It really is. Today and Thursday were the only true practices on Mississippi State's 2013 spring calendar. So the head coach and staff weren't wasting any of Tuesday's two-plus-hour session. Having reviewed results of last Friday's Scott Field scrimmage, and gone through most of the usual drills, the Bulldogs basically had a more controlled sort of scrimmage today on the practice fields.
Not participating Tuesday were some casualties from the first scrimmage held back on March 29. RB LaDarius Perkins and OLB Deontae Skinner were still missing from the first team, as were #2 OLB Zach Jackson, #3 WR Ricco Sanders, The only new missing player was OLB Matthew Wells, who did not report to the practice field after scrimmaging last week with the first unit. And during the course of Tuesday drills, prior to full-team work, DT Nelson Adams left his unit and went to the rehab pit. Near the end of full-team play DT Quay Evans stayed down in the end zone before being helped off, limping and done for the day. He had hurt a leg during the March scrimmage as well.
Returning to full action though was RB Josh Robinson, and he certainly looked rested. In 11-on-11 he turned a ‘hot' route catch into a 80 yard breakaway; then when the offense began at midfield he juked in the middle and broke a 40-yard scoring rush. A series later the first defense was ready and DE Denico Autry got a hand on ankle to trip Robinson up.
For one-on-one passing drills matching a back or tight end with a linebacker or big safety, injured QB Dak Prescott was very useful. Even seated on a stool he could throw the sorts of routes those players ran and very well too. The defenders were allowed plenty un-flagged contact in this period but that didn't stop targets like tight ends Gus Walley and Brandon Hill from catching the ball. The real standout though was WR Jeremey Chappelle, either fighting-off his defender or just out-jumping him for three really good grabs.
In 7-on-7, beginning with red zone situations for the offense, TE Artimas Samuel beat S Deonte Evans in the end zone. QB Tyler Russell was lucky too, at first, as S Jay Hughes deflected an over-middle throw right into the hands of WR Joe Morrow for touchdown. Russell would push his luck on such tosses in full-team play though. Not at first, as he found WR Robert Johnson and Morrow on the left sideline for good gains.
But a try over the middle was deflected straight-up, with DT Kaleb Eulls snagging it like a rebound. QB Sam Cowart also had to catch his own carom off the second defensive line. QB Josh Hand was intercepted twice by S Deonte Evans, once in a goal line play. Also starting inside the ten yard line, Russell threw to Robert Johnson on first down for one score; then came back with a shovel-pass to Malcolm Johnson for another. The period finished on a roll-out pass to Walley for the last score.
The latter part of 11-on-11 was four-down situation, and series that didn't result in a touchdown or turnover had field goal tries. DT Curtis Virges blocked Evan Sobiesk's attempt, and Taylor Earhart was wide to the left.
In the Friday scrimmage State began a three-tackle rotation on the first team, using Charles Siddoway as the #1 right tackle with his competitor Damien Robinson taking initial turns at left tackle. Then veteran LT Blaine Clausell would take over, still with the #1 offense. Robinson as right tackle for the second unit and Justin Senior at left.
Mullen has good reason to emphasize a final real practice Thursday. Because on Friday the Bulldogs will be in shorts for some drills before splitting up into the separate squads for Saturday and the 1:00 Maroon-White Spring Game. "And that's really kind of a celebration, for our fans to be out there and their first look at a lot of these guys and a real fun deal for them. So Thursday is a big day for us."
What stood out in reviewing Friday's scrimmage? "There were some good things. Guys made good plays, there were some bad plays. You know, the one thing you really have to be cautious of, is are you making a good play and are we in a good scheme; or is the other side of the ball making a horrific mistake? Those are things that to me you're constantly evaluating."
"One, you don't want to build over-confidence on something that worked because of a terrible mistake on the other side of the ball. Or then don't worry so much about maybe the scheme because somebody else made a terrible mistake. It's those type of things that we've got to look at and evaluate as coaches. And, making sure we're always putting guys in the right positions"
Do you see the backs making better pre-snap reads? "Getting there. You know, getting there. Some of the young guys are getting a lot of reps, and a lot of good things. The key is getting a lot of good film for them to watch."
