Limited Vets Gives Williams First-Team Turns

Whatever else he could call it, the season has not been boring for Les Koenning. The offensive coordinator and quarterback coach had to make enough adjustments for new practice and game weeks that many a peer's head would be spinning. For Koenning, it's just how 2013 has played out. "Well, you just have to get people healthy and keep them going."

Actually it is the training staff's task to heal Mississippi State quarterbacks and they've been as busy as the coach lately with injuries to senior Tyler Russell (shoulder) and sophomore Dak Prescott (nerve). Meanwhile Koenning has worked with those veterans as much as allowed this week, while preparing true freshman Damian Williams for a potential starting assignment against Arkansas.

Coach Dan Mullen said Wednesday morning both were participating and limited in practices; how much would not say. Media waiting for the team to leave the day's practice did see Russell in working gear, along with Williams and a couple of walk-ons; while Prescott was in sweats. But this was no absolute indicator either, as Mullen said working one day meant soreness for the next.

Regardless, Koenning is doing what he can when the older Dogs are available while pushing pup Williams ahead of the normal schedule. "It's good that you have Dak and Tyler, they're older guys. They don't need the work that the younger guys need so it's been really good to have them here."

People asked why play Williams, now Coach Mullen says by playing earlier the stage wasn't too big for him last week? "No, it wasn't. He came in and I had a long conversation with him before the game. I said Damian, you realize you're one play from playing? And he kind of laughed at me; well, it came to fruition, the joke really came true I told him! And he handled it really well when he went in."

"But it's so hard, some kids can and some kids can't. And you learn about them as they get in the game. They don't understand, they come from high school where they're the best players on their team and they do really well. And they don't really have to study, they don't really have to watch film; they kind of show up and know what to do."

"Where here, it's not like that. You'd better prepared, you'd better know mentally where you're going to throw the ball, where you're going to pull the trigger, and know what's going on. And I think that's a big adjustment he's had to make. He's going holy cow, you're mad at me because I threw the ball a little bit behind him. No joke! If you'd thrown it a little bit in front of him we'd have scored! It's just a matter of inches and you've got to understand what a priority is. Some kids have it, some kids don't, and we're learning a lot more about Damian but we've been very pleased with his progress. He just needs to keep going."

How big is it to show him that film against the top defense in the country? "It's good, and it gives the kid confidence. But again it's a fine line between confidence and arrogance. He did it one time, c'mon dude, I'm not trying to say anything different but you have to consistently do it. And I think that's one thing that's hard for freshmen to learn. You did it one time, we're asking you to do it a hundred times and I think that's the issue that kids don't understand. One time, is it a fluke or is it going to keep going? And I think that's a hard part with young kids, they can experience success at an early age, gain a lot of confidence; and abuse that confidence. Or they can have success and work from that success and get better."

Does having the veterans limited impact the balance of gameplanning and practicing with a younger quarterback? "Well, we've got those guys working. Those older guys have been through the program. They understand the protections, they understand the reads, they understand the routes. So they're practice is a little bit different, where Damian we kind of throw everything at him, make sure he understands. Those other ones are going through it, taking practice, taking reps, but they're not obviously taking as much as Damian is."

Do you have the back-and-forth with Damian as with Tyler and Dak about what they like and don't like? "Part of it with Damian, I asked him before the Alabama game what do you like? ‘All of it!' That's not going to happen, son! You're going to give me ten plays, that's all you're going to give me, ten plays that you want to run. ‘Gotcha, Coach'. He liked them all, but it's just like a kid in a candy store, what do you expect? I like all the candy, you can't eat all the candy! You can only eat so much, pick the ones you like."

What do you see from the Arkansas defense? "Their two defensive ends are ‘flash' guys that can really rush the passer, one of them is leading the SEC in sacks. The inside linebacker is a really good player for them, the secondary is good, they move around. They create some problems for you in long yardage situations and you've got to be ready for it."

How much have Tyler and Dak done this week? "They've done it pretty much. Again, they're sore, but that's part of being in the SEC, you're sore. Heck, I'm sore!"

How different is the soreness from last year? "Well, last year they weren't near as beat-up as they are this year. Last year they were ready to go the whole time, it's just one of those years. You endure different things. You're in the SEC, when you get out and play Alabama and the number-one defense in the country it's a pretty tough deal."

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