Just the opposite. Having run the Bulldogs through sixteen practice sessions, three of them double-duty days, with a couple of serious scrimmages, Coach Mullen is dialing back the pace just a bit. Not entirely; there will be daily rounds of team and unit meetings to keep the mind focused. It’s also a good time to start introducing Mississippi State to the first few upcoming foes as the assistant staff puts gameplans into place.
And by August 30 kickoff, a starting offensive line will be ready to roll. It’s just that we might have to wait until then to have the initial quintet announced after what senior center Day calls a good and competitive preseason.
“Yeah, camp went really well. We got a lot of good things out of it. Everybody got a lot of reps, we let the young guys learn. The old guys are stepping up their things, so with real practices coming up we kind of know who the ones and two are.”
He said ‘kind of’ remember. Though realistically any follower of football can confidently predict three of the Bulldog blockers for opening evening and make good guesses about the fourth. The fifth hinges on health and development of younger big bodies. It all makes for interesting speculation in the coming days, off and practice alike.
Day is of course among the sure things. The third-time Rimington Award nominee is preparing for what should be an outstanding senior season. After 35 career starts and consistently good blocking grades he is the literal center-piece for the 2014 front line.
Which means Day could take his final preseason for granted, right? Welllll... Day does agree, after so many springs and falls there is a degree of routine bound to set in. But this is where Mississippi State coaches find ways to keep even older Dogs learning newer tricks to the trade.
“I mean it was my fifth one, so I know what ‘m doing, I know what to expect,” Day says. “But I still have a lot of things to work on, so that’s what I was focused on and working on some of my techniques.
OK then, what does a guy on national award watch-lists and a center being tracked by NFL scouts still have to work on? “Like hand placement on pass protection, trying to keep them inside. Maybe some downfield blocking, though that’s kind of hard to practice without going live with cuts and stuff. But I mean those types of little things. Not really mental stuff but physical stuff.”
Speaking of physical, a shiver ran through Bulldog Country in April when Day was put out of practices by an injury to his left arm. It kept him out of the spring game and left everyone wondering, worrying even about depth at a position taken as a sure strength. So far in August, so good Day reports.
”It’s fine. Nothing is even bothering me with it any more.” But since the subject has been raised, just how is the center depth chart setting up these days? In spring ball Archie Muniz was the standard #2 man, with C/G Devon Desper next man up, and OG Ben Beckwith was sharing first-team snaps after Day was sidelined.
Day wants to reassure all that his hiking position is in good hands. “Archie is a real great player, he’s a fifth-year guy just like me and has been that tackle, guard, and center and he can play anything. His camp has gone really good and my camp has gone really good, and he’s out there every day pushing me to get better.”
There is more to this practice approach than competition though. Last week Mullen mentioned that during intrasquad sessions he had jumbled the lineups completely at all positions, testing as many combinations of styles and skills and such as possible to see what works, what didn’t, and what might need further development. Day confirms this has been done with the offensive line too.
“Yeah, that last scrimmage we had we intertwined a lot of people. Like the twos got to go with the ones, the threes got to go with the ones. It’s kind of seeing how everyone coped with the situation when they got put with the ones, if they stepped up their games. But a lot of younger guys stepped up when they got up in the roles so that was a good experience for those guys.”
Coach John Hevesy has set a baseline of ten blockers ready for use this season, an upgrade on his usual eight-man minimum. Obviously having double-digit Dogs available is a confidence boost over the course of a season where injuries are inevitable. But it also points to recent recruiting bringing in more big bodies who can play at this level and offering more options.
“Yeah, we have a lot of guys stepping up,” Day. “We’ve got our five. Then we have Devon, Archie, I’m not going to name them all the way through because we have a lot of guys who can play. We’re just trying to see where their roles are and all of them stepped up this year in camp. All of them can play so we definitely have the ten guys.”
And when Day says everybody can play, he should be taken a little more seriously than the usual hey-we-are-all-good talk about teammates. Because, Bulldog blockers are getting about the best preseason test possible right here in camp at the hands, and forearms and shoulders and helmets and such, of a first-class opponent. Wearing the same uniform.
“Yeah, our defense…I mean they’re one heck of a defense. You don’t know what to expect with them because they can do a lot of different things.” Meaning, the offensive line is measured daily for recognition and execution and just plain making plays against a group that specializes in stopping plays. Day won’t say who won or lost in scrimmages, just that the blockers have come out the better for either experience.
”And that’s what we saw this camp and it kind of helped us out, just seeing what all our defense can do and all the different things that can get thrown at us. That’s one of the best defenses in the country so it’s good going against them every day.”
With fall semester classes opening today, Mullen has adjusted practices for later hours. This evening is the first chance for media to ask about scrimmage results, any injury information he opts to offer, and just a general impression of where the team stands after true training camp. Day has his own evaluation right now.
”Everybody is looking good.”