Thursday Spring Practice Report

The scrimmage is Friday afternoon. This didn't keep a few Bulldogs from getting a head-start Thursday. Such on a play-action pass when WR-turned-back Brandon Holloway stayed in to block and found himself in the path of DT Nick James. "Yeah, that's a big mismatch there!" grinned Coach Dan Mullen.

Holloway survived being enveloped fortunately. And the rest of Thursday's partial-pads practice inside the Palmeiro Center left everyone else unscathed. Mostly. There was another semi-scary moment when WR Jameon Lewis slipped down going for a low and incomplete pass, which left S Nickoe Whitley and CB Cedric Jiles to slam into each other over him. Both were dazed by the contact, but continued.

The action will continue and intensify tomorrow when Mississippi State holds its second spring scrimmage. The original 3:30 start time has been advanced by at least an hour as the Bulldogs will report to Scott Field around 2:00 for warmups. This is after an early morning film session to go over today's results, and prior to classes.

There will be a few Bulldogs not scrimmaging based on the injury list after last Saturday's game-type practice. The active roster did add one today as DT Quay Evans was practicing full-speed and in the second rotation. RB Josh Robinson is more questionable. He participated in some periods, such as 7-on-7 passing drills, but did not run the ball.

LB Deontae Skinner did not report to Palmeiro, as he rehabs a lower-leg injury from the scrimmage. RB LaDarius Perkins was held out another day after taking a shot to the helmet last Saturday, as was WR Ricco Sanders for unspecified reason.

The health of Perkins and Robinson has given redshirt receiver Holloway his chance this week to perform at his high school position as running back. And other than his unexpected meeting with James, who is literally twice Holloway's weight, it has been a productive addition. Holloway has handled himself well whether running to a corner or working between the tackles. He certainly takes some of the load off RB Derrick Milton, the only scholarship back healthy at the moment, and walk-on Kasey Akins.

Skinner's absence has opened up some rotations at linebacker, and redshirt Beniquez Brown got to take some first-team snaps in running game drills at that outside position. This period had a lot of mixed lineups though; such as the first line and second linebackers, or third secondary and second line, and at one point the #1 linebackers and third line. When in full-team competition it was Matthew Wells with the #1s, paired with OLB Chris Hughes and MLB Benardrick McKinney.

Another Brown, MLB Richie, had a hand in the day's two turnovers. During pass/skel he came up with a backfield fumble; then in 11-on-11 he stepped in front of the intended target to intercept QB Sam Cowart. During early spring practices tight ends appeared to have QB Tyler Russell's attention. Over the next weeks slot and split receivers have taken a larger share of the action. Thursday it was more evenly divided, at least in totals. Because for the opening snaps of first-down situation plays Russell again looked to the tight ends, with impressive catches by Malcolm Johnson and Artimas Samuel in the middle of the field. The latter had to hang on to a real bullet for his 20-yard pickup. And even with tight coverage Russell was able to stick a throw in for TE Rufus Warren. For that matter in 2s vs 2s TE Christian Holmes made an over-shoulder sideline grab from Cowart.

And even an incompletion to a tight end went well. Russell fired too hard for Warren and the ball caromed away…into the hands of WR Joe Morrow for a net of 40 yards. In third team vs third team WR Michael Carr made a tough catch with CB Rishun McCaleb draped on him. And on a broken play WR Fred Brown made a good adjustment on QB Josh Hand for a goal line grab.

Mullen met with media following Thursday's practice, before returning to the campus coaching clinic schedule. It began with Holloway's work as a back.

"He's done a pretty good job running the ball. That's what he was, a high school running back, so you get to see him doing that. And a lot of times in the spring those are opportunities to get to see guys do different things."

Is this a case of just needing a body? "We'll see. I mean, it's more guys are out and we need a body right now. But he looks like he's doing a pretty good job there so it might be something we look in the future in expanding his role."

What do you want to see in this scrimmage? "I'd like to see a lot better! It's going to be the same style of scrimmage tomorrow. And to me, we just want to see improvement. You know, cleaner execution, following through with stuff."

"And we've got to pick up the tempo a little bit. I mean that's a lot on me, when we get into scrimmage I've got to keep the tempo of the whole scrimmage going. Sometimes I'm trying to talk too much to Tyler about what I want him to do and take too much time."

Can you talk about the linebacker play? "Yeah, it's a good group. I think its one group that we have a little bit of depth and some experience right there at linebacker. Guys that have played some football, and some young talent. So with that group I think the higher that the standard is within that group the more competitive it gets. The more competition you see, the better improvement you get."

The cornerbacks have mixed-and matched a lot? "Yeah. I think Deshea (Townsend) is trying to get all the guys reps, everybody an opportunity to get ready to go play. And especially when you have a younger position you have to be able to do that."

What were offensive line goals in spring and how is that going? "I mean just everything. They have to be kind of a staple of the team type of deal with some of the experience coming back, and with a little bit of depth coming back as well. I want to feel good when the two O-line walks in the game. Any time you get down to threes it's going to be a question but even though you usually never in a game situation get into a wholesale substitution of the O-line I want to feel at the point where we can substitute and have ten-deep."

You talked last week that the line and Russell started slow, is that something to watch tomorrow? "Yeah. And their starting the scrimmage slow is leadership. The one-offense went on to score a bunch of points but it never felt that way. You know, in the scrimmage on the sideline it never felt like we're dominating right now with the ones. That is something you call to, and look to the leadership aspect of it. The one-line, we're not always going to start fast. There's going to be peaks and valleys all during the course of the game, and it is the experienced leaders that have to lead you through that flow and course of a game."

In early camp the tight ends dominated catches, now a lot of wide receivers are making plays? "Yeah, and a lot of always depends in installation on coverages and different things you're seeing. But it is good to see those guys getting more and more comfortable in making plays. That is a group we expect to see a lot of improvement through spring. But still even all through fall camp make a lot of improvement, probably going into the season a lot of improvement."

With the clinic today and a lot of coaches who don't have facilities like these, do you ‘steal' ideas from them? "You're always sharing ideas. I went in and listened to a couple of the speakers today. Everybody is always looking for ways to improve themselves. We're fortunate we have the facility to get in here today, and it was good to see a good turnout. The weather didn't cooperate but it was good to have a lot of these guys come and visit with us and share ideas with us and with each other."

We didn't hear a bad response from the team to having a 6:45 a.m. pre-scrimmage meeting tomorrow? "You know, one of the hard things when it comes to scrimmages, you kind of get pumped-up that we've got a scrimmage today. You show up at the facility and we say let's go sit in the meeting room and watch film for an hour from yesterday's practice and make corrections. What you notice is after that they walk out and they lose a little bit of juice. So we're going to come in and watch that film early in the morning, knock it out, so when they show up in the afternoon we can rock and roll. So for you guys the scrimmage will start a little earlier tomorrow."

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