Sunday Orange Bowl Camp Notebook

Mississippi State took advantage of sunny Sunday conditions for a two-hour practice, the third session of Orange Bowl camp. Campus was largely empty following yesterday’s graduation allowed most students to head home for the holidays. But not the Bulldogs.

They were back on the job, albeit with what looked like a level of levity. Coach Dan Mullen may have kept the Bulldogs on a practice schedule but Sunday had a softer approach. Presumably, an encouraging comment on how those first two and more intense practice days went, though none knows for sure as there were no media interviews following the practice.

Sunday was also open to public viewing again and quite a crowd turned out in the pleasant conditions. Monday looks another matter with rain expected, but #7-ranked Mississippi State will still attend to business with a 2:00 practice scheduled.

With the end of the fall semester, final grades are in and eligibility for the bowl game can be settled in the coming days. The only certain player who won't be able to participate in the Orange Bowl is not due to senior college academics. Defensive lineman Will Coleman will await spring ball to be activated, though he is allowed to practice now. And unlike last December, there will be no early high school graduates joining the team for campus bowl camp.

*The only injury situation arising so far involves QB Elijah Staley. The redshirt freshman came up gimpy after a Saturday play, and spent Sunday in the rehab pit with a wrap on the right leg.

OG Justin Malone had taken it easy the first two days to rest the sore foot hurt on opening day 2013. He still played eleven games on it this season, but for bowl camp State wants to give the junior guard a brief break. Malone returned to practice duty Sunday, as #1 left guard.

S Kendrick Market is out with the injured Achilles tendon from the Vanderbilt game. He has been watching practices braced on a scooter. But Market stays involved; the scooter has a basket for gear and in it was his iPad that contains Bulldog gameplans and video cut-ups. So he continues to study and prep as if playing.

CB Cedric Jiles and OT Damien Robinson both went out in August with knee injuries. Jiles is on schedule for spring participation; Robinson will need a NCAA waiver for a sixth college season to join him and compete for an open tackle job.

*With Malone returned to work Sunday, the #1 offensive line was intact…initially. State used the standard quintet of RT Justin Senior, RG Ben Beckwith, C Dillon Day, Malone, LT Blaine Clausell to begin things. Then, backup OG Jamaal Clayborn took over as the first-team center, a position he will get a chance to compete for come spring after Day’s departure.

Of course one guard job will also be left open by Beckwith. The edge would seem to be with OG Devon Desper since he started at right guard for Beckwith when the latter had to take over center one game. There’s a new candidate though. Redshirted lineman Deion Calhoun was taking, rather making some of the second-team snaps this day, meaning there really will be a battle for center come March.

Typically, the #2 line was RT Rufus Warren, RG Desper, C Archie Muniz, LG Clayborn when he wasn’t at center, and LT Cole Carter. The third offensive front was RT Jocquell Johnson or Ronald Cochran, RG Jake Thomas, C Nick Proby, LG Kent Flowers, LT Elgton Jenkins.

Identifying many of the second and third unit linemen is a challenge because the jersey numbers do not match the helmet numbers. This is because those with matching digits are already wearing the shirts to be used on scout team starting mid-week. And some offensive Dogs have numbers on neither shirt nor hat.

*Behind that line the new running backs are sharing snaps with their elders, and catching eyes in the process. Though, when some see #10 running through traffic a double-take is needed. Because redshirt Dontavian Lee looks absolutely nothing like Brandon Holloway, what with packing 60 more pounds and standing five (at least) inches taller. Lee of course will wear that number on the scout offense while Holloway stays with the varsity so there is no risk of a penalty on game day.

And fellow redshirt Aeris Williams isn’t much lighter than Lee, only five pounds officially and just as tall. They certainly tower over Holloway and first-teamer RB Josh Robinson.

But the real eye-catcher comes in comparing quarterbacks. QB Dak Prescott is a fine physical specimen to be sure at 6-2 and 230 or more. Yet he has to look up at both of the redshirting triggermen. QB Nick Fitzgerald stands 6-5 and Elijah Staley 6-6.

