So whether it was a round of ‘ball drills' by the cornerbacks done with not a football but a soccer ball (relax fans, they were able to use hands), or slapping caught passes out of receivers' hands, or just the verbal outbursts heard from defensive tackle Nick James all morning, the work was as much play Saturday.
By design, Mullen explained. The more serious sessions are still ahead when Mississippi State turns attention towards specific preparations for their AutoZone Liberty Bowl date with Rice. These early days are for getting the guys back into some football mindset after their break since victory in the Battle for the Golden Egg back on November 28. And, for throwing all the guys who spent fall as redshirts and scout teamers into varsity situations. Besides, with the entire team just out of fall finals some steam needed release anyway.
"This is a bonus right now, these couple of days," Mullen said. "We don't start game prep until Wednesday, so these days there are a lot of guys who haven't gotten a lot of reps getting their opportunities. And I told them, they get the opportunity to see where they're at. You know, where they're at with their assignment, their technique. Where they're at running our offense, our defense, not scout team work. Getting all their extra reps. It's a great opportunity."
Where are the young guys as you see them today? "Well, we'll watch the film. A lot of learning, there's a lot of learning to go on. It's a great opportunity right now to flip the switch, because a lot of these guys maybe haven't been running the reps and getting a ton of reps. But they're going to in spring ball. You know, next year they're going to be guys that maybe are called upon to be in the rotation. So this is kind of them jump-starting into that rotation for the spring."
We saw some guys moving around; Justin Cox at safety, Dee Arrington at linebacker, Gabe Myles at slot receiver. Is this a time for testing? "Yeah, just to see how guys handle it and see if they fit it, see if it picks up naturally. Because you've kind of seen some guys do other positions before."
"Dee's up to 230 (pounds), he's still not 100% though even from that even. So he's trying to work himself back in."
(Quarterback) Nick Fitzgerald's eyes must be wide-open? "When we told him about the opportunity his eyes got really wide, he said that sounds really neat. I said well you're going to be the number-two quarterback; that's when the eyes got really wide-open right there!"
"But you know what, what an unbelievable opportunity for him to come out here, get a couple of reps. And again that's a guy who is going to be enrolling in January, here going through spring ball. But the neat thing for him first spring practice it's not going to be his first practice. And I think it will give him a lot of confidence moving forward."
De'Runnya Wilson wasn't able to be here today? "He had some family issues right now so he's back with his family over in Birmingham."
You've done this four years now, is anything different with this year's team? "I think the fact that we're a very young football team. And I think a lot of people didn't expect us to be here. So I think our guys are happy to be out here playing football, happy to be having fun. I mean the end of the year, we ended so-far on a positive note; love to end it on a real positive note on New Years Eve."
"But I think the guys just enjoy playing football. This is a fun week for them."
It's bowl practice but how has (redshirt) Nick James handled his year? "I think he has done a great job. And I think one thing you see, he's big and explosive and can run. And is boisterous for sure! But I think he got the opportunity this year to learn how to be a football player, learn technique. You know, learn how to do it. I keep telling him making plays is great but you still have to do your job. Because if you don't do your job you're going to give up more plays than you make."
(NOTE: A Practice Notebook will be filed separately, with position moves, injury updates, and other items from the morning.)