Mullen Pleased By First Week Of Spring Work

Friday they pulled on the pads. Saturday, the Bulldogs put them to some serious use. For the fourth practice day of spring camp, Coach Dan Mullen gave the go-ahead for real contact. Not tackling, or not much of it, but a chance for bodies to bang and Bulldogs to just play some football.

Saturday's session lasted right at two-and-a-half hours and generally met with a positive review from the head coach. As, he said, had the now-completed week of work. "Pretty good. The first week is tough, you have a lot of installation. So there's a lot of young guys that are still trying to get caught up and figure out what's going on on the field out here, on both sides of the ball. Then combine them together, it's tricky. And two days you have pads. So I mean it's really an introduction week."

As the coach explains in the transcript to follow, there have been plenty of ‘introductions' as counted by additions or tweaks to existing Bulldog schemes. This is practical because so many veterans, on all sides of the squad, are back for more and hopefully better things. Mullen's first big test was looking for leadership going into camp and that has already shown up, too.

With full padding, the coaching staff invested lots of snaps in team-on-team situations. All of them were from the 15-or-so yard line, going out for the offense. One such period lasted nearly 40 minutes; then after spending periods on kicking and unit drills there was almost another half-hour of competition. Items and tidbits from these periods, and an updated if unofficial depth chart will be in Sunday's Notebook.

Some veterans are either not practicing or just getting back into stride. All week both #1 defensive tackles, Kaleb Eulls (right leg) and P.J. Jones (left ankle) have been held out, leaving opportunity for underclassman tackles to run first and second squads. TE Brandon Hill has been in-and-out but looked closer to speed today; while TE Gus Walley returned to rehab work at the end of the week after practicing hard the first two days. WR Shelby Christy, also limited early on, was running with the second offense a lot Saturday; while WR Fred Ross took a literal step back today with a turf toe issue.

Generally though the Bulldogs are sound of body for spring. Even better to Mullen, the minds and hearts are right too.

"I love the energy the guys had on the field here, the intensity that they brought, the work ethic. They've kept that level of intensity throughout practice which I've been pretty pleased with."

This is Chris Jones' first spring, how do you handle that for him? "Oh, I mean for us we evaluate every single detail. I mean, one is is he improving technically and all that stuff as a player? Talent will take you a little ways, but eventually…he did a lot of things that were bad last year. He made some plays because he had some talent but if he wants to be a great player he's got to be technically sound in everything that you do."

"So that's the opportunity to learn. I've seen some guys that really need that technical work that you really see their fundamentals start to come through. That's the biggest part to me that I want to see out of people."

Geoff Collins said the first two days Jones might have been thinking too much, about letting his personality take over? "Well, the first few days we didn't have pads on, too. So you're really thinking about that stuff. But it's the balance. This is the time of year, game day you can't be thinking about it, you have to go make plays. But what you have to do is find that balance back-and-forth, but you're continually improving as a player. Knowing what to do, how to do it, knowing why you're doing it; those are important things, especially with how fast things go out there on the field."

Dak Prescott appears to have taken ownership, not just of the offense but the team? "Well, he's got to be a leader for us. He's a leader. The quarterback has got to be a leader on the offense. And I think now, having been here a while he understands what we're trying to do, understands the game, has played in a bunch of games. So I think this is where you see him starting to make that adjustment, from learning to being comfortable in the offense. And I think you're really starting to see that."

What are some points that will help the team retain things for preseason? "It's tough. Right now you're looking at this, the biggest one right now is even retaining what we're going to do Tuesday. They've got 72 hours off before we install anything else. So they have 72 hours to digest and know what is going on."

"One of the things you want to do is, there's all different types of learning going on out on the field. The older guys that are really learning how to master their techniques, disguise? They're in grad school level of football out here. Then you have younger guys that are just in remedial and just trying to figure out what's going on. The key is everybody takes what they've learned, whether it be knowing your assignment, in your technique, and both of those things you never take a step backwards. So when you finish spring you're at a certain level. When you come back in fall you're there or better and then you're continually improving to get higher and figure out how to become a great player."

You've known the coaches for years, how has the revamped offensive staff worked so far? "Not really that revamped, are we? Just Brian (Johnson is new. But offensively you've seen we're trying a couple of new little things here and there. And some new wrinkles and some new different stuff. But Brian has been around me, so he kind of knows what I'm going to expect as he's catching up. All the other guys have been around so they know what they're doing. Especially the fact the guys have been around each other for a long time on the offensive side of the ball certainly helps."

Nickoe Whitley was here today, how much do you follow guys like him? "For all those guys, Tyler Russell was out here throwing yesterday, too, and Nickoe. They're going to get opportunities I think. I certainly hope they do. Whether they get drafted or sign a free agent all of our guys, once you get an opportunity, once you step foot on a NFL field, it's up to you. You look at NIckoe and Tyler coming off of injuries, there's teams that are going to give them an opportunity to step on the field. And then they know what they have to do once they've been handed that opportunity. And that's huge. I know Nickoe has really been working hard so he can be ready, if someone gives him an opportunity he's going to be ready to take advantage of it."

Dealing with 18, 20 year olds do you create differences to keep the players engaged? "Well, it's huge because one of the things that can get old, you get in a practice, you get in a routine. We talked to our guys this spring about a little commitment to effort. They think OK, I'm going and I've done this drill, I'm a senior and I've done this drill five thousand times. How do I do it better than I've done it before? That's the constant commitment to effort."

"As coaches you have to tweak things, you have to yell and scream sometimes; you have to pat them on the back, you have to celebrate other times. You have to add one little change to a drill just to make it new or interesting. To me, that's important for these young guys because sometimes you get into routine which is good, but sometimes the routine leads you go to through the motions. And we can't do that out here, we've got to take some big strides forward and get better as individuals, as a team, as a program."

Devon Bell was getting good distance on punts but his hang time seems better? "I think he's just a lot more consistent. We're not having him placekick right now, I think taking that off has played to concentrating on punting. Yesterday we put up some silly numbers, I mean I think he was a 49-yard average with a 4.5 hang time. That's what we want. When that's average, that's a pretty good deal. So I think taking some things off his plate and letting him really focus and letting his talent…we know he has the talent. And really letting it come through is going to be big for us."

What does Ferlando Bohanna putting on a ‘coaches hat' do for him? "We're going to find out. When you deal with a head injury it's going to be day-to-day. The first couple days he did some stuff; then we started going contact and wanted to see how that goes for a week. We'll see. The plan is to have him out there doing some live football before the end of spring to see how he's going to respond to that moving forward."

"He knows it's part of the program, he's either going to be wearing the helmet or wearing the coach's hat this spring. But he's going to be a valuable part of the program. That's really important to us."

"Every team is obviously going to be unique. So you look at some of the things with this team; we have some experience, we have some older guys, I think we have some pretty good leadership out there. When you look at the makeup of a team and you have a bigger senior class of guys playing their last year of football, that really take it to another level, and you add to that some great leadership with a Taveze Calhoun, with a Dak Prescott, Benardrick McKinney, with those guys I think you have a chance to have a pretty special team."

Mississippi State's second week begins on Tuesday afternoon. The second week also has four scheduled sessions, but the Saturday one will be a full-scale scrimmage.

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