It’s nothing said by a coach, but even before his leg issue yesterday Staley was being out-performed by Fitzgerald in drills and competitive snaps. Again, this is purely outside observation and not from anyone in charge. Besides, soph Damian Williams is the backup in the bowl game just as he’s been his first two varsity seasons. Come spring, things get a lot more interesting as far as second-team status.

Only one receiver was redshirted, since classmate Jamoral Graham got to play as a rookie. Lack of live experience is not holding Jesse Jackson back at all. The redshirt frosh is performing at least as well and often better during early drills, working as a split end. Graham is at slot receiver.

*Three already had Saturday off for graduation. Yet the coaches must have been in an especially generous mood because senior defensive line starters barely broke a Sunday sweat. Instead #1 tackles Kaleb Eulls and P.J. Jones and end Preston Smith, and backup DT and senior Curtis Virges, got to watch underclassmen have at it all afternoon.

So the temporary ‘first’ defensive line was LE Ryan Brown, LT Chris Jones, RT Nelson Adams, and RE A.J. Jefferson. They were rotated with the second grouping of Torrey Dale, Jones doing double-duty, Nick James, and juco Will Coleman.

The third quartet was LE Grant Harris, LT Cory Thomas, RT Braxton Hoyett, and senior RE John Harris.

The first two linebacker rotations are familiar; Matt Wells, Benardrick McKinney, Beniquez Brown first, then Zach Jackson, Richie Brown, and Turtle Holmes behind them respectively. The third group in same position order was J.T. Gray, Gerri Green, Deandre Ward. Ward worked with the fourth unit too alongside Kelan Chairs and Quadry Antoine.

The injury-loss of rotation safety Market leaves Jay Hughes backed by redshirt Brandon Bryant and walk-on Zac Neary at strong safety. Kivon Coman and Deontay Evans alternate at free safety, backed by Brandon Wells and Tyrell Miller.

On the right corner today’s order by-unit Taveze Calhoun, Jahmere Irvin-Sills, Chris Rayford; the left cornerbacks in order were Jamerson Love, Will Redmond, Tolando Cleveland, Boderick Oliver, and a walk-on.

*In special teams practices only the field goal unit(s) go full-team and full-speed so far with all three kickers—Evan Sobiesk, Logan Cooke, and Devon Bell—taking the same turns and distances. Results all around are mixed, as to be expected after the regular season, though Sobiesk has been most consistent on informal viewing.

Kickoff return and coverage is being done with partial teams though. Sunday, all kicks were high and sort so six coverage Dogs could go after the one return man without trying to tackle for-real. All season State stayed with a return tandem of Brandon Holloway and Robert Johnson, and got nothing longer than 29 yards in 12 games. The longest return was by LB Christian Holmes in fact, 61 yards off a Kentucky on-sides kickoff at that.

So there were some interesting other players taking return turns Sunday after the two regulars. They included to no surprise WR Jameon Lewis who used to have this job; and two cornerbacks. Will Redmond has practiced it before of course. The eye-opener was CB Jamerson Love, not for any ability questions but because he is a senior about to play his final college game. The opportunity for great irony is obvious if Love gets a chance and maximizes it in the Orange Bowl.

*There was something else interesting in this drill. Of the various six-man coverage groups every player was a veteran…except one. Redshirting LB Gerri Green was on the second such unit even though he won’t be used in the bowl and lose the year. It is an apt comment on the youngster’s potential though.

*As noted before, specific installation and practicing of gameplans for Georgia Tech begins in-depth this Wednesday. Still on Sunday there were some initial steps to getting a number of positions ready for the Yellow Jackets’ triple-option offense.

Today it was having the safeties and outside linebackers practice their assignments on outside plays, and giving some backs chances to try running the rare scheme. After all, the scout teams will have to be able to give the varsity a reasonable look in both aspects. And as hard as the true option offense can be to defend already, running it well is maybe even harder to learn.

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