Due to the cowbell controversy the past few days, I thought about writing my Monday Morning Coffee Break about that. However, that wouldn't be fair to our players and coaches who have been working very, very hard since the end of last season. Now is the time to write about them.
I've been to every pre-season practice the past few weeks, working 12 to 16 hour days reporting things that I have seen. While I have learned over the past seven years that it is difficult to really know how well a team will perform during a season, there are several things about this team that give me reason for hope.
The first two things that comes to mind are how hard-working and discipline they are. Credit the coaches for that, especially defensive coordinator Ron Cooper and offensive line coach Steve Campbell.
I've said this on more than one occasion, and I'll say it again: On the very first day of spring practice, Coach Cooper put his stamp of discipline on the team by disciplining one of the most talented defensive players on the team for making fun of a wide receiver for dropping a pass. And the defensive player wasn't even on the field of play, but on the sidelines. In the past, something like this wouldn't even have been given a second thought by former defensive coordinator Joe Lee Dunn. Not so with the very personable but very fiery Ron Cooper. He may only be 41 years old, but he is disciplinarian from the old school. In other words, it's his way or the highway.
As for offensive line coach Steve Campbell, no one will ever outwork a Steve Campbell-coached player. If Hustle isn't Steve's middle name, it should be. As an example, during the pre-season practices, when the offensive linemen go from drill to drill, they always jog and Coach Campbell is in the front jogging right along with them. Even during the drills, he expects his linemen to hustle back at the conclusion of the play. He even encouraged his players to out-hustle the defensive players after a play is over. In fact, after a few days of this, it became a footrace to see who could beat whom back to their respective lines.
Discipline and hustle; will that be enough to turn around a program that has won just 6 games in the last two years? Probably not, but that's not all this team has, not by a longshot.
There's talent. Having six former high school Parade All-Americans on the team is the perfect example of that. And what is good - some might say bad - is the talent is mostly young.
How young you ask?
MSU will probably play between 15 and 20 freshman and redshirt freshman on the two-deep depth chart, the most in Jackie Sherrill's thirteen years at MSU.
However, that doesn't appear to bother the veteran coach, because when asked if he had ever played that many freshmen during a season, he said he did, while at Pitt and they turned out to be one of the best teams that he has ever coached.
Even the schedule favors MSU during the early part of the season.
MSU opens with the Oregon Ducks at Davis Wade Stadium. Not an easy opponent but one that can be beaten if MSU plays wells. Then follow that with an open date. After that, they go on the road and face a tough Tulane team in New Orleans and a rebuilding Houston team . Get past those three games with three victories and MSU folks will be buzzing with excitement. Even two wins would be reason for hope.
So far, the only thing that has dampen the enthusiasm has been an overabundance of injuries, especially among the offensive linemen and defensive secondary. MSU has been so depleted in the offensive line, they've had to move tackles and a center to guard to fill in. With MSU trying to find a second cornerback to go along with senior Odell Bradley, both players who have started opposite him have suffered injuries that have cut down the number of days they could practice. However, both are expected to be full speed by the Oregon game. Not so on the offensive line. It is still a wait and see situation there. Things could be tough on the Bulldogs offensive line against a talented Oregon defensive line.
Now, we just wait as the clock ticks down to 8 p.m. Saturday night.
Have a great Bulldog week!
Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. The URL for Gene's Page is http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com. You can contact him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.