Bulldog Spring Football Notebook

Eight down, including one scrimmage. That leaves Coach Dan Mullen and the Bulldogs seven more working days for their spring practice period, after a short Easter holiday break.

Mississippi State has the busiest week of the entire camp coming up. Work resumes Tuesday at 2:50, then really picks up the pace with sessions at 3:30 Thursday, 4:00 Friday, and before noon Saturday. The times are subject to change so check this page for updates during the week.

The first two dates are regular practices; the third will be a shorter session held in conjunction with the Friday coaching clinic on campus.

Then comes the second and most intense scrimmage of the whole spring. The Bulldogs return to Scott Field on Saturday afternoon, with the scrimmage open to public view.

*Tuesday’s practice will offer the first chance to see if any more Bulldogs are on the sideline with injury. WR Gabe Myles went down very early in the scrimmage, tackled on the sideline after a swing pass for no gain. It was an ankle keeping him out the rest of the day, though Myles did try some jogging at first.

WR Malik Dear came off later in the day, holding the left arm stiffly but once on the sideline limping a bit. He’ll be watched Tuesday, too.

Otherwise it was the same quartet of Dogs held out entirely in drills. But not from work. QB Damian Williams, CB Taveze Calhoun, S Kendrick Market, and LB Dezmond Harris all had to walk the east-side stadium steps section by section by section. Along with a trainer usually, which says something for their conditioning.

As Mullen said in the posted video interview, he hopes Williams is able to get into real practicing by this fourth week if the pectoral muscle issue is over. The rest are out all spring. WR Deddrick Thomas missed two days last week with a leg problem but was working again by Friday just fine.

*Scrimmage statistics are as reliable an indicator of what the season will show as they are for selecting stocks. By the numbers, #2QB Nick Fitzgerald out-shown All-SEC Dak Prescott since both had the same yards and the backup had more touchdown passes, right?

Well, it’s a pretty easy explanation. Prescott was going against the #1 defense entirely, and that group ought to be outstanding come fall. Especially so if the safety situation(s) are settled to everyone’s satisfaction. Besides, there are enough old hands on the varsity defense who’ve practiced for two, three or more years against Prescott and know him about as well as his offensive coaches do.

And as Mullen commented post-scrimmage, a couple of the veterans used their stature to have some, ahem, fun. On their last series of the day, first DT Chris Jones and then DE A.J. Jefferson popped Prescott good. Not to the point of risking his health or anything…just to let him and the rest of the offense know the ‘score’. Or something.

As Mullen said, those two could be cut a little slack…but you were not going to see any reserves or freshmen trying to make their spring-name by sticking the Most Valuable Bulldog of all. Not if they wanted to keep their uniform, their scholarship, heck their health.

*This doesn’t take away from Fitzgerald’s day. He did get lucky on a couple of throws that could have gone into wrong hands. It also needs noting that there is more than just depth at all receiver and running back spots. The second rotations are just about as capable as the starters. Meaning, the #2 defense drew tougher matchups relative to the 1s-on-1s.

At the same time Fitzgerald shows his December 2013 enrollment and bowl camp work, then a full spring and fall, have put him way ahead of the usual quarterback curve. Having classmate QB Elijah Staley limited and unable to scrimmage gave Fitzgerald every snap with the #2 offense, and even some with the #1s. As Mullen said, the redshirt freshman is one snap away from being first-team…not that he or anyone else wants to see that promotion before 2016.

*Also about stats, often the straight totals just mean somebody got a lot more touches by going with the second and third offense. RB Aeris Williams did just that. But the redshirt back didn’t get many cheap yards even against the #3s. RB Dontavian Lee still looks more physical but the margin isn’t much, and Williams seems to be a bit better in receiving; especially patterns between-the-hashes. If that ‘minds anyone of LaDarius Perkins, yes.

*Scrimmaging for this coaching staff means a full quota of special teams plays. Though, for the most part there is no real tackling like in the regular snaps. Kicking? That’s full-speed of course.

The highlight was unquestionably when K Devon Bell lined-up for a 50-yard attempt. Yes, no fudging, the ball was spotted smack on the 40-yard stripe and held by K Logan Cooke, too. Bell didn’t just make it, he boomed it straight and strong enough to be good from 60 yards. A moderate wind helped the distance, the accuracy Bell took care of.

Yet PATs were missed during the scrimmage series, showing most remains unproven in placekicking yet again. It is interesting that Bell, who went entirely to punting in 2014 and gave excellent results, is being asked to try placekicking again.

Cooke by contrast was an outstanding kickoff man last season and still has the leg-up so to speak there. But in spring he is working on his punting too. And in the scrimmage he had the better of it. Booting into that same breeze his punts hit turf after travelling 62 and 57 yards, rolls not counted. Bell’s four punts ranged from 30 to 39 yards, though with his trademark hang time. Both kicked off and each put balls into the end zone.

*There are at least six and some days as many as eight kickoff return candidates. It’s only guessing right now but the general order seems to be CB Will Redmond and RB Brandon Holloway first, then WR Fred Brown and Fred Ross, or WRs Donald Gray, Jamoral Graham, Gabe Myles, and so on. Dear has taken a few turns, too.

The punt return Dogs are fewer and more established now with Ross, Redmond, and despite his rookie season struggles Graham.

*If there was a main theme to Friday’s preparations for scrimmage, it was emphasis on goal-line work. It wasn’t entirely 11-on-11. There were plenty one-on-one matchups too.

