Monday Q&A With Coach Dan Mullen

Coach Dan Mullen was certainly in an upbeat Monday mood. Maybe it was the change of practice regimen from training camp to real pre-season work. Probably it was a generally good review of the most recent Bulldog scrimmage. And at least partly, Liverpool got a “big win” yesterday in UEFA play while Manchester Union lost their opener to Swansea.

“Rooney had a nice goal, I did catch the highlights,” Mullen grinned. Unfortunately his international soccer score-keeping must hit pause now as Mississippi State’s head coach sets aside futbol for football. “I’m about to turn off the Premiership now because it’s into football season. I’ll pick it up in February.”

The positive attitude following today’s afternoon practice did contrast with some negative news, as Mullen confirmed a season-ending injury to OT Damien Robinson. He also confirmed Steve Robertson’s news break that signee Deshon Cooper will now be taking the junior college route after practicing with the Bulldogs for two weeks, unable to get clearance for the freshman year.

Yet when the coach could report these tough facts and still enjoy talking about the team’s progression and status, that might be the best indicator yet of what Mullen expects from his sixth season with Mississippi State.

Regarding the loss of Robinson, “Yeah, it’s huge for us. We’ve got a lot to get done. I’ll touch on some things for you. Damien Robinson tore his ACL, he’s going to be out for the season. Which is a big hit, projected we had him as our starting right tackle. So to lose a starter for the entire season is a big hit for us.”

”Two of our signees, Ravian Pierce is still going to try to finish up some high school stuff and hopefully to get here in the winter time. Deshon Cooper is going to go to Co-Lin Junior College and he’s enrolling down there and hopefully we get him back here shortly.”

”The transition out of training camp, this is the big transition week. This is that week where training camp is over, school is started, the exhaustion of training camp that is in your body, that you fought through really working, this week is keep things really simple. Get a lot of things cleaned up, watch a lot of the cut-ups, review and improve in the areas we need to improve. Guys need to start letting their legs get back and start feeling healthy.”

”I told them every day we come out you should feel a little bit better. Today your legs should be really sore still, and tomorrow just a little better; Wednesday even better. By Thursday starting to feel fresh, by next Monday of game week you should feel like the first day of practice again. Should feel like a million bucks. That’s kind of all this week is that transition, getting used to going back to school, getting used to the schedule, some guys playing a little bit of scout team here. And there to clean some things up. Just learning what really it is transition of how practices are going to start changing now to in-season from training camp. And these are the ones in-between as we’re kind of getting to where we need to be.”

Will the roster expand now that school is under way? “Yeah, there will be a couple today of guys that have been on the roster in the past, came back out today. They’re doing a tryout later this week for some more guys to come out on the team. And we’ll have some more bodies out there.”

What does the tackle position look like now? “Well, you’ve got Justin Senior, you’ve got Rufus Warren, you’ve got Cole Carter. You have the opportunity to move people around. You move Justin Malone out, move a Jamaal Clayborn, or one of those guys in at guard? So just a lot of flexibility. Obviously that’s one thing we said, the area we were the least deep was on the offensive line. And we get an injury there.”

”But what we have to do is be flexible and have a lot of different combinations that we can do. Because it’s a long season and you have to see, hopefully everybody stays healthy from here on out.”

How close are you to setting the two-deep? “I think we’re pretty close with the two-deep right now. To me, it’s those last couple of guys. I think you’re going to be pretty good with 22 on offense and 22 on defense. It’s spots 22-to-30 on offense and 22-to-30 on defense that guys are trying to grab. And as you know with me, the 22 is 22; I don’t care about ones or twos. We’re getting to the point now these are the guys that are going to be playing in the games for us a lot. And other guys are still trying to grab a role here and fight for a role in the kicking game, in the offense and defense, and get on the bus.”

Can you talk about putting Deandre Ward on scholarship? “We had a scholarship available for us, within our number count. We look at when you can do that of guys that are deserving, not just in their ability on the field but the type of person they are. He’s a guy that has done a great job of working hard in the classroom, did an unbelievable job with work ethic in the weightroom. He’s a guy that this training camp has found a role on special teams and found a way to embrace that role. He’s not worried about being our starting linebacker, he’s worried about starting on every single special team. And you’ve seen that development come through for us for him. And a person that is really going to contribute to the program in games this season. So it was a great thing to be able to do and I know as head coach that’s something you love to be able to do. Because that’s what we preach, look at a guy that really buys all-in, works as hard as he can to be successful. And guys get to see there’s that success, that reward for all his hard work.”

We’ve seen Evan Sobiesk, talk about Westin Graves battling for the kicking job? “I think it’s going to be interesting. Coming out of training camp, by day it’s like this really with those two. Those two have really pulled away, percentage-wise by day, back-and-forth. We did some competitive kicking today so it might actually go back a percentage point the other direction today to see what goes on with that and the placekicking part of it all.”

”The punters have done really well with Devon Bell and Logan Cooke, those guys have been pretty solid. I think with us sometimes they’ll have a bad kick that maybe in the past would be our average; now that feels like a bad kick with how they’ve been kicking the ball! So we feel good about those guys. But that is going to go back-and-forth and we’re going to continue to try to put them in competitive situations. All we can do is go off the statistics of who has done the better job and that guy is going to get the opportunities.”

With Damian’s bad break, the timing of moving Warren to tackle in spring and Senior putting on 20 more pounds can be good timing for them? “Well, we’ll see how it all goes. Rufus has done a very nice job during training camp, made huge strides from spring. I had some doubts after spring but he’s made some huge strides. Justin Senior has made huge strides from spring.”

”As I said, that’s a position you weren’t deep at, you’re hoping that Justin Senior and Rufus could really spend this year in that role playing, in the supporting cast, instead of the starring role; and to be ready for that starting role when it got called upon them. But hey, sometimes in Hollywood you get your breaks at the right place and the right time.”

What is the positive of moving a Malone into a place he hasn’t played but having that experience of playing? “Well, here’s the deal. A lot of guys have to play multiple positions on the o-line. And so what you do, guys will be left and right tackle; Justin is a right guard/right tackle, we have some guys that are right guards/left guards, some guys are left guards/centers for us.”

”And the reason we kind of roll guys through, we mix-and-match a lot, is on game day to find a combination, of how we get the best five guys on the field. And when an injury strikes, that combination may change. So that’s one of the things we have to be prepared to do and look at what is the best combination for us going to be? But, you’re another injury away from having a whole ‘nother combination go out there on the field. So you want guys to have that flexibility to do multiple things.”

What has gone well at practice? “Boy, I hope everything! From stretch to catching the ball to running routes to covering. I mean that’s why you practice, that was like practice 21 I think it was for us? There’s so many things that have gone on it’s hard to pick anything that is specific. Just great development from the whole team.”

What did you think of the scrimmage Friday? “There were some things I saw in the scrimmage that were good. And some herky-jerky things that I don’t like. Because to be great is great consistency. I saw some great things but to have greatness you have to have consistency and do it every snap of the deal. But that is a lot of stuff we’ve continued to talk about with the guys, and now that they start to get fresher the pressure they put on each other…the good thing about some depth is they put a lot of pressure on each other to perform and be excellent every snap of the game. Not just sometimes, not just make a great play; but excellence in everything that they do. And I think there is a lot of peer pressure to get that done right now.”

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