Saturday Football Practice(s) Notebook

Mississippi State put in a second day of split-squad practices, but unlike Friday's similar schedule the personnel was largely different. Coach Dan Mullen had the current number ones on offense and defense again in the morning, this time though joined by most of the second teams.

This left the afternoon session to backups, reserves, and freshmen with a very few exceptions. Most notably, #2 C Dylan Holley was held out until the afternoon so the third and fourth teams could have one experienced center for the newest quarterbacks to work with. The only ‘crossover' in the morning was freshman WR Shelby Christy participating so there would be enough wideouts to run a rotation.

*There was one other true freshman receiver at the morning practice. But WR Fred Ross was not practicing. After an impressive first day of preseason the rookie has been hampered by a groin issue. He is not rehabbing heavily and does watch drills so a return might be imminent.

*The only other ongoing injury to a regular is to OT Damien Robinson who has yet to practice in August, with an unreported problem. He has been rehabbing each session. Robinson finished spring as one of the three tackles for the two first-team jobs.

*With Robinson out the second offensive line had to shuffle some pieces, or in the case of #1 RG Justin Malone work double-duty on both lines and sometimes at the other guard spot. LT Blaine Clausell played his position on both first and second units. #2 LG Ben Beckwith showed his versatility, taking over as the second center much of the morning. His place at left guard was taken by backup right guard Archie Muniz.

*The morning receivers rotations were Robert Johnson and Joe Morrow wide with Jameon Lewis in the slot; ahead of wides Fred Brown and Jeremy Chappelle with Christy in the slot.

*TE Malcolm Johnson spent more time drilling with the wide receivers than his nominal position. He made it look very easy on one route, losing #1 LB Matthew Wells for a big gainer.

*WR Jameon Lewis followed up on an outstanding Friday with another good practice, reaching for a tough QB Tyler Russell throw and making the catch. Later S Dee Arrington just barely mis-judged QB Dak Prescott's throw, as it got over his fingers where Lewis could make the in-stride catch that would have gone the distance.

*Day-three of camp meant shoulder pads, and while tackling is off-limits per rule at this point adding this armor did much to make practice more physical on both sides. There was much more emphasis on interior running work than before, something Mullen saves for when players can make real contact conditions. *The no-tackle policy was hard on OLB Deontae Skinner. At least three times in either interior drills or full-team play he had a back wrapped-up and looked ready to throw him down, fortunately keeping his composure. To the runner's obvious relief. During the drill session TE Brandon Hill took offense at how DE Denico Autry hit him during a successful block, but only a couple of slaps were exchanged.

*There was no change to the first defensive line of ends Autry and Preston Smith with tackles Kaleb Eulls and P.J. Jones. The second defensive line was LE A.J. Jefferson, LT Curtis Virges, RT Quay Evans, RE Ryan Brown. In the afternoon, the third line was RE Torrey Dale, LG Nelson Adams, RG Nick James, RT Chris Jones; ahead of fourth group Trent Simpson, Jordan Washington, Corvell Harrison-Gay, John Harris.

*Jones' official sizes are now known. He is 305 pounds and stands 6-5 after being measured by Coach Matt Balis' staff. But he moves like someone 30 pounds lighter, such as when he spun off helpless OT Jake Thomas and wrapped up Shumpert for a loss.

*Afternoon work was done indoors, to save strain on younger players still acclimating themselves to the pace of practice which no amount of summer conditioning can really prepare for. Even inside there were a few cases of cramping from the effort, none serious but all seized on by Mullen in the post-practice lecture about hydration and eating plans for the rest of camp.

*The afternoon session also ran some 20 minutes longer than the morning since more time was invested in simple instruction of the redshirts and freshmen.

*There was also an opening period of one-on-one contact drills by positions. The most interesting single matchup saw freshman OG Jamaal Clayborn twice hold his own with soph James, even showing some attitude against his bigger foe.

