Tuesday Spring Practice Notebook

Mississippi State resumed spring practice with a full-pads and limited-contact Tuesday. It was the sixth of 15 working days this camp for Coach Dan Mullen and team.

INJURY UPDATES: Population of the rehab pit dropped encouragingly Tuesday. The completely-sidelined Bulldogs were LB Dezmond Harris, CB Taveze Calhoun, S Kendrick Market.

QB Elijah Staley began the day there, grinding away on the bike during team stretch, but left to join the offense for the rest of practice. QB Damian Williams was the opposite case, stretching with the team before moving to the pit.

As has become their habit neither Calhoun nor Market want to stay in rehab all day. During pre-scrimmage period when the defense is honing some packages, Calhoun was over with the right-side cornerbacks offering advice; while Market picked the left-side safeties to do his coaching with.

In the day’s opening period, the two-minute offense against air, WR De’Runnya Wilson was back with the first team. Temporarily, as it turned out. Wilson occasionally participated in other drills but not much in the way of full-team due to the contact potential.

When Wilson stepped aside his first-team place was shared by redshirt freshman WR Jesse Jackson, junior transfer WR Donald Gray; or sometimes by WR Fred Brown who is usually first-team himself. If Brown moved to Wilson’s spot, WR Joe Morrow took over the other split end position.

Also back but also briefly, WR Deddrick Thomas returned from a two-practice absence. About half-way into the day he left for more rehab, this time with an icepack on the back of his right leg after going through passing drills.

S Jahmere Irvin-Sills had missed Saturday with an undisclosed injury. He returned Tuesday and was back in the #2 safety rotation alongside S Brandon Bryant.

BUILDING UP: The Bulldogs don’t have a true scrimmage scheduled until Friday, cleverly timed by Coach Dan Mullen to take some physical edge off the fellow before they head home for Easter break. There is a limited level of contact allowed so far; obviously it is not enough for a few who are itching to hit. Really hit.

That’s most true of redshirt freshman safety Bryant. Having chased down sweeping RB Aeris Williams on the sideline for no gain, Bryant gave a little extra shove at the end. Williams took enough offence to drill Bryant with the ball. Williams didn’t have a good day with several of his 2014 signing class compadres. Catching a swing pass, not only did OLB J.T. Gray grab Williams but he rode the back down hard to the turf as well.

Towards the end, after WR Gabe Myles made a catch-and-run with the #2 offense there was Brown again to make a solid stick just as the whistle blew. Scrimmaging can’t come soon enough.

The competition period didn’t begin well for the offense. QB Dak Prescott was surprised by a high snap from OC Jamaal Clayborn with the ball going over his helmet. DE Ryan Brown got there for a scoop and ‘score’, celebrating by dropping to his knees in the end zone and raising both fists.

That wasn’t the only turnover ‘touchdown’ by the defensive. #2 QB Nick Fitzgerald was picked off by LB DeAndre Bryant for a return down the left sideline. Later on a keeper downfield Fitzgerald had the ball come loose via stripping; OLB Beniquez Brown came up with it and ran it back the other way. He didn’t score, but LB Quadry Antoine picked off a walk-on quarterback in 3s-vs-3s.

TE Darrion Hutcherson also used one play to show Irvin-Sills what leverage really means. Corralled by three other defenders after a fine over-middle catch and gain, Hutcherson found safety Sills trying to get a little extra contact in. The 6-7 Hutcherson simply stuck out a long right arm and shoved the 5-10 Sills, who went plop on his backside.

FAST FROSH: WR Malik Dear turned a simple quick throw and cut behind a hold opened by the tight end into a breakaway touchdown. Ironically when the #1 offense tried the same play against their first-defense peers, it didn’t go nearly so well. Ross made the behind-line catch just fine but was instantly swarmed for loss with linebacker B.Brown leading the pack.

If there is a Most Impressive Freshman so far, on offense anyway, it has to be Dear. He has shown the skills of a slot receiver already, but State is setting all sorts of ways to get the gifted rookie the ball such as reverses and end-arounds. Or on one play today, using him as an option-sweep back. He does it all well.

STABILITY SO FAR: There were no changes to either the offensive or defensive lines of scrimmage. Not merely has the first team been stable through six practices but the second and even third units have barely budged. There have been a few late-practice periods where a returning starter stepped aside so somebody else could run with the ones; such as DE A.J. Jefferson giving his snaps to DE Torrey Dale.

To be sure, for the first several days the second offensive line would switch right tackles. OT Damien Robinson has been used sparingly in any sort of contact period, and it remains to be seen if he scrimmages at all Friday. However Tuesday Robinson got a lot more 11-on-11 snaps than before, which up to now had gone to backup and mid-year enrollee OT Martinas Rankin. Juco Rankin otherwise is #3 man for the moment at right tackle, with redshirt Ronald Cochran behind him.

At center, Mullen said Saturday he expects to get a fourth man involved at some point. It wasn’t today though. The rotation remained Jamaal Clayborn, Jocquell Johnson, Nick Proby. Who Mullen could be thinking of is t.b.a. but logically it would seem OG Deion Calhoun would get a look after practicing some center during Orange Bowl camp.

SIDE TO SIDE: Figuring out the cornerback depth chart isn’t as complicated as, say, the wide receivers. Still there is some swapping of sides day to day and even drill to drill. No doubt part of his is Calhoun’s absence from the (presumably) right corner spot.

Judged purely by the 11-on-11 matchups, the RCB was Tolando Cleveland, Jamoral Graham, and walk-on Jones wearing #8. On the left side it is Will Redmond, Cedric Jiles, and redshirt Chris Rayford.

While Market is sidelined, the safety pairings are Kivon Coman and Deontay Evans; backed respectively by Brandon Bryant and Irvin-Sills; then a couple of walk-ons. No doubt Coach Tony Hughes is counting-down the days to get touted freshmen Jamal Peters and Mark McLaurin on campus to contend. Immediately.

SPECIALIZING: In punt return CB Will Redmond and WR Fred Ross have been the consistent top-two. A couple of others got some turns Tuesday though, WR Donald Gray and WR Jamoral Graham.

During punt-rush drills it was back to Redmond and Ross to catch the kicks with no return attempt. A stiff west wind caused havoc with most of the punts and knocked them wide and short. In a short break from the breeze a punt did go long and high. As Redmond got under, just before the ball came down WR Coach Billy Gonzales took off his maroon cap and flipped it across Redmond’s view. Redmond kept focused and made the catch anyway.

By the way… While during 11-man prep for scrimmaging the defense has enough bodies to ‘scout’ against, the offense only saw a handful of bodies on the other side of the line. They were a few grad assistants and three kickers, with KO/P Logan Cooke showing his range as a free safety.

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