In pads. Full speed. And with the coaching staff wanting to see real football before turning everyone loose for finals and summer.
Mullen explained later that ’17 was a post-game practice year based on both the quirks of this calendar, the limitations on full-contact days allowed, and just plain nature of his ninth Bulldog team. The goal, he said, was going with basics on offense and defense…but doing it all-out and for-real. On that count, he came away reasonably satisfied.
With camp’s end the players are told to turn focus on upcoming final exams as well as some post-practice conditioning work. Mullen himself is leaving for Indianapolis and an AFCA meeting regarding topics such as the proposed additional football signing periods.
Before making his morning flight, Mullen talked with media.
What was the approach to practice today coming after the spring game? “Well, a lot. Because a spring game is kind of a different deal. It’s very watered-down because you’re splitting guys up into teams. There’s a bunch of guys not playing because of the live tackling so you’re protecting guys.”
“So today was probably much more in-depth than the spring game was of us getting really a look at things on film and things we really want to get done.”
What kind of instructions did you give players going into finals and summer? “A couple of different ones. One is start with finals. I mean it’s huge, we’ve got to finish strong in the classroom. We’ve got a couple of weeks left to school.”
“There’s a little bit more time, but what I’ve always noticed with experience is more time leads to less study sometimes! You get into that routine and you’re very, very structured and organized; and then all of a sudden there’s free time? Free time expands instead of let’s keep the same schedule and add two hours of studying. It becomes let’s add four hours of off time.”
“So we’ve got to finish up strong in the classroom, as a huge part. The next biggest one is where we pick up. I mean, you’ve got what about 15 weeks until we practice again? That’s long time going into a season. Imagine you’re a golfer or a tennis player or a basketball player, a baseball player. Hey, take 15 weeks off before we start the season. That’s probably not a good thing working skill sets.”
“They have got to go work on technique, on fundamentals, on their scheme and studying film. And they’ve got to be better players when we come back than we were today.”
“If we have taken any step backwards, it will be a long sesson.”
Is there any update you can provide on Malik Dear? “Yeah, tore his ACL early in spring. He’s had the surgery. So it will be a while before we know where he’s at and whether or not he’d be available next season or not.”
“I think it’s going to be probably well into August we have an idea whether or not he’d be able to play next year.”
How did your defensive unit handle the arrival of Todd Grantham? “I like what I’ve seen out of the defensive guys. I’ve seen steady improvement, a little bit more confidence in what they’re doing. Consistency of play. And I think that’s important.”
“But I do think it is huge. Because they’ve just kind of learned it all, and I think there’s a little bit of confidence leaving spring ball. Those guys now have got to mentally work this summer to play at that same level. Because if we come back and it’s kind of like alright, just because I haven’t done it a lot, it’s first time going through some stuff, we have to go way back to start over? Then that will set us back.”
“But if we can kind of pick up where we left off I think we’ll have a chance to be pretty good on defense.”
A number of guys did not play in the spring game, is anyone else banged up? “No, Malik is the only major injury coming out of spring.”
“There’s a lot of guys just banged-up right now, not practicing. But talking to our trainers there’s really not much that should linger past them coming back, us getting summer training in June with getting a bunch of getting a bunch of other guys back. Elgton Jenkins coming back, Deion Calhoun. They should be good to go.”
“Tolando Cleveland should be good to go come June. Maurice Smitherman is fine, he should be good to go coming back in June. There’s a bunch of guys just banged-up that weren’t cleared for that day. If we practiced next week they’d probably be with us. Where if the spring game was this week there’d probably be four or five guys that might be able to play that didn’t play.”
“But heck, there might be four or five other guys that wouldn’t be able to play this week and did play! It’s just how it is, and trying to keep everybody healthy.”
With the guys out on the offensive line is there a point in training camp you start moving guys back, like Martinas Rankin? “Yeah. I’m going to tell you, it was really good with that. You’ve got some guys some reps. We’d like to get Elgton a bunch of center reps going in training camp now. But all of a sudden with Harrison Moon…”
“Hopefully it’s created depth for us, and competition. Because now coming out of spring guys are like hey, I was a one. Now there’s two returning starters coming back so you can take a back seat now. If you want to be a one? It went from four starting spots down two starting spots.”
“And then now the trickle-down effect of who are our top eight linemen leaving spring. You look at a Martinas coming back there’s really seven spots to get into the top eight going into spring ball. There are five spots to get into the top eight going into fall ball. And hopefully it created the depth for us and will create the competition going forward.”
What are the chances of Rankin starting at center this fall? “That’s going to be really interesting. 50/50? Yeah, I thought he did a good job.”
“I mean there’s really him and Elgton, maybe Deion. I thought he did a decent job. Now I want to see how the other guys do. I think the other great thing is now it’s led to a lot of different flexibility.”
“You look at Elgton Jenkins and now with Martinas being able to play tackle/center; it might not be them that makes that decision. You know? It’s who is our fourth-best lineman? And if our fourth-best lineman is going to play left tackle then is it Elgton at left guard and Martinas at center and Deion at right guard?”
“If those two spots that come open are tackles those guys might play interior. If it’s guards, those guys might play on the edge. So I think it has allowed us some flexibility.”
J.T. Gray playing a spring at safety, how does that help with all the other newcomers? “A bunch. Because he’s really athletic and he can play down at the nickel; he can come off the edge and blitz. Then he gives you the flexibility to go back and play safety as well.”
“I love those guys that can play multiple positions. Because those are the guys that create problems for the other side of the ball. Is he a receiver, a tight end, or a running back, or slot? Those type of guys. Is he a linebacker, is he a safety, boy he can do safety things but he can do linebacker things too and it can mess with your counts and how you’re ID’ing fronts.”
“So I think that flexibility is certainly going to help us and allow him the opportunity to become a great playmaker for us. But I think what it does is it brings flexibility to the defense. And it allows you to have fun sometimes. You can scheme-up some things that mess with the offense, because a guy can do multiple things and it can really mess with an offense.”
What did not having Dear allow you to learn of other wide receivers? “That young guys better improve quickly? Because just the trickle-down with the depth. I thought Keith Mixon had an excellent spring. I thought Deddrick Thomas had an excellent spring in stepping up into that role.”
“But, those two guys did a great job already at that spot. The trickle-down effect of having to potentially move Deddrick inside hurts you on the outside. And we have some young guys that have great potential. The problem is the potential needs to come to fruition in four months. Four months until we kick off. And it has got to get accelerated and they have got to become playmakers in a hurry.”