Mullen Entrusts Development to Young Quarterback Mentor

He meant no slight on the walk-on of the trio. Brett Elliott was just expressing how well these early spring sessions have gone for Bulldog quarterbacks with “Even Logan is doing a pretty good job.”

Logan as in Burnett, the redshirted freshman volunteer. He along with returning starter Nick Fitzgerald and spring enrollee Keytaon Thompson are the triggerman trio Elliott inherited upon hiring as Mississippi State quarterbacks coach.

Elliott isn’t a stranger to Bulldog football. Selected by Dan Mullen as a graduate assistant in 2012-13, then as quality control analyst in 2015, the Oregon native left to become a full-time quarterbacks coach and coordinator at James Madison, then Texas State. When another Mullen protégé, Brian Johnson, left in January to become offensive coordinator at Houston, it was an easy choice to call Elliott back to Bulldog Country.

So, with four practices—all heavy installation sessions—done and the players turned loose for spring break, how does Elliott evaluate the early results? He spoke following Thursday’s practice and began with…


Elliott: “Today got us a little bit. We had a pretty big install with our empty protections. I think our head was spinning. But I’m really impressed with #10 (Thompson) and how he’s come, I mean for a guy that’s supposed to be going to senior English class. To be doing the things he’s doing and keep the composure, not get flustered. It happened a little bit today but for the most part he’s been awesome.”

“And then Nick, continuing to get better. Nick knows what he needs to work on. I mean he know that he’s a very good runner; now we need to make him into a quarterback. That’s been kind of the project even since I was back here as an analyst. When we first got Nick we knew he was a triple-option guy and hadn’t played much quarterback, so every rep for him huge.”


What is it like for you going into this new role? “It’s pretty natural, pretty smooth. I helped out a lot when I was here and had a pretty close relationship with Nick and the guys, and Dak, and with Damian (Williams) going to Texas State. So it was pretty smooth. Having been around the guys and been around Coach Mullen, knowing his expectations of everything, it’s been a really smooth transition.

Obviously my job, my assignment is make Nick a quarterback. And I love that. I love that challenge. He’s embracing that and wanting to be a quarterback, not just an athlete. Then obviously bringing K.T. along and having him be ready. Because he’s going to be the backup, he’s going to play this year, and he knows that.”


Coach Mullen said it’s nice to have a coach knowing what he expects, what is the Mullen way of coaching quarterbacks? “Dan Mullen way of coaching quarterbacks? Obviously he’s my mentor and I’ve coached that way the last two years. He’s not as black-and-white a coach as some are. It’s not always this guys does this. We have base rules we work off, but especially this day and defenses it’s not as cut-and-dried as old school cover-two and cover-three.”

“There’s so many different combo coverages, different looks where it’s more talking the game. More conceptual teaching than I guess old school playbook teaching. We still have that, you have to build off that and have base rules. But I think that’s what he meant.”


Does how you coach change year to year with different guys? “Oh yeah. I think the mark of a good coach is you have to adapt to one the personality; two the talent.”

“For example you’ve got a guy like Logan, he struggled getting the ball down the field but he’s smart and accurate. So a lot of his reads we talk about maybe getting through them a little quicker and checking the ball down.”

“Where Nick maybe take a shot there. So you have to be able to adapt to the talent and the personality of the guys you’re coaching.”


What is your focus with Nick this spring? “Nick, it’s making him a quarterback. What I mean by that, a perfect example like Damian. He’s a natural thrower of the football. He’s played the position so long, been in the spread offense, he’s made all types of throws. The two-balls we call, up and down throws, the touch throws. The check-downs, all that stuff. The movement in the pocket. Seeing the defense, defensive recognition. Those are all things that come with a bunch of reps.”

“Nick just hasn’t played the position, had that many game reps or practice reps under his belt. Even though he is an older guy, but the reps you get growing up during grade school and high school are huge. They carry over.”

“So I’d say becoming a quarterback. Really seeing the defensive. Staying in the pocket, not bailing at the first sign of trouble. Those are the things we talk about.”


During stretch period you are constantly with Keytaon, talking and gesturing even when he can’t watch. Is that part of it being so new? “Yeah, everything is new for him. I mean stretch is new. You have to learn how to stretch. In high school I’m sure he came out and twisted his arm a little bit and his back; here we don’t tear, we don’t pull muscles. Stretch is an integral part of that.”

“So a young guy, you have to teach him everything. How to study, how to take notes. We’ve got iPads now which we spend 15 minutes in a meeting showing them how to take notes. How to watch film, what are you looking for. So every aspect of being a quarterback you’ve got to teach young guys.”

“And he’s been really receptive to learning and a pleasure to coach.”


With Nick what was your approach to figuring out what needs to be done? “Watching the film, and knowing Nick from before, I knew for example not to get too specific. But his weight transfer, you know he throws a lot on his arm. He’s got a big arm so he gets away with it. But he’s always had elbow trouble. I think part of that is because he doesn’t use his legs, doesn’t get his feet in the ground, doesn’t drive transfer the weight.”

“So I knew that would be a point of emphasis. Brian (Johnson) has done a heck of a job, and Coach seeing his development from when I left to where he’s gotten. But yeah, little things like that.”


Did you maintain contact with Nick while you were away? “Yeah, I still talk to (Nick) Tiano, I still talk to Damian. That’s the thing. I don’t know, maybe it’s because I’m single but I have no kids! They’re kind of my kids. My nephews I guess more than kids.”

“I love it. I love everything about the quarterback position. So developing those relationships is really why I coach. That’s why I got into the business, is the relationships you have with the players. So obviously I keep those going.”


How has Fitzgerald changed from his redshirt year? “Like I said, I think Brian and Dan have done a tremendous job with his growth as a quarterback. He’s still got a ways to go in terms of all those things I said about becoming a quarterback. He’s using more of his weight, he’s becoming more efficient with his throws.”
“His personality, I think he’s taking on more of a leadership role and becoming more vocal. When I was here last time he was where Keytaon is, an early enrollee in spring and didn’t really have a clue what he was doing, just kind of running around.”

“So he’s still got some maturing to do. We talk about that all the time. He’s a SEC quarterback, you can’t do some things that you used to do as a starting quarterback. He’s still got some maturing to do but I think he’s come a long way.”

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