Mullen: “I Like Our Team”

By this time next week the transition should be complete. Or, better be complete. In fact Dan Mullen expects the Bulldogs to begin practicing right now as if kickoff were this Saturday and not the next.

”To me this is the big transition week,” Mullen said following Monday’s afternoon practice. “Into getting ready for the game.”

The game being Mississippi State’s opener on September 5 when the Bulldogs visit Southern Mississippi (9:00, FS1). There’s still much for Mullen and squad to get done before heading to Hattiesburg. Mullen even said there will still be some remaining situational and special teams items typical of camp practice more than game week work.

But with both scrimmages done, evaluations completed, and what the coach reports is a reasonably healthy Bulldog ball team, game planning and practicing are dead ahead. Mullen began Monday’s talk with some comments on last Thursday’s scrimmage…beginning with “Holy cow, that’s a long time ago now!”

Dan Mullen: “It was good. We stayed healthy, which is the most important part to me. I don’t think we have any serious injury concerns at this point which is positive. We got a lot of reps out of it. To me this week is the big transition week into getting ready for the game and out of training camp. Because training camp ended really last week, Saturday morning ended training camp in my mind.”

“Now it’s kind of transition week between training camp and game week. Guys learning how to be on a scout team, how to get a little bit more game specific with things, instead of overall installations and all those things. But we’re still going to get some situational work, some of that stuff to get cleaned-up. And this week look at everything we haven’t done. And then transition full-go into next week’s game week.

“Because it’s a tricky transition. What will it be, 25 and 15, that’s 40. And then 15, I think we’re 55 practices after this week playing one game. With the bowl game last year, 55 practices with the one game. Now there’s going to be one game every four practices. So that’s really getting used to that transitional mindset.”

What goes through your mind to try to prevent injuries in scrimmages? “That’s a fine line. You have to manage your team, you have to get them ready to play, you’ve got to physically be ready to play, you’ve got to be physically tough. And injuries happen.”

“Injuries unfortunately are a part of the game. You’re hoping you’re not doing things to put guys in adverse situations. But you can have an ACL with a guy jogging down the field at practice and just plants wrong. It’s probably dangerous going to class! I mean you roll your ankle off the side of the curb or something like that. Any of those type situations can be dangerous.”

“What you’re hoping to do is avoid preventable injuries. I think that’s the big things. you’re always evaluating are we doing things that are going to prevent injuries and making sure that we’re not putting guys in dangerous situations. That’s what you look for in a scrimmage; make sure we get the guys ready to play a game but also hopefully keep guys out of dangerous situations.”

How has Dezmond Harris bounced back? “He’s done well. Missing spring ball obviously hurts for him. Having been out for a while right now that’s a big learning curve, he missed a whole cycle in development. But I think he’s doing well. You have to see, you have to get him on special teams and get him some reps in the game and see. Hopefully he continues to grow and develop as time goes on and he’ll recover from missing that time in spring.”

What is his mentality after two knee injuries? “I don’t know. Don’t have another one!”

At what point do you start focusing on the offensive linemen you want ready for Southern Miss? “Well we’re starting to limit that now that training camp is over. But we’re still getting everybody reps because it’s a long season. A lot of guys have to be ready to play. This is the transition week so you’re starting now, there are parts of practice you’ve focusing on getting guys ready; and there’s parts of practice where everybody is still getting reps, it goes back and forth. Starting next week it will kind of go to all guys getting ready to play the game.”

Your thoughts on the offensive line? “They’re coming along. We’ve got to stay healthy. I mean that’s going to be a huge deal because you’ve got a lot of young guys and I’d love us to control their development. Not circumstances control their development of when they’re forced to get on the field and play. For us it’s a lot of that we want to be able to control their development all the way through and not be forced to play somebody maybe before he’s totally ready to play.”

What signs have the players showed that they’re ready to play a game? “I don’t know, I just think you work this yard to get ready everybody is sick of practicing.”

“But I do think the leadership, we talk one thing you can’t get bored of repetition at practice. You always have to get better. Leadership has to do a really great job of that and I think they have, the older guys on the team have done a good job of keeping the focus.”

“The important one is getting that focus away from practice now, into getting ready to go play a game with a lot of young guys now. We have a lot of guys that have played, but there’s also a large number of guys that haven’t played. That transition of how to prepare for a game, they may have seen it but they’ve never had to do it. Now the older guys are going to have to do a great job in leadership.”

“I mean, look at our schedule. A lot of people play some easy games to start off. We’re playing a big in-state rivalry that on the national stage might not look like a huge game. But I know in the state of Mississippi it’s a huge game. And then one of the top teams in the country (Louisiana State) in week-two. You don’t have that breather a lot of teams have starting the season off. So the older guys have to make sure the younger guys are prepared right from day-one in knowing how to get ready for a game when you have to get on the field.”

Have any specialists separated themselves, kickers and return men? “No, they’re pretty much a team, they all stick together! Ah, we’ll see. That’s not something I even look at to game week, get statistical analysis of every kick, everything that’s made. And then make a decision in game-week.”

Now that he will play has Nick Fitzgerald’s mindset changed? “No, you’ve got to have the right mindset to even have a chance to play quarterback. I thought that’s been pretty good. I think you’re seeing a different grasp of the offense. I mean there’s no more guessing, no more just trying to make plays. You better know what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, why you’re doing it.”

“But he’s going to be one of those guys. I mean he’s got to get ready to go be the starting quarterback. He could be a snap away from being the starting quarterback, and has never prepared for a game. He’s watched last year how guys prepared for a game but he’s never personally prepared for a game. So there’s a lot that goes into making sure you’re ready to hit the field and play.”

With over 50 practices how satisfied are you heading into gameplanning for Southern Miss? “I’m never satisfied with anything. I always want to be better. But, I’m not disappointed! I have pretty high expectations and standards of what we want our team to look at. I’m not disappointed with anything but there’s always things we’ve got to continually work, continue to improve, continue to get better. But I like our team.”

What strides has Nick James made lately? “He’s come a long way. And it’s program development. He’s had a lot to change socially, a lot to change academically, a lot to change physically, and a lot to change as a football player. But if you see overall change in a human being like that, I mean he’s someone that has really bought into the program to me.”

“Now I’m not saying he’s arrived. But I think he’s bought into the program and you’ve seen how it’s changed every aspect of his life. In the end that’s what the program is about. The program here at Mississippi State is about developing young men to become champions in life. We talk about that all the time. If we get the opportunity to win a championship, fantastic. Get the opportunity to go be a NFL player, fantastic. But the program is about developing you to be a champion in life and teaching you lessons that can be a foundation for success for every aspect of your life for the rest of your life. If we accomplish that and the young men buy into that and they’ve accomplished that then they’ve succeeded in the program.”

What have you seen from the defense, getting comfortable in Manny Diaz’ scheme? “I think one, there is carry-over a lot from what we’ve done in the past to a point. Then there’s the subtle differences. It’s just with new faces. So there are some guys obviously the transition is pretty simple. We’re tweaking this way just a little bit, that’s easy for some older veteran players. Like a Kendrick Market, Taveze Calhoun, Will Redmond, Ryan Brown, Beniquez Brown, guys that have played a lot of football. They understand the game.”

“The young guys are looking, OK, it’s almost like starting new because they hadn’t mastered the original aspect of it. Now they’re learning the tweak of it. So it’s learning how to do it this way now and don’t have the foundation or anything to build on from the past because you’re the new guy. Then learning how to apply that and get ready to hit the field.”

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