From The Dawghouse-July 28, 2014

It’s written somewhere, maybe in III Leviticus, that summer officially begins the day the Diamond Dogs turn in their team gear; and ends the Sunday before preseason practicing. Or at least summer as known to college sports scribes. So then, welcome to our new Bulldog sports year.

Which translates directly as, football is upon us.

Sure, we’ve a whole month between what we used to call ‘reporting date’, an anachronism since all but the final qualified-and-cleared kids have been here for weeks even months already; and August 30 kickoff. I suspect this time will fly for Dan Mullen and men because, well, coaches find ways to fill preseason hours. And, because 2014 Bulldog buzz was audible early as January and the volume has only increased since.

In fact, the quietest hours of what ought be called ‘pre-preseason’ were ironically during Mississippi State’s stint at Media Days. Well, quiet isn’t the right word. Calm fits better because that is precisely how the attending Dogs handled the task. And hey, we were sharing the stage with Steve Spurrier and nobody upstages the league’s ranking rock star!

Seriously though, and it is worth seriously noting, for the first Media Days in many, many such trips the SEC press corps were openly complimenting Bulldog players for poise in the spotlight. Heard ‘em myself. No surprise either Dak Prescott may have been the week’s big ‘winner’ if there is such a thing. Dakota either charmed his inquisitors outright, or deflected any attempts by the inevitable rabble-rousers to, well, rouse rabbles. If you wish to draw a contrast to ’13 Media Days and the frenzy over a former quarterback peer…

I have to expect Prescott’s performance in the Wynfrey carousel will stand Dak in strong stead not only during the coming season but his senior year build-up as well. Assuming he reinforces it with on-field performance and yep, all Bulldog Country does assume such. I’ve written it repeatedly this summer in pieces for both the 2014 football (and final) edition of Dawgs’ Bite and other outlets that Prescott is the most ‘complete’ quarterback Mullen has had to work with at State. Nobody has argued the point yet.

Still this here 2014 team is much more than a quarterback, however excellent the expectations from his pivotal position. I won’t go so far as to declare the Dogs loaded--and hex the whole season before even practicing opens. But neither is there any gaping void in the first lineup on either side and the second squad as a whole may well be the best such group assembled at State in many, many a memory. And as y’all know by now, there is no ‘second’ defense under current management, rather a real rotation…something of increased importance given how many up-tempo offenses we will face.

OK, OK. I can hear your questions and to be honest heard them at the Jackson extravaganza, and expect them to continue right up to opening day. To wit, what will happen at right tackle and can anybody make routine field goals go, well, routinely?

To the first, it was no coincidence I interviewed the always-quotable Ben Beckwith at Jackson about rumored moves. Or not so much a rumor since John Hevesy himself told Gene Swindoll in June that guard Justin Malone, now back to strength, could get a look at tackle. Give Ben credit for playing it coy with his answers on-record, saying little while saying enough in the process. Give Malone his share too if he’s willing to go head-to-head with Damien Robinson and if he’s made his own larger change Rufus Warren for the job beginning Wednesday. There’s other great reasons (Dillon Day, Blaine Clausell, Jamaal Clayborn along with big Ben) to feel fine about four of the five line jobs. If anything, I’d wish for more open practices than usual to gauge the linemen of the immediate future with at least three senior starters here. Talking about the third- and second-fall guys in Devon Desper, Jake Thomas, Kent Flowers, and a hopefully-healthy now transfer Jocquell Johnson.

As for placekicking, who the heck knows? Mullen was so brash promoting Evan ‘Sobes’ Sobiesk the last week of spring camp that he isn’t acting concerned a bit. Maybe a push from a transfer is the added element to upgrade field goaling to, heck, I’d take 66% right now after last fall’s struggles. I’ll figure, too, that by early September the coaching staff will know if they ought structure third- and fourth-down play calling accordingly to what they’ve seen from the kicking.

What is not getting any summer questioning or doubts is the defense. Yeah, I know, I’m as guilty as anyone for contributing to the hype here. But if it is less than outstanding on that side of the squad I’ll be utterly stunned. They have all the right people ‘n parts to become a great group, and of course an offense to presumably make the job easier. And goodness knows if spring was any fair indication Devon Bell will increase the defensive field-positioning advantage.

