The thing is, most of the praise and predictions being lobbed the way of Mississippi State receivers is justifiable. All the primary contributors of last season are back for more, including not just some proven seniors at slot and split positions but underclassmen and redshirts too. Five years of rebuilding the once-barren area of the roster has paid off in a group of route-runners and pass-catchers that is raising the standard. And the expectations.
Following Wednesday's practice, Gonzales spoke about these initial couple of sessions in general, as well as about some particular players of interest.
How do you evaluate these first practices? "The first two days have been pretty decent. Yesterday we had too many balls on the ground for my standards. But effort-wise I think the guys came out firing. The attitude has been fantastic. Today was a better day, there were fewer balls on the ground. Any time you're doing spring ball you've got installation periods where you're trying each day to put a brand-new set of offense in; put a brand-new set of formations, a brand-new set of runs."
"So the players are constantly learning right now. For the first three days it will be massive install; then it will be review period. Then you'll go back and you'll install some more stuff. So it's basically what the guys can retain right now, and the biggest thing is great effort. I know there's going to be some missed assignments by the younger guys, I don't expect missed assignments by the older guys. And I think we're making bigger plays which has been an emphasis for us."
How is this early install period for receivers working with your expanded role as passing game coordinator? "I think one of the unique things with Coach Mullen is we've all been in there together, we've been in that room plenty of times as a staff. We have a great staff, there are no egos, there's no hidden agendas. You put the install together, whether it's the pass game or Coach Hevesy with the run game, Coach Mullen, Brian, Knoxy, Sallach; everybody has a say in what we're doing. So it's a great job between the staff."
How is the transition for Gabe Myles from cornerback to receiver? "A great athlete. He's got a little dinged-up on his leg right now, they've got a wrap on it. But fantastic, and with Gabe athletic ability is not a question. He's got a ton of athletic ability. You put the ball in his hand, that's what you want, a guy that can make people miss. That's what he gives you. For him right now he's only been out here a couple of days so turning-over and learning new stuff, that's the part that will get you. The first couple of days have been fine because I've got Jameon (Lewis) running behind him in certain drills to help coach him, and that's what you expect out of your senior leadership. Is the older guys are helping the younger guys, if they have questions they're behind them when it's their turn to help push them."
How are you, Hevesy and Knox sharing Brandon Holloway? "He's a unique kid. He has great speed. Today he was out there running around working with Knoxy; and a couple of plays out there I had him working with me doing different things at the receiver position. After practice just now I was working with my wideouts, he came back over with me for ball drills."
"So, a unique guy. Again a guy with speed we've got to be able to utilize him and we should be able to utilize him a little bit more than we have in the past."
How has De'Runnya Wilson carried over the freshman momentum? "Pretty good. Yesterday he was rusty, no doubt about that. In my opinion yesterday he was a little rusty, today he had a great day. Today I was excited about his progress."
"As far as his learning progress, that's fine. That part has been pretty good. He had a couple of minor things today as far as a missed assignment here or there. But as far as transitioning he was in shape from basketball. Obviously we'll get him now and he'll have a chance to get a little bit bigger and strong and faster with us for football speed. But as far as mental, as far as his attitude, awesome. Everything we need."
Watching Robert Johnson today he seemed to have that timing with Dak Prescott? "Well, those guys have been in the system for three, four years now. RoJo and obviously Dak. And that's what you expect in the off-season, these guys' timing. You've got something good as far as the timing when Dak or the quarterbacks release the ball before my guys are coming out of their breaks and getting their head around. That's what you expect."
You've watched Wilson since he came in, are you surprised how he's handled everything? "Very surprised. Off of his high school film, very raw. I watched his tape coming out of high school, very raw. Just didn't know what to expect when he got in it, is he going to be a tight end, is he going to be really a receiver, is he going to grow, what kind of body is he going to have? Because I never saw. All of a sudden you see him get a chance to move around the first couple of days during camp last year, great athletic ability. He needed to learn to transition in and out of cuts a little bit better. But as far as him moving from football to basketball and keeping a positive attitude, making sure he took care of his football responsibilities and going back to basketball; and coming back."
"He texts me right before we went for spring break and said Coach, mind if I miss this one meeting so I can take care of some academics? Boom, he took care of it, came back and met with us real quick; transitioned, came back out and I mean really hasn't missed much. The only negative in my opinion of any of that is there's a team bonding and team building part that I love in the off-season with our strength coaches. Just the intimate details of building that team together with that strength coach and the players. That's the part that I wished he could have been part of, conditioning and pushing each other as players. But he gets that basketball. Ultimately I'd love to have this as well, but as far as jumping back in? Right on top of it."
What is the difference in the whole group from last year having been around each other? "We have a veteran group right now in my opinion. And I say veteran, I've still got a couple of young guys that are in two-deep. Bottom line is, and I told my guys this, I said listen: I know people are going to be posting things and you're going to be reading things. My whole attitude is don't believe the hype. Don't believe anything! Don't believe anything that you did last year. Because what you did last year is gone. You've got a one-year shelf life and that last year is gone. If you're go on the laurels saying that we're going to have a great year, you're listening to people saying we've got a great squad coming back? I'm not worried about that. I know what we've got, OK? You know what we've got. We know we've got a chance to continue to build. Don't drink the juice, man, and say hey I'm listening to this guy say we're going to be good. Uh-uh. We've got to work every day. If you come out and work every day and set the bar a little bit higher, we've got a chance."