Notebooking Friday's Spring Football Practice

Mississippi State ran through a Friday practice session of nearly two-and-a-half hours, for their second day of spring football camp. And last, as after working Tuesday and today Coach Dan Mullen is giving the team the weekend off.

In fact this spring’s work is scattered a bit more, with the 15 allotted session spread over five weeks leading up to the April 18 spring game. Next week will have only three practices; Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. The first of two scrimmages won’t be held until April 3.

*Bulldog held entirely out of drills Friday were: S Kendrick Market, QB Damian Williams, LB Dezmond Harris, CB Taveze Calhoun, and WR De’Runnya Wilson.

QB Elijah Staley began the day in rehab but quickly rejoined the healthy quarterbacks for position drills. When practice went to full-team work, Staley was the third man in the rotation. Though unable to roll or scramble, he did throw his share of passes and was reasonably sharp. Mullen did say Tuesday that the redshirt freshman is ‘out’ for spring which seems to mean any sort of contact scrimmaging only at this point.

While the knee heals Staley’s arm is 100%. QB Nick Fitzgerald has the advantage of being able to move around though. Taking a couple of steps to buy time the redshirt made a fine throw to WR Gabe Myles in tight coverage by CB Chris Rayford over the middle for a 30-yard gainer.

*And if they cannot actually practice, some of the restricted Dogs stay busy as ‘coaches’ when possible. During a session where coverage and support plays were being explained to the defense, senior Market stood behind S Kivon Coman in the left safety slot to talk him through some details. Then he did the same for S Jahmere Irvin-Sills with the second unit.

Irvin-Sills practiced as a cornerback as a true freshman. But he’s been moved to safety in spring. With Market out there are only three scholarship safeties available in camp. As of Friday, Coman and Deontay Evans were working first team, backed respectively by Irvin-Sills and S Brandon Bryant. Two walk-ons are the third pair.

*CB Calhoun did the same informal coaching work as did Market, coming over behind first-teamer CB Will Redmond to offer advice in this teaching session.

*On Tuesday, Mullen confirmed that OT Damien Robinson’s status for the 2015 season will be determined after spring. The senior has a sixth season of eligibility now if he wants to apply it, but the left knee injury of last August still hampers Robinson seven months later.

Mullen made it sound earlier in the week that Robinson would be very limited, and on that first practice day the tackle did only drills. Friday though Robinson wasn’t just working in drills, but he participated in 11-on-11 play too; both running and passing plays which showed the senior is getting back to his old mobility. But he continues to wear a stout brace on the left knee just in case.

*He was signed out of junior college as a tackle prospect. Then last spring as an early enrollee Joquell Johnson worked mostly at guard before sitting out the 2014 season entirely for health issues, a result of his juco season.

Now two days into his second spring Johnson, still a junior in eligibility, is at a third position, working as center. In fact he is taking the second-unit turns there. This has allowed Deion Calhoun to stay at guard so far, though Mullen has said he expects several experiments at center and even guard spots over the course of camp.

Friday’s depth chart by positions: left tackle was Rufus Warren, Cole Carter, Elgton Jenkins. Left guard was Justin Malone, Kent Flowers, Michael Story. Center was Jamaal Clayborn, Jocquell Johnson, Nick Proby. Right guard was Devon Desper, Deion Calhoun, Jake Thomas. And right tackle was Justin Senior, Damien Robinson, Martinas Rankin, Ronald Cochran.

*An interesting aspect to Friday’s defensive drills was having coaches work with other units, as part of specific tackle instruction. At one point line coach David Turner was drilling safeties, cornerbacks coach Deshea Townsend working the defensive linemen, and so on. Coordinator and linebackers coach Manny Diaz explained it was to get the finer points of techniques used by some positions shown to all their defensive teammates, especially open-field tackling in one-on-one situations.

*After morning rain, all practicing in the afternoon was done on the artificial turf field closest to the Seal Complex. Usually all three fields are used so everyone can spread out for drills.

This did cause some spacing issues. During passing work with the wide receivers, freshman WR Deddrick Thomas had to run beyond the right sideline and right into the defensive line group. There, he took out Coach Turner who wasn’t looking for any such interruption. The linemen weren’t pleased at how their boss was put down on the ground. DE A.J. Jefferson even grabbed true frosh Thomas and all but threw him out of the group.

*It isn’t easy keeping some aggressive Dog defenders on a leash even in non-contact days. TE B.J. Hammond found out the hard way on a short catch in 7-on-7 work, as LB Richie Brown came across to ‘chest’ him hard enough to put the tight end down.

*Revising the wide receiver rotations from Tuesday’s report, the first two split ends remain Fred Brown and Joe Morrow with Fred Ross the slot receiver and Gus Walley the slot tight end. The second foursome, in the same order, are Deddrick Thomas and Jesse Jackson splits, Gabe Myles and Darrion Hutcherson slots. The third grouping was Kareem Vance and Donald Gray splits, Malik Dear or Shelby Christy and B.J. Hammond slots.

*The full-team session featured nothing but tempo offense. Each of the three units got lined-up quickly and calls were made at the line. This is not new for Mississippi State as a way to get as many passes thrown for review as possible.

The twist Friday was a surprising number of running plays. A few were handoffs but most were straight keepers by the quarterbacks. While that’s an obvious part of State’s offense this also looked like a way to test defensive awareness, too. Not that they can hit any green-shirted quarterback, of course, but they are learning recognitions this way instead of just sitting back in coverage.

The coverage was still good. There were no interceptions thrown Friday but many balls were broken-up downfield. And DT Nick James showed his hops by getting up, way up, to deflect a Fitzgerald pass. The carom was nearly caught, too.

*Friday ended with placekicking drills, split between Devon Bell and Westin Graves. Each had their misses, but both did finish the day by making good from 37 yards out before Mullen blew the whistle.

Much earlier came some kickoff coverage work. It’s clear positions on that Mississippi State squad are all open. Because if you were not a lineman, offensive or defensive, or a quarterback, you took at least one turn running through the wall of blocking dummies and chasing down one of the eleven players holding a ball as a mock-return man.

*He can't participate of course. But there was another quarterback at Friday's practice, just not an enrolled one. 2015 signee Nick Tiano attended the session.

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