Steve Robertson -

Notes and Observations From Open Practice Day

Mississippi State held the last open campus practice for St. Petersburg Bowl camp Sunday. Conditions were considerably warmer than Saturday save for the chilly breeze. But attitudes were warm enough as the Bulldogs enjoy focusing just on football with the fall semester finals grind done.

*The Bulldogs practiced in full gear again Sunday, and there was more contact than the day before. This was especially so in full-team period at the end and in run-game situations most of all. It seemed an unwritten rule of sorts that if a back could be hit at or behind the line of scrimmage, take him down; otherwise it was ‘thud’ and release for backs and receivers alike.

This didn’t stop the regular defense from giving (finally) first team RB Aeris Williams a pretty good shot early in the period as he broke the line on a left-sweep


*About the backfield… RB Brandon Holloway was still taking first turn in drills, but wearing a no-hit red shirt after a couple of in-season setbacks. Tampa product Holloway will be able to play in his college finale and in his home-town area no less.

Otherwise the drills order was Holloway, Dontavian Lee, Williams, Ashton Shumpert, Alec Murphy, Nick Gibson, and walk-on backs. But in team work it was Williams, then everyone else as the third-year soph establishes himself (again, finally) as #1.


*Of course Williams is not a finished product. Nor are most underclassmen. Which is why these early days don’t just focus on new and youngest players’ development.

Coach Dan Mullen doesn’t just talk about getting back to fundamentals now. That’s what the Dogs are doing lots of. It makes sense because once the season starts game recovery and preparations consume practice time.

So, position coaches had their players repeating the simplest things about football. Which might not be so simple, as Williams showed. In one absolutely basic drill, skipping over pads laid on the ground before ducking and darting through a gate…the rising star of this backfield just flat tripped on a pad and fell flat.

Later DL Kobe Jones did the same in his unit’s footwork drills.


*Much as tackling, or lack of it, got attention in the season, the most fundamental things the Dog defense addressed Sunday were getting off blocks. For one period the goal was shed and scoop a loose football.

Another period was much more entertaining, matching linebackers, fast-vipers, and defensive backs against running backs and tight ends in pass protection drills.

Tempers flared a few times with after-whistle scrapping, such as with TE Aaron Hamaker against MLB Erroll Thompson giving each other some post-play slaps to the helmets. LB/V Traver Jung struggled in this drill, especially trying to get around—no one was getting through—TE Jordan Thomas. Later RB Aeris Williams showed how far he’s come as a blocker by whipping Jung from whistle to whistle.

TE Christian Roberson by contrast was so beaten by LB Allen Perkins he had to drag him down by the jersey tail. LB Tim Washington had a good period too with a couple of strong tackles.

Maybe the most consistent blockers were the young running backs, Murphy and Gibson.


*The best matchup of the period though pitted LB Leo Lewis against TE Farrod Green. And these two south-west Mississippi men went at it no less than three times. The first, Green simply tackled and sat on Lewis to keep him short of the quarterback-dummy. The second time, Lewis got a good jump off the line and bulled Green aside for the win.

So naturally there had to be round-three, as tight ends Coach Scott Sallach called out “rubber match!” Lewis fired-off to the left shoulder of Green, stopped, spun entirely around to go right and past to take the title. Or something.


*With MLB Richie Brown graduating, and reserve Kelan Chairs looking to grad-transfer, the mike-spot is open for 2017. It’s early, but true frosh Thompson is trying to stake a claim there already.

It won’t be easy though. Not with LB Dezmond Harris having a solid and more to the point injury-free junior season. Both have been taking snaps with the first-defense when Brown is taking a well-earned senior break.


*S Brandon Bryant shows no lingering signs from his Egg Bowl concussion which sidelined him the second half. Just don’t tell his coach that.

During a safeties drill where one would be a ‘receiver’ and the other cover, Bryant made a fine leaping deflection of a toss at S Mark McLaurin. “Hey Coach, see that?” Bryant called to Coach Maurice Linguist.

Linguist yelled back “I wanted the interception!”


*There were interceptions scored though, in 7-on-7 work. QB Nick Fitzgerald went long for WR Reggie Todd and hung the ball into the wind enough for CB Jamoral Graham to wait, time his attack and make the pick on a dead run already the other way.