It was tough to say who had the tougher challenge; defenders trying to cover such short and quick routes, or receivers worried about getting their ribs bruised and worse by Prescott’s bullets. WR Fred Brown first beat CB Will Redmond, then somehow got his hands up in time as Prescott ripped a throw through traffic.

QB Staley doesn’t lack for arm strength himself. His challenge is developing touch, and doing so from a pocket position which his knee forces the redshirt to stay in. Staley’s progress is obvious in this area.

But work remains in other aspects. After what looked to everyone else like a good read and throw to WR Malik Dear for the touchdown, wideouts Coach Billy Gonzales yelled at the quarterback. “Don’t throw that pass, he ran the wrong route!” Which is why only coaches should be allowed to ‘evaluate’ who is looking good or not in spring ball.

WR De’Runnya Wilson enjoyed the single-matchup work most. Likely, because he’s spent so much sideline time recovering from winter work on a minor knee issue as well as last year’s grind while not 100%. Making a one-handed catch while falling out of the end zone he ran by reporters and asked if any had gotten it on camera.

Next series when he made a more routine, for him, and two-handed grab on the back line we told him yes, we’d see that one. Later Staley was allowed to take some snaps in full-team, goal line and he caught a touchdown from Staley over LB J.T. Gray.

As for the team-on-team stuff things started badly for the offense. The first play was a turnover in the pile-up on a rush; the second saw #2 center Joquell Johnson miss the snap call, which drew a pop to the helmet from Fitzgerald. It took the third group to score something first, as RB Lee powered across the goal.

An option pitch from Fitzgerald to RB Williams worked better the second time it was tried, too. And the #1 offense finally scored when TE Darrion Hutcherson used his height and long arm to catch Prescott’s pass over a leaping LB Richie Brown back of the end zone. But a really nice fade to the deep corner for RB Ashton Shumpert was broken up by an excellent effort from CB Cedric Jiles.

And Ri.Brown did get a measure of revenge later. When a Prescott pass was deflected at the line of scrimmage, the linebacker changed course, lunged and came away with a goal-line carom.

*WR Shelby Christy has been the hard-luck guy in the receiver corps, losing two entire seasons to injuries. He’s still not quite full-speed this spring but Christy is getting more work. He was able to catch a red-zone drill touchdown from Prescott.

*Fans eager for news of moves up-and-down depth charts and switches of position have been disappointed this spring. Through three weeks the squads have stayed just about entirely static, especially on the line of scrimmage.

Even Mullen’s early-camp comment about finding a fourth center for practice has yet to show up. It’s still the same trio and in the same order: Jamaal Clayborn, Jocquell Johnson, Nick Proby. We’ll be watching the remaining days for signs of another candidate though.

*As noted early in the week two new-ish receivers have taken turns with the #1 offense. Redshirt WR Jesse Jackson and mid-year transfer WR Donald Gray are getting every chance to earn that status while Wilson is away. If this were game-week Fred Brown would start at one split end, and those two others contend with WR Joe Morrow at the far end. The turns are there too because WR Fred Ross has not just moved to slot receiver, he’s vaulted to the front of the depth chart there.

*We also noted last week that each day the top cornerbacks seem to swap sides of the field, with no relation to how the receivers are arrayed either. So for the heck of it we’ll adjust the depth chart to have Redmond right beginning this week, and both Tolando Cleveland and Jiles left. As if it really matters.

DEPTH CHART THROUGH THREE WEEKS:

QUARTERBACK: Dak Prescott, Nick Fitzgerald, Elijah Staley, Damian Williams

RUNNING BACK: Ashton Shumpert, Brandon Holloway, Aeris Williams or Dontavian Lee

RIGHT TACKLE: Justin Senior, Damian Robinson (in non-contact), Martinas Rankin, Ronald Cochran

RIGHT GUARD: Devon Desper, Deion Calhoun, Jake Thomas

CENTER: Jamaal Clayborn, Jocquell Johnson, Nick Proby

LEFT GUARD: Justin Malone, Kent Flowers, Michael Story

LEFT TACKLE: Rufus Warren, Cole Carter, Elgton Jenkins

SPLIT END (slot side) Fred Brown, Donald Gray, Deddrick Thomas, Javous Nicks

SLOT WIDE RECEIVER: Fred Ross, Gabe Myles, Malik Dear, Shelby Christy

TIGHT END: Gus Walley, Darrion Hutcherson, B.J. Hammond, Aaron Hammaker

WIDE RECEIVER: Joe Morrow, Jesse Jackson, Donald Gray, Kareem Vance

LEFT DEFENSIVE END: Ryan Brown, Will Coleman, Grant Harris

LEFT TACKLE: Chris Jones, Nick James, Lawrence Brown

RIGHT TACKLE: Nelson Adams, Cory Thomas, Braxton Hoyette

RIGHT END: A.J. Jefferson, Torrey Dale, Jonathan Calvin, Brian Houston

MIDDLE LINEBACKER: Richie Brown, Gerri Green, Kelan Chairs

OUTSIDE LINEBACKER: Zach Jackson, J.T. Gray, Cory Qualls

OUTSIDE LINEBACKER: Beniquez Brown, Deandre Ward, Quadry Antoine, Josiah Phillips

RIGH CORNERBACK: Will Redmond, Chris Rayford, Boderick Oliver

LEFT CORNERBACK: Cedric Jiles, Tolando Cleveland, Jamoral Graham (sidelined Taveze Calhoun)

SAFETY: Deontay Evans, Jahmere Irvin-Sills, Zac Neary

SAFETY: Kivon Coman, Brandon Bryant (sidelined Kendrick Market)


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