"And I think a big part of maturity is it's easy, guys want to watch themselves play. Can you watch the other guy play and make your read and evaluate the film off of the other guy playing? There's some maturity in doing that, especially a young back. Every time a back gets to carry the ball on film in the end zone then you're going to get a good read. You're going to see, I would have done this. Now there's maturity in that because guys pay attention when they're in and less attention when they're not. It shouldn't make a difference."
Gabe Jackson said there is a lot of mixing and matching at tackles and guards? "Yeah, because you've got to get ready for the season. You have to be ready for guys to get into the game. And we just want to balance out the reps, making sure everybody is getting the reps that they need. Especially at this point younger guys, they need to pick it up. A guy like Gabe that has played a lot of football, he's reaching his peak in spring now, he's good go to. We're going to get him a little bit of rest, but the other guys have got to go heavier. It's not going to be equal any more."
What do you see from a young guy like Damien Robinson? "Just the confidence. I think here's a guy who is comfortable in his body. I mean, he's a big human being! He's got what, size 20 or 21 shoes? The biggest feet you've ever… But getting used to moving, and not just the confidence in moving, I think he is playing as a much more confident player. So he's really able to use his talent because he has confidence in what is going on."
Is the offensive line getting better going against that defensive line? "I do. Especially the tackles with the ends. There's a little bit of experience at ends, especially with the athleticism at ends with Denico Autry and Preston Smith and Ryan Brown all having played last year. That's the experienced part of the D-line, at that position, so I do think they (the tackles) get some quality work."
Your thoughts on Kaleb Eulls' adjustment to defensive tackle? "I think good. He's a guy that has played a lot of football. So just getting used to being in that confined space. But I think he understands that and he's always been a big, physical guy. We've messed around with him and moved him around in the past and I think now he's settling in there."
"Part of it is going to be getting comfortable with his weight, too. He's added about ten pounds and just being comfortable with that ten pounds."
You moved Brandon Holloway to running back but keep getting plays from the other wide receivers? "Yeah. They are young kids, there's opportunities to make plays. And they've got to continue to do it. Again there is a lot of time before we've got to go play and those guys are going to have a lot more opportunities to make plays."
"But I want to make sure they're making the right plays. I always get worried, a guy will make a spectacular catch after running the wrong route. That's a big negative to me. I mean it's great that he made a spectacular catch! It's bad he ran the wrong route…say that three times fast!"
All spring the first team quarterback exchanges have been clean, you expect that of Russell and Day? "To me that's a skill. If I'm serious I tell our centers all the time, you don't need us to work on that. If you want to master your skill you should be snapping every single day and night. I mean, go watch ‘The Simpsons' and then go get 500 snaps in. That's a skill and you have to go master your skills."
You're breaking in some young defensive backs and they seem to be getting their hands on the ball? "I think they're pretty athletic. I mean, they're pretty good athletes. The benefit is they have the athletic skill, they have the potential to make the plays. And now it is just honing in on the fundamentals to be able to do it on a consistent basis. When they're in position they have the talent to make the plays. It's being consistently where they need to be, in the right position at all times."
Today in the red zone the defense stood up and made some plays? "They did today. You know the offense won the (Tuesday) scrimmage. They started fast, the defense was really good in the middle, then the offense closed at the end to win it right there. But, they (the defense) are. It's a major part of the game being down there. One, offense has got to score touchdowns; but two the defense has got to hold them to field goal attempts. Or create turnovers, which I think two turnovers were created down in the red zone today. Those are game-changers."
"So that to me is a huge deal. And it's good to see them making those plays."
Eulls showed his athleticism there? "Catching a ball out of the air! And then he kind of bumbled-stumbled after it. but those are huge plays in the course of a game, it will change the whole course of a game."
What young players have stepped-up in spring? "A lot of them right there. Ryan Brown has done a nice job at defensive end, A.J. Jefferson. The young D-ends are doing a nice job. The young linebackers, Richie and Benquez Brown have done a nice job for us. The young corners are doing OK back there. On the offensive side of the ball Rufus Warren I think has had a pretty good spring, made a bunch of plays for us. And the young running backs are running the ball well for us."