"I liked the excitement, the energy our guys had. They were excited to be out there, excited to play some football. We threw a lot at guys today on both sides of the ball. Older guys kind of picked-up where we left-off; younger guys are trying to figure out what's going on because it happens kind of fast for them."
There is a sizable roster of older Dogs as Mississippi State officially lists eight returning starters on offense and nine on defense from the team which routed Rice at the Liberty Bowl. The official letterman tally is 57, and that now includes a couple of players—Christian Holmes and Ferlando Bohanna—who weren't even expected to be around for spring ball.
Based on the relatively small number of players held out or working in the rehab area, it is a pretty healthy ball club for spring. Two veteran defensive linemen, Kaleb Eulls and P.J. Jones, did not participate on opening day. WR Shelby Christy spent most of his time with them in rehab work though the redshirt freshman at the very end did participate in some final receiving drills while most of the squad was attending to placekick practice.
OG Justin Malone reported to the field 45 or so minutes late, having been in the training room, and did a few drills as well as take a protect position for placekicking. And S Jay Hughes took part in his position drills but not 7-on-7 or team-on-team as he comes back from the Achilles injury. LB Dee Arrington did not come out to practice at all, which Mullen addresses in the post-practice conference which follows.
On the whole, then "Pretty good. It's hard to tell without any pads sometimes, I don't think you get a lot of realistic looks. But energy, effort, the excitement, I thought that was pretty good."
How would you rate the team's health after the off-season? "Good. I mean you're always going to get through spring with guys nicked-up and all that stuff. But for us, there's a lot of guys sometimes we'll protect, you guys will see that during scrimmages. We protect guys, and ask guys to do certain things, we're going to rest other guys in other situations."
What was it like to get back out there again? "Great for me, I love being out there on the field. That's what we love to do and the guys on the team love to play football. Not that they don't like winter conditioning and lifting weights and running sprints and all that stuff! But they really love to play the game. So the opportunity to get back out there and go play some football is fun."
Does a larger veteran team change the dynamic this spring? "No, we're installing pretty quickly. The dynamic, I guess makes you go home and feel better that guys know what is going on out there on the field. There's not as much confusion. You will see the significance drop-off when the ones go, the two goes; then the threes go."
"When you get out here at practice you wholesale change threes, those are some guys that are really developmental guys. They're still learning what's going on probably. Some maybe you're looking to get an opportunity to get some reps this year, or some that are just you know looking to learn the system and still may be further away. So practice sometimes it brings it up-and-down. You look at the ones go and say that's pretty good football being played; and the twos go and that's pretty good football. When you get to the threes now…because you usually wholesale change groups but those guys are still picking it up. But the ones and twos I felt pretty good."
How did everything work with Brian Johnson today? "Good. I mean it's not like he's never been yelled at by me before!"
He got to see his quarterbacks on the field for the first time? "Yeah, the thing with him is he's going to coach them up. There's some things that you're always wanting to get working on with guys. Dak (Prescott), right now I don't know if he's 100% coming off a little twinged groin, we'll see. But when there's things like that you protect them out there on the field and you don't have them doing everything that's going on."
"I think they'll come along pretty good. Nick (Fitzgerald), it's great, it's a benefit being here to go through spring ball. Getting to come before the bowl game, this wasn't practice #1 for him, he's at least been at a practice before. But he was kind of holding on at the bowl game; now it's getting install so he's learning it for the first time. And he'll pick it up pretty quickly."
Obviously it's a benefit having Dak after he missed last spring? "Who did we have last year? We had Tyler (Russell), and me, and some walk-ons. It's good to have a couple of guys out there. And it's good for him, I thought he got some reads fairly well today for day one. We threw a couple of new things in and obviously you want to get the reps to get that down faster."
De'Runnya Wilson had a different attitude about him this practice than last fall it seemed? "One, he got to play, made some plays, made some big plays during last season. So he comes back with some confidence as a guy who was almost starting by the end of the year, or getting starter reps at the end of the year. So as you come back as a returning starter I think there's a lot more confidence in you. I think he's still a young player, there's still a bunch of things he has to learn. But I think you see he's confident, he understands the system. You call plays, he knows what's going out there on the field."
What is your biggest goal this spring? "Our biggest goal this spring? There's a bunch. I mean, I want to see guys just be able to play with relentless effort on every single snap. I want to see us reach our potential every single day, which means guys that play to their level. Even older guys sometimes they get in a rut and go through the motions. To be the best they can possibly be every day and learn what to do, how to do it and why to do it is a huge one for us as well."
Christian Holmes considered not playing a senior year, but is back and back at linebacker? "Yeah, Christian is a good program guy. Because you're looking at someone that he has a role on the team. He knows his role. It might not be as a starting linebacker, but he's a special teams player, plays on a lot of our special teams. At the end of the year guys look at it; he was top-40 on the team in reps last year. Now most of them were special teams, but when you look at total number of snaps played he played a lot of snaps last year."
"So when guys look back sometimes and look at things they realize, hey you know what? I do have a significant role, I'm playing a lot of plays. Everybody wants to be starting All-American. But when you're going to have a great team everybody understands their role and does their job to the best of their ability. That's when you have the opportunity to have a great team."
Rufus Warren bumped up thirty pounds to play tackle? "It was pretty easy to bump-up thirty pounds right there, you know what I mean?! He was always fighting to keep his weight down. We have some depth at tight end now, we're young on the offensive line, you look at the opportunity for him. Instead of really battling to keep his weight down he didn't have to work to put on…he's 295 today and that didn't take a whole lot of work. He got to go eat what he felt like at dinner one night and he was there! But give him an opportunity, to be a real athletic guy to make that move with his natural size it gives him an opportunity to compete for playing time at that right tackle spot."
With LaDarius Perkins gone how big is this spring for Josh Robinson? "Well it's huge. I mean the confidence in being the every-down guy, the understanding of doing all the little things the right way. When it comes to pass protection, routes, we know he can run the ball pretty well but doing all the other little things is really important."
Is he a guy that brings that juice to the offensive side, he even gave you a little shove today? "He's got a lot of energy to him. He likes to talk! But it's good to have those guys ad the excitement that he plays with. The thing is now he kind of went from two to one; now we have to find out who the two is going to be, the guys you can trust to get in there. And hopefully we get to a point where we're one, two, and three; and maybe one-two-three-four like we've had in the past."
After his setbacks how good was it to see Ferlando Bohanna back on the field? "It was. We're going to protect him, we weren't in pads today. We'll see how he adjusts and how he feels. You know, he's a guy that has had a couple of concussions and didn't get over it the right way so he missed all the last season. But hopefully it is something he can actually come back and play for his senior year next year."
What was it like to see Brian Johnson, a guy you recruited at 16 now out here working with Dak? "It's fun. I guess it makes me feel old, you know?! Yeah, he was a little guy I recruited a couple of years ago, now he's out here coaching with it. I guess I must be getting old. But it's fun. I think Brian does a good job. He understands the game, a very smart coach, has played the position, played in big games in big moments, has made things happen. A guy that didn't have a big NFL deal, understands how to utilize your talents to become successful. And I think he was always fundamentally really sound and had to use his fundamentals to have a lot of success. So its great for him as a coach to pass that on."
What is Dee Arrington's status? "Right now a medical issue with him, and I'm not sure if he'll be back next season or not. He might be done with the hamstring and all the issues he had he just never was able to get over it. But that's something to be seen for the future."
Wednesday is also a 4:00 practice.