“It was a better practice than I thought we’d have today,” the coach said following Friday’s debut session of Capital One Orange Bowl camp. “Guys flying around, a lot of juice, a lot of energy.”
Mullen wasn’t just coach-speaking. Whether the Bulldogs were that glad to be back on a football field after a layoff, or letting loose at the end of fall semester finals, or just thrilled about the upcoming holiday in Miami, the ninety-minute was energetic. And hopefully productive too, once the Mississippi State staff goes over the video.
On Bowl bid day, Mullen said he meant to use these first five days of bowl camp as something more like spring football. This is nothing new. Under Mullen, the program has already prepared for and played in four consecutive bowls. So by now Dogs know the drill. And the drills.
“This is our fifth-straight bowl game, which is pretty special. That’s become kind of a new standard around here. Our guys expect to be here in this situation, this time of year.” So when players got on the practice field today, they instantly jumped into action.
“We’re in phase-one really of the bowl prep right now, which is kind of polishing up a lot of fundamentals and techniques,” Mullen said. “Young guys getting a lot of reps and getting themselves ready to go for the future. And I really liked the attitude we came out with.”
Not that the veterans were excused entirely. Those present and available did practice with their respective units in two-minute offense, seven-man passing drills, a full-field situational session of offense vs. defense, and other scripted items on the staff to-do list. Mullen will take it easy on the starters and regulars for a few days before specific gameplan installation starts next Wednesday.
Until them, “They’ve got to stay fresh,” Mullen said of the varsity. “They’ve got to stay sharp on their fundamentals and their technique. And get themselves healthy. They’ve been through a long season and gotten beat up, get themselves back to 100% while they’re staying on top of their techniques and fundamentals.”
As for the non-regulars, bowl camp is a great time to catch the position coach’s eye. And there are enough of those to go around as only three true freshmen and one junior college transfer played in 2014. That leaves a lot of redshirted frosh and even a couple of un-activated jucos in Jocquell Johnson and Will Coleman to start serious competition with everyone else.
“There’s a bunch of different groups of young guys,” Mullen said. “Guys that are redshirting, I want to see them transition out of that mode and into that desperate, I got to start getting ready to play. The guys that are maybe your 1Bs, your 2s, 3s, maybe some backup guys, I want to see them taking those steps where they’re ready to go be a starter and go get in the rotation. Where the confidence in executing the offense and the defense is at a much higher level.”
Only one veteran is out entirely at this point. S Kendrick Market went down in game-eleven with a torn Achilles and will miss the bowl. A few others were limited just for rest. Such as, starting guard Justin Malone who played the full season on a hurting foot. Malone did not dress at all today, his place on the first line being taken by Jamaal Clayborn. Mullen said Malone would be in normal work by Wednesday.
About another injured Bulldog, Mullen had no update on offensive tackle Damien Robinson’s appeal for a sixth season of eligibility. The senior was injured (knee) in preseason and did not play all year. He was not at today’s practice, though a walk-on lineman Kris Todd was wearing #78.
“They told us we have to wait to the end of the season, which is kind of too bad. Hopefully we can hear for his sake that we can get something for the future planned.”
Speaking of the future…quarterback Dak Prescott confirmed today that he and linebacker Benardrick McKinney had submitted paperwork to the National Football League for a draft-round evaluation. The juniors are both draft eligible for 2015.
So are a lot of other Dogs, though as Mullen pointed out the NFL has set a limit on five players per team allowed to apply for these evaluations.
“I’ve met up with a bunch of guys. A couple of guys are going to turn in their paperwork to see where their futures are going to be. This year with the rules up to five guys can do that. I met with all the juniors, actually all the redshirt sophomores, true juniors, redshirt juniors. We had a big meeting to talk about the future and what they want to do. That will be something when we get all the paperwork back we’ll sit down with those guys and really discuss what the best options for all their futures will be.”
Mullen said Coach Rockey Felker is handling the paperwork process, and Monday is the deadline for any others who wish to join Prescott and McKinney. He is not sure when the NFL will send reports back, before or after the bowl game. Nor is he concerned.
“We have great open discussions about that. I love guys getting the opportunity to go play professional football, that’s a dream come true for most people. So if guys have that opportunity right now and it’s a great position to leave we’re going to encourage them to go do that.” And, Mullen said, some of the potential draftees have already decided they won’t bother.
Mullen also said State was aware of the south Mississippi vendor that had been selling shirts with Prescott’s likeness. Prescott has to file a suit to stop this per NCAA policy, though it will not cost the quarterback either eligibility or expense.
“It’s something we talked about quite a while back. Just something to protect him and his future.”
Prescott’s immediate future is attending graduation Saturday morning, along with a number of Bulldogs earning their degrees after this fall semester. Graduation just happens to coincide with the start of tomorrow’s practice at 10:00am but Mullen doesn’t mind if starters and regulars are in cap-and-gown rather than uniform this time.
“Graduation is a pretty big-time deal,” Mullen reminded.