What’s that you ask? A prediction? Sorry, not yet. Not until sometime around fan day which for the first time falls on a Sunday. With good reason: it will be at the football stadium. At the renovated, expanding, and increasing splendid stadium I mean. Will every little detail on this two-year project be finished? Dunno, maybe a few spots might need a final coat of paint; or some frills and trim items not be 100%. Or maybe it will all be done by then, given the activity I’ve noted during afternoon campus walks routing by DWS. The real point is that everyone who holds a ticket will have their assigned seat ready and waiting and isn’t that what counts? All else is detail.

Speaking of tickets, mini-packs went on sale recently as State figures how to put the varied amounts of un-used seating assigned opposing teams to our own use. I’d expect more of that to come in August because, let’s be frank, for all our proclaimed passion here in the SEC fans just aren’t traveling in traditional droves. Not a knock on fans either, just that with seven or more home games for almost everyone in the big conferences; and the increased opportunity for everyone to go bowling, there isn’t the same sense of road-trip urgency.

These and other reasons remind how wise State was in capping expansion to 61K seats. It’s a topic for another day’s discussion but I’m convinced we will see a ‘downward’ trend in maximum capacity at the major venues in the future even for football; and that when facilities are built they will be no larger, probably a little smaller, but far nicer. Because that is what the marketing types tell us.

Anyway, by Fan Day it will be safer to set down a final prediction after we see…no, check that, after we hear what the Dogs have to say about themselves. Because we will see very little practicing as is also a current college tendency. I don’t think it’s entirely meant to ‘hide’ anything as to just decrease distractions for coaches and club when they’ve got so much work to do. And yes, even a Bulldog bunch which came out of spring reasonably settled still has much to do…precisely because they are settled in so many aspects.

Mullen and staff can presumably accelerate this camp from a more advanced starting point. Not that the fundamentals (or is it the basics? I’m never sure) are ignored of course. But if players retained what they were taught in spring, remember well what worked at the happy end of the 2013 season, and spent enough summer afternoon hours honing skills on their own, Mississippi State can hit camp harder and faster this year. Or so we’d assume since we won’t get to see it for-real until Saturday evening of August 30.

Now for a ‘housekeeping’ sort of note. Last week I signed-off on the special football edition of D.B. which has the usual overview on offense and defense, along with features (and fun ones to write) on Prescott and Chris Jones, as well as an All-Dawgs’ Bite Era football team from 1977-2013. A real team, too, not just the best eleven Dogs on either side but a standard offense with a quarterback, two backs, two wideouts, tight end, two guards, two tackles, and center; a 4-3-2-2 defense; punter and placekicker and two return men. Yes, I fully anticipate lots of why him and why not him responses and that’s part of the fun, just like I’ve already got some curious and one outright upset response to the first of the four-part piece on State’s signing classes of the same years. It’s why we’re fans, this discussin’ and cussin’, and nobody is 100% right or wrong. It’s worth noting that while picking the quarterback was easy for me, if I re-do the lineup after 2015 that job might belong to a younger Dog if you get the point.

Anyway, that August-mailed special issue will probably be the last print publication to bear the Dawgs’ Bite label, barring somebody back at Scout having the bright idea to annual print a pre-season edition or something. I’m not counting on it. And I’m not sorry. Maybe I will get a little sentimental after while not killing myself to organize and produce a magazine while also providing site content, and trying the REALLY hard task of keeping them separate. Or not editing an issue while in a road game press box. Or not figuring out what photos are needed. Or not scrambling for fresh ideas after so many…

Who am I kidding? I’ll cherish memory of D.B. the magazine but its time has passed and on-time too, where it didn’t linger too long into publishing senility of sorts. The only downside I can see is Gene wants me to start producing video copy now and I can’t use the mag as an excuse. But now everything I get from player, coach, administrator, whoever can be used for D.B. the site and not reserved for magazine use. It also means I can do shorter interviews and, gasp, maybe even write shorter stories?!

Crazy talk, I know. But the end of an easy summer will do that to a fella.

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