*James is now listed at 345 pounds on the official preseason roster. There are 17 Dogs of 300 or more pounds at this point.

*Coach Greg Knox was showing freshman RB Ashton Shumpert the basics of just how to take a handoff and protect the ball. Even the most talented kids need instruction, and Shumpert is beyond question a talent. He didn't have it easy at first Saturday. In a purported non-contact drill he got crunched down by a defensive lineman, then on a bounce play MLB Richie Brown came through the line so fast he caught Shumpert for a loss.

*In fact Brown showed a true knack for blitzing on known pass plays. Even when he stopped just at the line of scrimmage between two linemen before snaps, Brown was able to time his move and squirt into the backfield for pressures and what would have been sacks, if allowed.

*During full-team competition though Shumpert snuck open on a hot route, caught the ball and turned on the jets immediately.

*OLB Deandre Ward is listed at 43, same as fellow OLB Ivan Muniz for now. But he wears 32, and by either number is making a good bid at cracking the linebacker rotation after a big spring.

*CB Jahmere Irvin-Sills was so frustrated when WR B.J. Hammond bit off a route and left him standing, that after the whistle he went over and tried to spin the receiver down.

*During interior run drills in the morning the defense ran just two linebackers with a supporting safety. Redshirt Beniquez Brown got to run a lot of snaps as a #1 this time alongside starting MLB Benardrick McKinney.

*Russell had another interception-free day against the first defense, and hit a variety of connections both short and long. His best pass play of the day though didn't go for but a dozen or so yards; it was how he fired a bullet even before WR Robert Johnson had made his late break. And with the ball almost in his face as he did turn back, Johnson made the sideline catch with CB Cedric Jiles right there on top of him.

*Johnson made another sharp catch, beating covering safety Arrington this time, for a first down. But on the same play Lewis was streaking straight down the middle unseen with nobody in ten yards of him.

*Prescott's first two days were not encouraging, even allowing for his spring-rust while recovering from turf toe. He seemed to get some of his touch back today fortunately and was delivering a few balls downfield too. It still wasn't a perfect day. Prescott had deep ball for WR Joe Morrow hang a little long in the wind where S Jay Hughes could at least break it up; and in full-team drills had DT Curtis Virges block a throw at the line. And one of his throws was tipped and intercepted for a pick-six by CB Taveze Calhoun.

*Another fine pass for open TE Gus Walley was simply dropped, something Walley has had a problem with in early camp. He did come back and redeem himself later with some nice grabs, and to Walley's credit he has been consistently getting open.

*Freshman QB Damian Williams is finding college passing a whole different deal. But after some struggles the first two days, and even a slow start Saturday, he was able to show his stuff. Under pressure on a roll-right he fired a bomb on little more than pure arm strength over 40 yards. Even better it was caught at the goal line by WR De'Runnya Wilson over CB Kivon Coman, for a touchdown. Williams also picked up WR Hammond when the fellow frosh got behind a safety and linebacker both 20 yards downfield. And even when WR Michael Hodges was in a crowd of defenders downfield Williams was able to zip the ball in there for a completion.

*QB Sam Cowart had a throw tipped by CB Tolanda Cleveland and picked by CB Gabe Myles. Later it was S Brandon Wells busting up a deep throw. And under heat by a rush Cowart's throw ended up in Cleveland's hands for a pick-six. To be fair, the fourth offensive line was getting the worst of things as the defensive front was almost turned loose on them, where Williams was better-protected.

*A fumbled handoff was scooped by DE Simpson and returned for a touchdown.

*DE Jones didn't have it all his way though. TE Christian Holmes showed him the benefits of experience when he stayed in to protect the passer and stuff the freshman lineman. A few plays later Holmes caught a short throw and laid a major stiff-arm on walk-on DB Tyrell Miller for extra yards.

*Fielding punts in the outdoor practice were Lewis, Robert Johnson, and RB Derrick Milton.

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