Spring Camp Concludes With Contented Coach

Dan Mullen was unabashedly upbeat after Thursday's practice. Because, he noted, he waited around after players did own interviews before meeting media. And this was after he'd already appeared before microphones for the new adidas uniform presentation. "You don't always get me twice in one day, this is a pretty special day!"

Special may be in the eye of the beholder, but in fact Thursday was out of the ordinary. It was the final full practice of spring for Mississippi State, and the Bulldogs knew it. After what their head coach called a slow start, and once the full-contact began, it was clear everyone wanted to go out with a bang.

And bang the Bulldogs did, with an extended session of scrimmaging. The starting situations were scripted for the first, second, and even third units; but once underway Mullen and staff let the guys play it live with chain gang moving. Or, not. If the action at Saturday's Maroon-White Game follows the form of today, it will be an entertaining affair.

Yet even with the serious work between the lines today there was fun. And funning, not to mention some blatant chippieness as Dogs let loose. The hitting got so sharp that even a tough guy like LB Richie Brown was a casualty, blown-up by RB Josh Robinson and sent to the sidelines dazed. More often defenders brought the hurt, such as when LB Benardrick McKinney hammered an incautious QB Damian Williams who realized too late his green jersey was irrelevant for a change.

Despite all the laid licks as soon as practice ended, and Mullen gave a lengthy team-talk, all were happy upon exit. If they left, that was; Robinson was in such a good mood that while Mullen was doing his belated media-meet the running back got behind his coach for some photo antics. "I figured," Mullen said without looking. "I did it the other day."

Mullen's post-practice transcript follows, with fans—and more so media—instructed not to take the coach's comment about free malt at the spring game seriously. adidas doesn't market beer as best anyone knows…

It looked like a physical practice today? "It was, overall as this really wraps up. You know, we have a no-padded practice next week which is kind of a review of what we do in the summer and what we expect out of guys in the summer. And the game Saturday is going to be fun. I think we had a really good spring, I appreciate the effort. I think our guys came out with great effort."

"Today I was a little worried, we started slow. We had an unbelievable practice inside on Tuesday, and it was pretty physical then too. When we came out I think it was guys waiting to start the scrimmage part. But I think we just started slow. But I tell you, the intensity picked up, it got physical, it got a little chippy. I don't mind that at all, as long as the focus is on doing our job. Don't let chippy become the focus, let chippy lead to us playing at a higher level and that's important."

"With a lot of guys you always learn those different things, and you're constantly learning how to reel ‘em in. And leaders, how to reel guys in. You know, when things get really physical how they're still leading in the right direction and making sure we're producing at a high level."

What caught you attention today? "We'll watch it on film. There were times today, some of it I guess is plotted but I wanted to see certain things happen today on the field. So even though we put the guys in game situations it might not have been called like a game, because there's things we want to see today that we might not have in the plan for Saturday. On both sides of the ball, get those things in and reps. So I think that was good, that we got a lot of look at that stuff."

"But I love how we finished, I think we had a really strong spring with great effort. The best part, a lot of good football. You expect to see a lot of good football from your ones. When you can see quality football from your twos, that's when you're starting to build the depth. And I think that's what we saw today and really all spring."

Despite some injuries and limitations you were able to have competitive practices, does that show the depth that has been recruited over the years? "It is. And we tell those young guys, you've got to be serious when your number is called. We counted out there's possibly eleven scholarship offensive and defensive linemen that didn't practice today and are not going to be playing on Saturday, that will be on the field for practice-one next fall. That's a lot!"

"And especially to do that and be able to have quality ones and twos…you're talking about an entire offensive and defensive line not practicing. You still get that quality depth which I'm pretty pleased with. Because we are a development program and I want to see guys constantly develop."

Do you like what you've seen from Nick Griffin? "I really do. It's a confidence thing with him. You're starting to see the Nick Griffin we expect this year, that we have seen. You get to see what you need to see out of him and what we expect and what we hope to get out of him, you see that more and more now. Hopefully that carries over into the season, he's only going to get more confident."

In spring goal line work it's easy for guys to back-off and let things happen, today both sides were really serious? "They do. I mean, I don't mind, the quarterback is going to lower his pads and they're going to get after him too. That's sacred ground, that line right there, it's very sacred to cross it and it's very sacred to make sure it's not crossed depending who you are."

"They get after each other down there, hey, that's all fair game to make sure that doesn't happen."

What have you thought of Chris Jones? "You know what I'm pleased with? He got banged-up, learned to play with an injury. That's an important thing, forget he's still a really young player learning how to play through not feeling 100%. I think he did a great job and didn't let it slow him down."

"You watch him, I think he's becoming a better technical football player. Which is important. I mean, he's got freaky talent but there's a lot of people out there that have had freaky talent and did nothing with it. So I like that his attitude is not hey, I'm really talented, look at me. His attitude is how do I become a better fundamental football player."

He seems to have a cerebral side, too, that combo has to be intriguing? "You have to, you have to have that. I mean if you want to become a great player, because your talent is only going to take you so far."

De'Runnya Wilson said you told them this was the best spring of your six, how do you end it and keep momentum? "Saturday is fun for them. To me this wraps it up. We've got to have great focus for next week."

"To me the key for Saturday first-off, with my expectations; what we get out of it is we put young players in a lot of situations in front of a crowd. But we have to have 30,000 people there. That's important. We talked about it as a staff today, there's free beer at the spring game… (long pause). Just kidding!"

You'd get more reporters that way? "Hey, every national reporter just booked a flight to get down to the spring game! Not only are we going to have 30, we're going to have 60,000 standing outside of the gate!"

How will you divide the teams up? "That's one of the hardest things to do. I went through and you try to balance it and just try to get good matchups at different positions, balance the teams up. There will be some guys play on both teams, just because you get into numbers, and you have to be careful."

"We're going to do like we've always done, the key to us…I know there are some people getting away from it, the key to this spring game is having the crowd. Is having a game-like atmosphere for a lot of young players. To get out there and look around and the stadium is full and people are cheering, if they drop the ball they're going to be embarrassed and no girls are going to talk to them that night. That stuff is important to young players when they get out there on the field, and that's the key to a spring game to me. I mean if not you're almost better…"

"A lot of people are getting away from that, just having another practice, controlling and getting the reps we need and counting reps and not splitting up or going offense against defense full-time. We don't do that, a lot for our fans because we want to make it entertaining. I tell you it's a Maroon and White spring game, I tell the fans if you want to wear Maroon sit on the home side; if you want to wear white sit on the visiting side. Pick your team, and the losing team? Make sure you show up and clean up the stadium at 9:30 Sunday morning. But it's that fun atmosphere that makes it huge."

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