It wasn’t just a veteran picking Fitzgerald, either. When the quarterback double-pumped and defaulted to tight end Thomas, redshirt S C.J. Morgan jumped in front for the interception.


*The wide receiver rotations seem well-set for the bowl game. And since there’s only one senior in the stacks, WR Fred Ross, bowl camp is a good indicator for spring ball too.

Or is it? Malik Dear and Keith Mixon are 1-2 at slot receiver, and it is clear State wants ways to have both on the field. So perhaps come March—or maybe when bowl days are closed to observation—there will be ways shown of using each at the same time. Probably not as running back(s) though one never really knows?

Also there is the equally-obvious potential for attrition here since even in a four-wides offense there are only so many game snaps to go around. Plus with a couple of redshirting freshmen catching eyes in camp, most notably WR Reggie Todd and to a lesser extent WR Osirus Mitchell, those in-the-middle receivers have some career decisions to make.


*A few seniors are enjoying reduced work-loads these early camp days. One is taking it off entirely. Co-captain DT A.J. Jefferson has skipped the entire days so far. Jefferson needs the downtime as this season ground him down with nagging injuries and ailments that began far back as early October.

Jefferson will play. The better question is will media have to miss a final mid-week chat with their favorite interview on the squad?


*In Jefferson’s absence DT Torrey Dale is running first-team along with NT Nelson Adams and DT Nick James. Yes, James is playing more to the right side with Adams in the middle, for what it’s worth.

The rotation behind them is hard to read much less write as shuffling is constant between two and threes and even fours here. Plus, depending on situation, a couple of guys can either line up as a viper or a true 4-front end. Those are most often true frosh Marquiss Spencer and second-year freshman Anfernee Mullins.

In fact when V Will Coleman lines up tight to the tackle, it is practically a 4-3 sort of set. Either way, Spencer looks good as one of the fast-growing young defensive line Dogs. It’s even more encouraging for the future to watch DT/NT Jeffrey Simmons rotating in behind senior James…then redshirt Kobe Jones take his turns as a tackle.

DT Cory Thomas has been rotating with senior Adams. Redshirt junior Tre Brown has been taking turns with DT Fletcher Adams behind Simmons on the right side, and freshman Kendell Jones behind Dale on the left. Only spring ball will show if these December assignments stick.


*The long season had its injuries but only OL Darryl Williams (neck) is out for the bowl game.

When Sunday opened, starting V Jonathan Calvin was in the rehab pit on the bike after practicing all Saturday. It could not have been too serious because mid-way of the session he joined the defensive linemen to watch drills and team periods. UPDATE: Also sitting out Sunday was OG Michael Story with an undisclosed injury. He was not listed in Saturday's Notebook in the offensive line depth chart.


*Sunday saw some of the anticipated bowl-camp experimenting on the offensive line. LG Elgton Jenkins, already alternating with LG Deion Calhoun as first-team in the season, got to play center in 11-on-11 period. And did so without a hitch working with Fitzgerald.

Calhoun watched it though. Instead OC Jamaal Clayborn moved over to right guard and RG Devon Desper went to left guard. Both are seniors of course, as is backup center Jocquell Johnson, so that merely ‘moves’ the questions around for 2017. Most figure Calhoun has first dibs on center come spring anyway, ahead of Harrison Moon who snapped some Sunday but also went at right tackle on the second team.

So, who moves up at guards? Redshirt freshman Stewart Reese looks to get his shot at right guard, and for today juco redshirt Jawon Johnson was behind him. When Jenkins went over the ball OG Ronald Cochran got some first-team turns, ahead of redshirt frosh Dareuan Parker.

Redshirt OT Greg Eiland has been working second- and third-team at left tackle.


*Mullen and staff spent much of last week making the recruiting rounds. This wasn’t ignored now that bowl camp is begun either as State has hosted visitors at practices.

Wednesday begins the early signing period for transfers and early high school graduates. None of the latter had their schools’ fall semester end in time to report for bowl camp, as Fitzgerald did back in December 2013.

Mississippi State is expected to sign a double-digit early class this week, the largest of Mullen’s tenure or any other Bulldog coach for that matter. But, only the junior college transfers will be formally announced. Any early high school signees won’t be acknowledged by the University until the start of the spring semester when they are enrolled and on campus. That should be January 9.

But who signs will be published unofficially here and elsewhere, naturally.

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