Game film, that is. “Watching it, I kind of get uptight a little bit.”
Why so? Because Gray isn’t just watching. He’s critiquing that #6 guy very, very harshly.
“Because I hate the way I run a couple of my routes, or my blocking, or just my steps or hand placement on the ball.”
Fortunately there are others happy to give Gray double-thumbs-up reviews. A month into his junior season, the Bulldog has set a fast pace at outside receiver. Through four games Gray has grabbed 18 balls worth 258 yards, both totals trailing only top target Fred Ross. He also has a touchdown, a 17-yarder against South Carolina thrown by…why, Ross himself on a gadget play.
And yet when Gray grabs a seat and the game replay or play cut-ups start showing, he starts squirming. “It’s kind of hard to watch,” he said.
“Because you go from week-one when you looked so tight, compared to now. I want to be perfect.”
Perfection? That’s lots to ask of any ballplayer, much less at a position with so many un-controllables. Contact at line of scrimmage or en route. The footing, the sun or lights or lack of either. And of course just getting a throw in his direction multiplies enough complexities that would rattle Coach Occam.
And yet when Gray reviews himself he compares playbook perfection with on-field reality. It is how to get better as a college receiver, he claims.
“We all want to be perfect. That’s what we strive for. We’re able to watch it but at the same time it’s like AAAAHHHH! we’re upset at how we did certain things and wish we could do it better.”
Better things are showing from Mississippi State’s receiver corps. To be sure the passing game has provided a larger part of the yardage, and a lopsided share of the scoring from this offense. Through the four games wideouts account for eight touchdown compared to four rushing scores. Even allowing that the ground game is still unsettled, this is a marked reliance on air attack.
More to the point is an uptick in ‘big’ catches whether touchdowns or first downs or conversion downs. Gray isn’t surprised. Relieved is more like it.
“I think we’ve all become relaxed. We’ve pretty much come into ourselves. I think it’s the discipline and being able to learn and take coaching. Really take what we see from film and put into play and practice.”
The inside/outside combo of Ross and Gray has come up big this season. Depending on games and matchups, the have been real contributions by tight ends too. But this is a multiple-receiver offense, so where is the third and fourth wideout State needs?
Gray said options are available. It comes down to one, two, even three of them showing week-to-week consistency. Maybe not on the stat sheet, but on that aforementioned video and in practices. The sooner some emerge, the better.
“We’re going into SEC play and a lot of teams are keying-in on what we (Gray and Ross) do. We’re going to be big target for a lot of people. Right now is about the time. I believe we have them and now it’s time for them to show up for themselves.”
It’s also time for Gray to, shall we say, show off? Not for personal attention, but to set a unit tone. Gray isn’t seeking spotlight really, and he certainly isn’t eager to draw a celebration flag. But he’s seen the need to amp up a little attitude lately.
“After a big catch I think we need the energy, so I try to channel my inner hype and just try to get the team going, feed off my juice.” Similarly, the second-season Dog is looking for ways to inspire the squad on practice days and around the Seal Complex.
“It’s challenging at times knowing when to speak and when not to speak. The first year I wanted to work hard and let by work speak for me so once it time for talk people would listen. I think my transition this year it hasn’t been much of a change. I can be vocal when I need to be, the thing is working at all times and trying to channel myself in different ways.”
Gray isn’t alone in thinking about leadership this week. It is on the big Dog’s mind as well. Coach Dan Mullen has spoken often lately about a team not knowing how to enjoy winning, or just plain playing football. Yes, this is hard work.
It is also supposed to be hard fun. Gray gets it, because he sees just how much has changed in the locker room from 2015 to now. This is not a roster used to September struggles, simply.
“I mean, we all started expecting certain things,” Gray said. “We expected to win a lot, to be a certain way and play a certain way. When it doesn’t happen we’re sad.
“I think (Mullen) did a great job explaining what we needed to do. And have fun, because he explained his first year they celebrated where when they won three games, then their fourth game, they celebrated when playing non-conference team. I think it’s an attitude we need to have, and we need to stop trying to have so much pressure on our shoulders.”
Instead, the Bulldogs plan to place pressure on opponents. Maybe then Gray and the gang will like what they see in weekly game reviews?
“I believe we’re going to put it together soon.”