It's a little early for even long-range forecasts around Reliant Stadium on August 31. Still Mississippi State counts this as one other item on the final pre-season checklist: getting ready for an indoors game complete with noise. Which in this case was music that had the Center walls rattling clearly across the Seal Complex parking lot. Noisy conditions, checked.
Of much more tangible interest though is how specific preparations for both the first game weekend and the opening opponent are going. To that end Mullen conducted a semi-scrimmage that stopped short of tackling but came close enough at times.
"I wanted to get a lot of work and today was kind of situational," Mullen said. "I mean play a scrimmage situational deal, not a live but ‘thudding up' and a lot of good-on-good first downs. And just driving the field, more game-like deals. Tomorrow is going to be a lot of situationals with third downs, punt plays, red zone, goal line, wrapping-up; more of those final things with the good-on-good."
"We're getting a bunch of work done and the gameplan stuff as well within practice. But the good-on-good part is kind of wrapping up all stuff and making sure we get our final reps and things cleaned-up from training camp. Things we didn't look good in training camp that we've got to get cleaned-up, and the little adjustments that we've made on different things."
How clean was the execution today? "I thought today was a really good day. I was pleased with today. There's still some things we've got to get done with different people. But I was with the overall execution of things, I was pleased."
"And the effort and the attitude at practice today. It's tough because sometimes you're scrimmaging and it's just ‘thud' and ‘boy he was down' or ‘I would have broke that tackle' and you know. Which is what you want! But I liked the approach of the guys, I didn't hear a lot of that, it was hey just get on, what's the next situation, let's make the play, and not worrying about the last play or worrying about the next couple of plays. It was take care of what was going on on that individual play."
Is the depth chart taking shape? "Yeah, to me it is. I know people love depth charts, but to me its who is playing and not playing. You know what I mean? Who are the 30 guys that are going to play on offense, who are the 30 guys that are going to play on defense? That is starting to get more settled for me."
"Now then you'll get into how many plays somebody plays. Who starts is a huge deal. And I always go back, I messed it up for a couple of people's career (starts record) at University of Florida, offensive players. We blocked the punt and had the ball first play of the game first-and-goal on the one; I ran goal-line; three kids, receivers, lost their consecutive game-streaks starts that would have given them the all-time school record! Because they weren't in for the first play of the game because we were in a goal-line formation."
"It's getting settled on who is actually going to take the reps during practice."
Are you settling some of the return roles or are they still open? "Yeah, I have a good idea is going to do it. There's some young guys I'd love to get opportunities. You feel when you've got guys like (LaDarius) Perkins and Jameon Lewis and those guys that can do it. But there are some young guys that can do it. So it's finding when we're going to get them the opportunity. They're getting a lot of opportunities in practice, it's when they're going to get the opportunities in games when we get that comfortable to put them in at key moments."
How is tight end coming with getting guys back healthy? "Slowly, we're expecting to get them back for the game a little bit. It's still rough duty. What happens, you look at the depth chart and the roles and the different things. One is already gone for the year (Gus Walley), so you go through training camp with 50% of those guys out. That's a big hit at a position, 50% of players not practicing is tough. But, a guy like Malcolm Johnson, he's going to be ready to play the game, he's played a bunch of football so I know he's going to be ready to go. Rufus (Warren) is going to be a game-time decision (if) he's going to be ready to go by the time the game starts. Getting those two guys back we'll see how it affects us this game."
Has Johnson been practicing? "No, we're still protecting him. But he's been running and doing all that stuff, ready to go."
Are you getting some of the receivers back? "Yeah, I mean they're running around again. Jeremy Chappelle is back full-go; Fred Brown is doing stuff, he's still non-contact but he's doing everything. It's just he's not allowed to hit anybody and nobody is allowed to hit him. But he scrimmaged today, they all scrimmaged today even with the red jerseys on because we've got to get ready for the game they guys we expect all to play."
Will you do something in the stadium about how to start a game? "Yeah, we'll do that Saturday. You've got to. The first day of training camp with all the freshmen we make sure they know how to brush their teeth at night!"
"Saturday we do a mock game at the end of practice. Everybody will get in the locker room and hey it's an hour before kickoff, we go through the dynamic stretch, then the quarterbacks/centers exchange. Then some pat-and-goes, the whole deal. Run out of the tunnel, if we don't run out of the tunnel with juice we go back and run out of the tunnel again. We do the Dog Pound Rock."
"It's tricky, this is one of the scary times of the year for a coach. I mean you've got this massive checklist I've kept, that you're always in a panic right now of ‘what am I not doing?' Game seven you're in your routine, I mean you've got it down. But game one every year, that's one of the times you don't sleep. What have I missed, what have we not covered with the guys? that by game seven everyone is in such a routine, everyone has got it down exactly."
"So we'll do that Saturday before Fan Day."
How many players do you plan on taking to Houston? "We'll play anywhere between 70 to 80 I would think."
How has Tyler Russell progressed this last month? "He's doing good. One thing Tyler does, Tyler's a hard worker studying the film, always looking at things. There's just so much to learn. I mean all you've got to do is call one play against a weird defense, and a receiver falls down. Well, we haven't seen that look before! Because the receiver doesn't fall down before, what do we do in that situation? When you get to the 10,000 reps you've got it.
"So it's just constantly working at all the stuff, but he does. The nice thing is he works on it. You see the things he's got, he's got. So it's always trying to take one or two more steps forward every single day."
How does he improve on the best passing season in Mississippi State history? "We have a lot of things we want to improve on around here!"
Is it weird that a mark that high isn't good enough any more? "Yeah, that's what I want from Tyler. That's what we want though from all our guys. That's what we want as a program I want to have the best season as a team, Mississippi State ever. We want to do those things. That's the foundation of your program. Each individual player also takes that, the position group, the offense; we want to set every school offensive record this year, and every school defensive record every single year. Every team record, we want to have the best team ever, every individual wants to play at that level and always continue to improve. That's one of the competitive drives that guys have and that's the type of program we want to have, the competitiveness to want to be the best they can be!"
Can you talk about Fan Day? "Fan Day! One to three, baby! The whole team is there for pictures and autographs. I know they have posters. Unfortunately with all the stuff going on NCAA-wise what we're going to do is hand out posters for everybody to come in, and the players and coaches are only going to sign the official University posters that get handed out that day. And no one is going to be able to bring in any other paraphernalia, just with the nature of the world we're in."
"Which is in some ways a shame that that stuff goes on. But I guess there's people that take advantage of the rule. I'm not talking the players, I'm talking people outside that are looking to sell it. I spot those guys, I've been doing it so long, you know what I mean! The guy that is sitting there, he sees you walk out and has 50 pictures; he's like Mullen folder, here, sign these for me Coach! But a part of that stuff (is) just to protect our guys and protect everybody, that's what we have to do."