Ross Sidelined for Spring with Groin Surgery; Quarterback Order set by GPA Today; Dog Defense Gets More Multiple

Mississippi State began spring practices Wednesday...and will hit pause Thursday, not resuming until March 22. But for Coach Dan Mullen just getting camp going today was a big deal.

"It’s great to be back out on the field, doing some football, having some fun," the Bulldog coach said as he began his eighth spring session at Mississippi State.

Mullen updated a couple of injury situations from the first day. Slot receiver Fred Ross will miss camp after having a groin issue operated on today. Quarterback Elijah Staley was hampered by a hamstring to open camp. And linebacker Dezmond Harris is working after his fall knee injury but will be limited for protection.

Mullen also said that the position of most 2016 spring interest, quarterback, is entirely up for grabs this camp. And that whatever observers saw on day-one, the pecking order of the four candidates was not a reflection of their status. It reflected their grade point averages, with the highest taking first turn.

State also opened camp with an entirely-new defensive staff, four new coaches operating this unit. Under coordinator Peter Sirmon, an experienced 3-4 style coach, Mullen said the defense will be more multiple in 2016 but not tied to one specific alignment.

The full transcript follows:

"It’s great to be back out on the field, doing some football, having some fun. Somehow the weather stayed off. As you try to plan it and it’s supposed to be beautiful weather, then all of a sudden ten minutes before we start practice oh, we might get hit with some weather. It held off enough for us to get a good practice.” 

Were you satisfied? “Well, sure, yeah. I mean just in helmets today. So it was really good to just to kind of wake everybody up, get us back on the field a little bit and get everybody moving around. And there’s a transition to me from that off-season mindset where I’m studying football, I’m kind of doing drills on my own; and players are running out there, we’re watching some film to apply, and lifting weights. To coming out here applying it and going full-speed.”

“So it’s good to kind of just wake them all up and prepare them for that transition.”

Was that the thinking behind having one practice before spring break? “Yeah, the first two practices we don’t have pads on anyway. So just kind of this week to get that transition set, so when we come back next week they’re kind of rocking and rolling when they come back off of spring break, ready to get into football mode.”

How much did this day help in getting acclimated to the new defensive staff? “Well, that’s always good, too. Because you look at this first practice, you don’t have any pads on, we’ve got a lot of young guys here and new faces out on the football team. We’ve got some new coaches.”

“It was just kind of like an intro practice, you know? And when you come back from spring break I think everybody is going to be more comfortable going fast.” 

The 3-4 look on defense, is that going to be the base for the next season? “Well, we’re going to be multiple on defense. Just like we were last year. I think installing it a little bit, with it being a little bit more 4-3 than 3-4 last year, even though we were multiple and did both last year, I think with some of the new things we wanted to start on that end of it. But we’re going to play both fronts.”

What was it like not having #15 out there in a green jersey? “I don’t know, I mean I’ve been here a long time. It’s like I haven’t seen 14, then didn’t see 17, and then don’t see 15 in the green jerseys out there. I guess I’ve been here for a while.

“I was laughing, Josh Boyd was out with the guys working out yesterday. I’m like, these guys…he’s like Coach, I was never here with anybody that’s on this field! I realized how kind of old I am!”

“That all happens. It was good to see some of those guys out here today. But it’s next guys’ chance, next group of guys to step up and try to surpass what he accomplished here.”

How have some of the newcomers acclimated themselves since January? “The coaches or the players, or everybody?! I don’t know, they’re figuring it out. It was probably a shock for them (the spring enrollees), they’ve probably never had a practice at this tempo and this speed before, with as much stuff as we’re throwing at them in one day. But they’ll get it.” 

What are your thoughts on (defensive line) Coach Baker? “I’m thrilled to have him on staff. He’s got tremendous amount of experience, people talk about him, the technician that he is and helping guys develop. And all the guys he’s coached in the NFL, that’s a pretty good guy to have working with our defensive line."

Did you paths ever cross before? “We hadn’t. We hadn’t. Talking to him it was a great opportunity and a stage in what he’d done, in that he was looking to make a transition and come back to the college game. Timing just worked out I guess, great for both of us.”

How did his name appear, to allow your paths to cross? “Well I think that was it. He called, said he was looking to get back to the college game. With his family and all of that, after being in the NFL for so long. We just happened to have a job open. He was kind of ready to make that move and I guess just kind of timed it.”

Was this before David Turner left, was he on your radar? “No, no, no. I guess sometimes you don’t look at it and say hey, there’s not a job open so no need to get in touch with people. But a lot of different people once that job came open called on his behalf. I talked to him, Peter (Sirmon) talked to him. And everybody just felt comfortable.”

Speaking of Dak Prescott’s not being here, how open is the quarterback competition this spring? “Yeah, it’s absolutely wide-open. Everybody is going to get reps with 1s, 2s, and 3s. I think today the starting order was set on grade point average and academic performance this spring. So we’ll probably continue that, the guy going to 1s is the guy getting the best grades during that week of school.”

What did you like out of the quarterbacks today? “I don’t know, we’ll see watching film. I think day-one, a lot of new faces, it’s hard to see much of what they’re going to do. But I thought all of them felt pretty comfortable out there on the field. And you look at Damian Williams, Nick Fitzgerald that maybe have a little bit more experience and are a little bit more comfortable when the team situation rolls around in making adjustments.”

“Elijah Staley and Nick Tiano, you could see the talent those guys have. But sometimes it gets going faster, they just need the experience and the reps and that will come with time.”

Fred Ross was not out there today? “Fred had a surgery today on a groin issue that’s just kind of been nagging him throughout his career. He’s going to be out for spring. We had a bunch of meetings on it and just thought it was better in where he’s at to go get that done right now so he’s back ready to rock and roll come fall at 100%. So he’ll be out for the spring."

A cautionary procedure? “No, in talking to the doctors it was one of those that hey, you can take the chance it’s going to be fine; it will keep nagging him, could be off-and-on. Or get it done and he’s going to be fine. So he knows what he’s doing, so I don’t need him out here. We need him come the fall. So meeting with us, the trainers, the doctors, him, his family, everybody getting together and thinking long-term what’s going to be the best deal for him.”

Was it encouraging to have Dezmond Harris back on the field after all his injuries? “Yeah, he’s had some, and I think he’s still limited. But it is good when you only have Dez, Deontay Evans the two limited guys. Elijah has a sore hamstring. But you’re hoping the next practice we should be pretty close to full strength. Hopefully there’s no issues over spring break.”

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