The Bulldog team did get back out there on the practice fields Thursday for their second working day. The session logged-in at three full hours, not quite as long as Tuesday's initiation into how Coach Dan Mullen intends to conduct his first MSU camp. Still trimming about twenty minutes from the working day was a sign these players aren't taking long getting up to practice speed. "It moved a little bit smoother, a little bit better," Mullen said. "But also my expectations were higher for day-two.
"I think the guys gave good effort again, they came out and played hard today. We'll really get to see Saturday. It's hard to evaluate much out there, we'll get to see when the pads come on."
For his part Dixon isn't so much concerned with putting on pads as taking off that pound…though even in shorts today he certainly looked to have added more than that from his weigh-in mark of 235. And despite demotion nothing was going to keep Boobie Dixon from having some fun, such as denying the extra weight came from second-helpings urged on him by cohort and competitor Christian Ducre. The latter moved up to first team Thursday.
"He loves it," said Dixon. "Everybody loves to start. That's where you want to be, that's where I want to be. I'm working hard to get back there." Mullen expects Dixon to get back, too. "You can see his weight loss coming into the season, and his commitment and effort he gives on the field. I don't think we're found his exact weight yet but we want to find where he can be fast and still be a powerful back."
Arnil Stallworth was Thursday's second in the pecking—or pitching—order. There are no veteran fullbacks in this camp so the lead blockers are all walk-ons with Joseph Gonzales blocking for Ducre, Patrick Hanrahan for Stallworth, and Thomas Hardin for Dixon. During one session devoted to option running work Mullen himself played ‘linebacker' coming down the line to test his quarterbacks on pitch-or-keep decisions.
Robert Elliot remains the #4 halfback in drills but for another day was held out of team-on-team work as he comes back from two fall knee surgeries. Also, a couple of regular wide receivers—Delmon Robinson and Terrance Davis—began seeing some duty today as ‘H' backs in running drills. That is just one indicator of the new dimensions Mullen has brought to the MSU gameplan. And, why the new coach is allowing for a steep learning curve in this first week of his first camp.
"There were some improvement, but a long way to go," Mullen said. "Offensively the execution was a little disappointing in the speed in which we're picking things up right now. Obviously we have to find some skilled athletes and some playmakers out here, but we'll get there eventually."
Dixon seconds that long-way evaluation. "I don't even think we're 10% there yet. Everybody's been in the meetings, trying to learn it and the pace is so fast for us. It's rapid-fire out there and we have to get with that, that's the biggest problem for us; getting with that rapid-fire and the no-huddle thing with the signals."
The tight ends were usually divided up for offensive sessions. Kendrick Cook, Brandon Henderson, and Thomas Webb stayed on one field to work with running plays; while Nelson Hurst, Austin Wilbanks, and Marcus Green stayed with the quarterbacks and wideouts in passing drills. During 11-on-11 segments, the first group of wide receivers were Robinson, Leon Berry, and Tay Bowser. The second rotation had O'Neal Wilder, Charles Bailey, and Davis. Even for a second day the variety in combinations and routes was evident, and another sign of how much things are changing on this side of State's ball.
"It might be some different routes than the west coast we were running. Our steps have changed a little bit, we've got to get all that in order," Dixon reported. And yes, the half and H-backs are very much involved in the action, just as Dixon desires. "I be telling Coach I've got the bests hands you know! I tell the receivers I can run routes better than y'all man! But I've got to show it."
There were no noticeable changes in the two-deep listed in Tuesday's report on either the offensive line or the entire defense. Though, Chris Cameron did appear to move up from the third group to split snaps at second strong safety with Emmanuel Gatling. No moves were made at linebackers or safeties, and the first two defensive lines were unchanged from Tuesday as well (see Tuesday report).
One Tuesday item that merited attention is how quickly some new junior college defenders have made places for themselves on the first team. Pernell McPhee is already running #1 at right defensive tackle, and Chris White at weak-side linebacker. For that matter mid-year transfers are staking claims on offense too (wideout Berry) and certainly on special teams with punter Heath Hutchins and placekicker Sean Brauchle. Having the jucos here in spring is invaluable, Mullen said.
"It just gives them an opportunity to be a veteran player come next fall."
When Mullen signed-on he proclaimed his intention of being the special teams coach, and that was obvious Thursday as the boss oversaw segments devoted to those situations. Primarily punt-rushing drills with a broad mix of offense and defensive skill personnel competing for jobs on that team; as well as placekicking to wrap up the afternoon. First RT Addison Lawrence is also now the first placekick snapper, with his younger brother and #3 QB Cameron Lawrence the holder for kicker Brauchle. The second specialist trio had veteran DS Aaron Feld, holder Hardin, and Derek DePasquale.
But this has just been a first-blush of sorts for the specialists, who have yet to be truly tested in camp. "They just get to stand here in the open and kick the ball," Mullen said. "We'll see when we bring some heat at them how they do."
The only injury from day-one was to wideout Delmon Robinson who wore a wrap on his left thigh for a minor pull. He still participated in running and passing work. HB Elliot and TE Green were again restricted only to drills, not team work; and while KS Eric Richards did some short kickoffs he spent more time on the exer-bike taking care of lingering hip problems.
The Bulldogs will spend Thursday in reviewing today's tapes and instruction. They return to the practice fields Saturday at 10:00 in the morning for the first taste of pads work, where the players can build on their efforts of the first two days and correct errors. And, if a certain back has his way, regain their standard status. Dixon says he can talk all day, but…
"Our coaches are real big on action and want to see it for themselves. I've got to get myself back right. And get rid of that one pound."