Bulldogs Begin Ninth Spring Camp Under Mullen; Quarterbacks are No-Touch this Year; Linemen Limited

Mississippi State opened 2017 spring practices Thursday, with Coach Dan Mullen speaking afterwards. The Bulldogs will have another practice Sunday, also closed to media and fans.

Also speaking with media Thursday evening were new defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, and linebacker Gerri Green.


Coach Dan Mullen: “Man, I am juiced and ready to go. I love football, it’s so much fun to be out there doing ball. It was a great off-season, pushing guys in conditioning and some of that stuff. But I love football. So to get back out there and start going was a lot of fun.”


How did you structure this year, around spring break? “It’s always tricky. Because you basically start at an end-point and work backwards and see how it fits. We’ve done it once or twice splitting it up before. I think the last time we only did two practices before spring break.”

“We’re going up to four this time, I want to see how that goes and hopefully keep guys a little bit fresher. If anybody gets banged-up there’s a little recovery time in there in the middle of spring practice. So we’ll see how it goes. I don’t know if I always have the right answer or the wrong answer on there, or if there is a right or wrong answer on it. You just kind of go with the schedule.”


Speaking of getting banged-up, how will you handle having just two quarterbacks in camp? “Well, if you watch us every year it rotates. They’re not going to be getting near the quarterbacks this spring.”

“Last year you guys got to see some of last spring, they got whacked-around a little bit. No one’s touching the quarterbacks this spring!”

“But those guys will get their work in.”


What was today like for Keytaon Thompson? “I tell you what, for a guy going through his first practice I thought he did a heck of a job today. I mean, plenty to get rattled about but I tell you he never looked confused. You could see it was happening fast for him. But there was never of confusion.”

“Which I’ll be honest with you. Most time freshmen quarterbacks on their first couple of practices there’s just pure confusion on their face the whole time. So I thought he did a heck of a job today.”


Is there anyone limited today or through spring? “Elgton (Jenkins) is one. Deion (Calhoun) is two. Michael Story was going today. Alec Murphy fell down last Friday night or something so he’s going to be out for a little while. He came in Saturday morning where he fell down and hurt his hand. I think that’s it.”


How is finding a replacement at center? “We’ve got Martinas (Rankin) playing at center right now for us. Elgton has gotten some work in there as well. Obviously being out this spring he won’t get much. You’ve got Harrison Moon in there.”

“So we’ve got some guys rotating. Because one, it’s not just finding the replacement. You have to find a couple of different guys that can get in there and get it done for us. And you have to have at least three centers. So we’re going to have some different guys rotating and getting ready to go.”


What is it like having Brett Elliot back? “It’s fun. Brett was here for a couple of years. Quarterbacks, I like a certain way to coach the quarterbacks and so there’s only a couple of guys that I don’t have to spend tons of time with them.”

“The great thing with him, he knows what my expectations are. He knows what the program is, he knows how I coach the quarterbacks and what I expect of it. So I think that makes the transition very, very easy, for having someone like him to come to it.”


Last spring you had a quarterback battle, how does that change how you coach Nick Fitzgerald? “I think everything is different for Fitz this spring. One, not just competing I guess, he’s always competing for a job. Because Keytaon came and wants to play.”

“So he’s always going to be competing for the job. But I think just the confidence of having played through a season and what to expect and been in game reps. You just have a different demeanor in your preparation. Because you know what you’re preparing for now.”

“Last year he was trying to compete and win the job, but he didn’t really know what he was preparing himself for. Now you’ve been through it, you know what you’re preparing for.”


Is Coach Elliott different than he was as quality control coach after a couple of years experience? “Well, when you’re quality control you’re not coaching. But you can see. Being a coordinator for the last two years and a quarterbacks coach and doing it, you know. He had the knowledge, always had the knowledges. But just the comfort, one of the things in why I wanted him to leave was get away, get that comfort of learning that experience, of running your own room.”

“Fortunately for him he got to go be a coordinator for two years. You know, run the room, run the offense, run the meeting, everything. You just see that in his coaching development has helped him.”


What is it like facing Todd Grantham’s defense the first time? “I don’t look at it that way. Because you’re both installing and how we run the program and as I meet with the staff, bo offensively and defensively.”

“You know we’re 0-0 at the end of spring. So I don’t get too much into we’ll have a lot of winners, losers this spring. But as far as coaching we’re not coaching to win or lose the spring. You’re coaching to develop the team.”

“So they’ll be some good and bad on both sides of the ball I guess. We’ll find out when we watch the film tonight.”


What do you want to see out of Fitzgerald this spring? “A guy that’s very confident in what’s going on on the field. And improve his leadership, improve his decision-making. Getting through reads quicker, just taking checkdowns, not trying to force things.”

“And just an overall better understanding on the field. I always say in the quarterback, an understanding that when I’m looking this way I already know what’s going on over there. I don’t need to look out there to know what’s going on because I know what we’re doing on offense. But I know what they’re doing on defense, so I don’t need to look there.”

“So if I want to come back and get to a third or fourth read in the progression I already what happened 1-2-3. I already know what happened before and I can get the ball out.”


With so many guys mid-stage of careers or younger, can you see the benefits from bowl camp? “Well, yeah. Because they transition and get ready to get into that role and play. We have a young team, we don’t have a lot of seniors but we have some experience and guys that have played a little bit.”

“But I think the guys that haven’t played a lot, that bowl certainly helped them transition themselves from redshirting to I’m going to be in the rotation this year so I’ve got to be ready to go.”


How nice is it to have the contract signed and out of the way? “That’s a nice deal, right?!”

“I’m grateful. As people know I love being here at Mississippi State. I think we’ve built a program I think the right way from the ground-up. Having the athletic and the University administration believe in that and us wanting to continue going in that same direction. I know we’re always striving to be better, striving to win a championship here at Mississippi State. But to have everybody on that same page and believing in what we’re doing is great for me and I’m excited to be here for many years to come.”


Does Martinas Rankin have a bigger off-field role in this line? “Absolutely. Because he’s a senior. He’s the only senior on the offensive line. So I mean he’s the guy. Those guys have to step up.”

“He didn’t have to be a leader last year, he and Elgton and Deion didn’t have to be the leaders. Now they’re the veteran guys so they have to step up and be leaders in that group.”

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