen commented. The coach certainly had a point, with the (alleged) 50 degrees and light drizzle his Bulldogs had just finished practicing in. Not that anyone complained. "It was kind of fun," said Benardrick McKinney. "We stayed juiced-up out there."

The middle linebacker was telling truth. The conditions aren't exactly seasonable, though that is forecast to change tomorrow with much warmer weather in store for Saturday's scrimmage. And maybe McKinney and team were warmed to this day's task just by thinking ahead to knocking heads at Scott Field. Whatever the reason, Mississippi State had a solid Thursday practice.

Whether the usual drills or an extended stretch of team-vs-team, the results met Mullen's approval. "They're playing football, so I think they love to play football. Most of them, especially the bigger guys, probably like it this way more than 110 degrees!"

Though Mullen had originally intended to have most of the spring systems installed after Tuesday's practice, he adapted the schedule and made Thursday "really the last installation day". The few observers foolish enough, or paid not-enough, to stand around watching the entire session would have had a hard time telling though. About the only new stuff seen came in the first serious kickoff return practices of camp, against a scout cover squad, in advance of the scrimmage.

There a new face, WR Robert Johnson, was working in the first return pairing alongside WR Jameon Lewis, with RBs LaDarius Perkins and Josh Robinson watching for a change. WR Brandon Holloway and CB Jamerson Love were the second pair, then CB Cedric Jiles and CB Justin Cox. No tackles were tried so everyone went untouched on returns. Punting wasn't practiced this day but has gotten plenty previous work as reported.

The passing plays did get an altered set of drills. Instead of the usual one-on-one matches, snaps either had three receivers going against four defenders (two linebackers, a safety and cornerback) or two receivers against three defenders. In this period QB Tyler Russell favored nobody or position. He spread throws around as scripted and with consistent catching results. Later in 7-on-7 the defense had better luck, yet Russell still found openings.

Holloway was the preferred target this period. He crossed from left slot to the right sideline for a tight catch in traffic. Later a similar route against the same #1 defense worked even better as Holloway made the catch behind defenders and was gone the 80-yard distance. WR Jeremy Chappelle definitely showed good hand on a short route crossing the middle.. Russell's bullet was fired barely seven yards away but the juco receiver stuck the right hand out and stopped it, then tucked it away without breaking stride.

Running backs usually settle for supporting roles in full-team work or as dump-off receivers. Not so Thursday. They did run real routes, with RB Derrick Milton making two good grabs going to the left sideline. But there were more true running plays as well with Perkins, Robinson, and Milton staying between the tackles and getting gains. A tip-off ought to have been more use this day of bigger tight ends to block, with Rufus Warren in the first rotation ahead of Gus Walley and Artimas Samuel.

Russell went farther downfield for excellent strikes to TE Malcolm Johnson and Lewis, though S Kendrick Market ought to have gotten over in time for a breakup on the latter throw as it hung too long. The only real turnovers came by the third team, with an interception by (we think) walk-on S Tyrell Miller and a fumble recovered by an unlisted walk-on.

RT Damien Robinson spent as second day on the first team after his Tuesday promotion. The rest of the offensive order was unchanged. On defense there were some interesting combinations working at ‘first' teams at times. Such as having both Matthew Wells and Chris Hughes at the outside linebacker spots, with starter OLB Deontae Skinner having a very light day's work.

While the first defensive front is unchanged for drills, in full-team competition #1 DT P.J. Jones stood aside so Quay Evans could practice with the top group. This in-turn put DT Nick James up on the second team, which he flagrantly enjoyed with frequent celebrations after quarterback hurries. He and TE Walley even got into the initial stages of a square-off disagreement before cooler heads interrupted. DE Denico Autry gave way to Ryan Brown for some first-team snaps as well.

Dee Arrington paired with Nickoe Whitley as the first safeties while Jay Hughes did more watching. #3 OLB Ivan Muniz was sidelined, on crutches with a boot on the right leg. Cox and Kivon Coman ran at second cornerbacks.

Mullen's post-practice comments follow:

"Today was really the last installation day. You can see some of the younger guys starting to hit the wall a little bit, with figuring out what's going on as you put in new stuff but are reviewing the old stuff and getting it all together. But for us it's all in now. We can open it up on Saturday a little bit, and see who can process it and know what to do."

What did it look like in the scrimmage-type portions today? "Ahhh, there's so much, it's tough because it's installation, you know what I mean? You have checks in so there are certain things on defense that they probably would check out of against certain looks, but it's just installed right now. Same thing on offense, without having all the checks in in the gameplan aspect of it."

"So you like to see guys that are picking things up and processing it. I like the energy, I like the intensity. That's probably what I like the most. The rest of it, there's so much teaching and little things going on it's hard to evaluate a lot of it."

What have you seen from Jeremy Chappelle? "He's figuring it out. He's got a good attitude, a good work ethic. He catches the ball really well. And he's tough. He's got the intangibles you need, now he's just got to figure out what is going on out on the field and learn how to be a SEC player."

It looked like more emphasis on the running offense today? "The first part was kind of first-down, and the last part was kind of all-pass. So the first section was a whole lot of run and play-action, at the end we went more pass every play. Again, just kind of install it that way and get the plans put in."

Damien Robinson moved up to first team tackle this week? "That's just part of the rotating guys through right there. Right now I feel comfortable with three tackles, Justin Senior is trying to get comfortable and be that fourth. But when you feel good about the three you have to give them the opportunities to play with the different groups and see how they perform with the different guys around them."

What do you want to see Saturday at the scrimmage? "I want to see obviously with the older guys just continual improvement. I want to see some young guys step up and have opportunities to make plays, and show they can translate what they've learned, apply what they've learned into being a playmaker in the stadium."

What is the scrimmage plan? "We'll have play-counts, kind of. We'll mix and match counts for ones and twos and threes. So there will be certain guys that are getting a ton of reps, other guys we'll probably limit and give some other guys opportunities."

The scrimmage is noon at Scott Field and open to the public.

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