Quarterback Camp Keeps Johnson Adjusting

Brian Johnson proved he could adjust and adapt when he was calling the plays. Now he’s showing the same knack for A&A coaching an interesting spring collection of Bulldog quarterbacks.

Interesting, as in ranging from an All-Southeastern Conference veteran and Heisman Trophy candidate; to a currently-sidelined veteran backup; on through one healthy redshirt freshman and another limited by injury. Yeah, interesting indeed.

And, a chance for quarterbacks coach Johnson to adjust his spring instruction schedule around who is available while adapting to the needs of spring practicing. “That’s a part of the game,” Johnson said.

“You’d like for everybody to be out there, healthy. Because they all need the reps. But at the same time that’s a part of football. When one man goes down the next guy has to be ready to step up and pick up the rifle.”

Of course the big gun in Mississippi State’s arsenal for 2015 is Dak Prescott, returned for a senior season and his fifth spring in a Bulldog uniform. Remember, he enrolled a semester early in 2011, and that head-start certainly showed in Prescott’s rapid development. To, all know now, stature as the SEC’s most-recognized triggerman and again a national honors candidate.

So, what is there for second-year Coach Johnson to do with an old Dog like Dak?

“Dak’s always Dak,” Johnson said. “You know, the biggest challenge for him is to make sure to continue at an extremely high level in our play. But also help bring the young guys along. And he’s done a great job taking that over and being a great leader and mentor for some of those young guys in our room.”

Those young guys are an, again, interesting collection. They just aren’t 100% available for spring work. True junior Damian Williams began camp in the exercise lot, where recovering and rehabbing Bulldogs are kept busy. Coach Dan Mullen has yet to clarify Williams’ specific situation which keeps everyone guessing.

But Williams does go at his assignments with energy, judging by how he has hit the weights and whipped the ropes around the first two working days. As to getting him on the field in the remaining weeks…

“We hope so. We’ll see what happens,” Johnson said. “I know he’s working extremely hard to get back and hopefully we’ll get him back here soon.”

Until then, the coach has to handle utterly-opposite ends of the experience spectrum. There is star senior Prescott. Then there are redshirt rookies Nick Fitzgerald and Elijah Staley. Of course the kids don’t just have their salaried coach to listen to now.

When Prescott speaks, freshmen listen. And watch, too, as Johnson said.

“If you want to be a big-time in this quarterback in this conference and everything that comes along with that, it’s great to be in the same meeting room with a guy who goes through that every single day.”

Fitzgerald is not new to this spring stuff though. He even trumps Prescott’s case, having enrolled in December 2013 and practicing one week for the Liberty Bowl. Fitzgerald also got the advantage of an entire spring and then last fall. Johnson said the early arrival and participation are evident as Fitzgerald knows what to do in practices.

“It’s getting to the point of understanding ‘why’ of our offense. Now it will help slow down for him so he can be worried more about fundamentals of technique as we get started.”

As for Staley, his case is extra-interesting. An off-season fix to his knee shows in a stout brace he wears to practice. The first day of drills Mullen said Staley was ‘out’ for spring. The second day there was Staley participating in unit drills, albeit without a lot of lateral movement. Then he took his turns throwing or handing off for 11-on-11 periods.

So ‘out’ seems to simply mean Staley can’t do anything to risk the knee with hard or fast movements. Ahhhh, but here Johnson gets to do some real adjusting & adapting. Even in a spread system quarterbacks often have to stay put and pass, and Staley has always been able to tuck and run. Now, Johnson said, Staley has no choice!

“That is something that those reps will be invaluable for him from a standpoint of having to stand in the pocket to throw the football. Just being able to do something I think will help his development and growth moving forward.”

Looking even farther-forward, there was a fifth quarterback at camp Friday. Not in it, at it. February signee Nick Tiano made the trip to campus to watch his soon-to-be teammates work.

“It was good!” Johnson grinned. “He’s a football junkie, so he loves to be around the game, loves to be around the guys. And we’re anxious for him to get here in summer time and get to work.”

Johnson, quarterbacks, everyone have three practices scheduled this week on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. All sessions, weather permitting, are open to the public unless moved indoors.

Fridays video interview with Coach Brian Johnson:

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