Bulldog Spring Football Notebook

They began by practicing outdoors in public view. They had to finish up indoors, away from interested eyes. Still Coach Dan Mullen was not complaining since not until this 13th of 15 spring practice days did weather become a factor.

Nor was it really a serious factor Tuesday. Mississippi State was able to get the drills periods and a 20-minute session of full-team play done on the practice field. Some of it, even during rain. With the surface getting slick Mullen took the Bulldogs to Palmeiro Center for the scrimmaging he’d predicted would be a part of today and Thursday’s practice.

That session begins at 2:50 though weather might also be a factor Thursday, all week in fact. The Bulldogs at this point just hope for a reasonably clear Saturday so the Maroon-White Game (11:00am) can go on as schedule. And, spring practice end as scheduled, too.

Oh, and as it was raining a little as practice resumed outside after a break, was it really surprising the first Dogs to take the field in the slop were the offensive linemen? Fittingly followed by their defensive counterparts. Big Dogs like to get down and dirty, after all, or at least wet and grimy.

*Updating a few health situations reported from last Saturday’s scrimmage…

WR Malik Dear was at practice, or trying to anyway. The spring freshman was horse-collared late in Saturday’s scrimmage, and an object of instant concern. Dear was in full gear as usual and even warmed up with the wideouts.

But he was not allowed to participate in the full-team periods or run real routes. Dear’s day consisted of a period watching two-minute offense; another catching short throws, not moving much, from the quarterbacks as they warmed up; and then a tour of the rehab pit. Part of that involved the sand pit too, which left Dear and a few others (WR Gabe Myles, LB Dez Harris) far filthier than anyone who actually practiced.

*WR Deddrick Thomas was with Dear and the quarterbacks in that period, during which everyone who isn’t a down-lineman took some part in punting and coverage practice. Only about one-third of the time was a ball actually kicked; limited QB Elijah Staley threw a ‘punt’ since he could aim better than any kicker.

By now it’s clear unless somebody shows up in August camp of extraordinary ability, punts will be fielded this fall by either WR Fred Ross, CB Will Redmond, or CB Jamoral Graham. And if Graham isn’t catching punts, he will be covering. He and WR Donald Gray have taken to the outside coverage (missile) jobs with relish.

Also, there’s a young Dog who is going to get work whichever team is punting it. S Brandon Bryant just seems to have a knack for going after a block off the edge. He also gets off a block and downfield fast coming from the end of the interior blocking line.

Bryant still is honing coverage skills in his regular job at #2 team safety. After WR Joe Morrow blew by when the freshman froze to read the offense, for a home-run catch, Bryant got a fast and fierce lecture from cornerbacks coach Deshea Townsend who was closest to the scene.

*For his part Morrow began spring working most of the time with the #1 offense. He’s now more often with the second grouping, split end on the slot-receiver side. Though Tuesday there was a twist of sorts there. State ran a ‘stacked’ pair of ends both in the slot; one on the line of scrimmage and the other a step directly behind. The latter usually went in-motion leaving three receivers counting the tight end over-loaded to a side.

Some of this doubtless had to do with a lack of slot receivers Tuesday, since both Myles and Dear weren’t available to alternate with #1 man Ross. This did let WR Shelby Christy take a few more turns though with the second and third teams. And WR Jesse Jackson wasn’t full-speed either.

So allowing for the absences, the groupings were: #1 split ends De’Runnya Wilson and Fred Brown (in place of Jackson), tight end Gus Walley and slot man Ross; #2 Morrow and Brown again, tight end Darrion Hutcherson and slot man Deddrick Thomas.

*Last week DT Nick James was promoted to first-team at right tackle, and stayed with the #1s for the scrimmage. Tuesday, nothing changed for the big junior. He was still on the first defensive line along with left tackle Chris Jones and ends A.J. Jefferson and Ryan Brown.

So that makes the second line tackles Nelson Adams and now true freshman Braxton Hoyette, who surpassed walk-on Lawrence Brown, with ends Torrey Dale and Will Coleman. Though focus falls on James, the most-improved defensive line Dog of spring looks to be Dale; just in a lower-key sort of way. The third line is tackles Brown and Cory Thomas, who also gets a goodly share of second-team snaps, and ends Grant Harris and Johnathan Calvin.

*It’s been a pretty dull spring, for fans of depth chart moves, in the other seven defensive spots. Still the way CB Tolando Cleveland and CB Cedric Jiles alternate as #1 on the left corner promises competition come August. Especially once Jiles is entirely back from his August 2014 knee injury.

And of course Redmond will have to contend with Calhoun, who was the starter all last season on the same corner.

The only real move of spring by a defensive Dog was ’14 cornerback Jahmere Irvin-Sills going to safety. It might have looked like a numbers move initially since State is short of spring safeties, what with Market out. But Coach Tony Hughes says Irvin-Sills hasn’t just made the transition well, he adds another physical guy at safety who still has some cover-corner moves.

*On the offensive line, a spring-long topic is a move that hasn’t been made. Touted juco transfer Martinas Rankin began camp at right tackle, and has stayed there. He’s also stayed behind returning starter OT Justin Senior as would be expected.

The Tuesday twist was Coach John Hevesy giving Senior a little time-off. And, senior OT Damien Robinson getting first-team snaps in 11-on-11 settings again, as he did very late in Saturday’s scrimmage. So Rankin was able to work more with the second unit as he’s done most of spring when Robinson was held out.

It’s hard to foresee redshirting Rankin since, like all jucos coming after two years at that level, the academic progress rules make a fifth college year truly stressful. But pre-spring speculation he would take over at the open left tackle job hasn’t materialized. OT Rufus Warren has held his ground on the first team. And now redshirt Elgton Jenkins has moved up to #2.

And come August, after a couple months of office evaluating and thinking? Who really knows?

*He’s been back a full week now. But it’s a little late in spring for QB Damian Williams to regain the #2 role, which QB Nick Fitzgerald has staked a strong claim to even over a veteran who has played and won in the SEC.

Also, something about spring that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention: lack of turnovers. Whether practice scrimmaging or the two intrasquad games, the ball just has not been coming loose often if at all. All those ball protection drills appear to be paying off.

And while there have been picked passes in practice, the scrimmages have seen just one interception. And that was off a third-team, walk-on quarterback’s throw. It means that none of the combined 134 passes thrown by QB Dak Prescott or Fitzgerald at Scott Field ended up in the wrong hands.

It also means, we’ve just jinxed them both for the Maroon-White game.

*Regarding the rest of the week...the Notebook will be out of town during Thursday's practice. And, probably, for most of the spring game. The youngest niece is to be married Friday evening, and I will be doing the 'happy snaps' at rehearsal and ceremony. As well as doing whatever duties come up since rain is expected to complicate both days. It's the penalty a bachelor-uncle usually pays in such events.

But I will try to get back in time for post-spring game interviews if not the game itself. And besides, the wedding is being held in Hattiesburg...so consider it a preliminary 'scouting' of enemy ground in advance of the 2015 season opener.


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