Mullen, MSU Prep For Saturday Skirmishing

Sure, it was their shortest practice of spring so far. But the Bulldogs know better than to think their coach lightened Friday's load out of any kindness. Not with a serious Saturday session in store. "We need a big day tomorrow," Coach Dan Mullen said. "It's going to be a big, big scrimmage for us so we don't need to blow them out today."

Thus Mullen limited the Friday practice—the sixth of this camp—to a little over two hours as Mississippi State worked through this second week of spring. It also marked the first consecutive-days for the Dogs, besides setting up for a Saturday morning scrimmage on the practice fields scheduled for 10:00. Actual hitting is supposed to start around 10:30 and go on. And on, and on…

"We'd like to get about 120-130 plays in," Mullen said. At the same time the coach might find himself scaling back the schedule after a while. Because Mississippi State was running short of able bodies at offensive skill positions today; another reason Friday drills were shorter.

For instance, the backfield was down to one-and-a-half tailbacks able to practice. Veteran Anthony Dixon is the one, and even he looked gimpy at times after a run. The half was re-habbing Robert Elliot, still confined to non-contact work and unit drills only. Two veterans were assigned to the ‘bike park' to keep exercising. Christian Ducre was resting the right shoulder he banged-up Tuesday; Arnil Stallworth was just keeping limber as next week he will have surgery to repair the knee ligament torn the same day, ending his camp.

The lack of true tail- and half-backs meant walk-on fullback Sylvester Hemphill did double-duty Friday, and a whole lot of it whether running in 8-on-7 or full-team contact settings. Already the first fullback, Hemphill ran out of the deep position as well today and acquitted himself well to keep Dixon from being over-worked.

Though there were a few more wide receivers available, there still weren't enough regulars or redshirts to have a full two-rotation that Mullens' offense requires. Not nearly enough. In fact walk-on quarterback Todd Kilpatrick found himself moved to a pass-catching job today, and on the second team at times. There he joined another converted quarterback, Cameron Lawrence, who made the move Tuesday. This left just two scholarship quarterbacks throwing balls to that handful of receivers.

The full-speed scholarship wideouts today were first unit Tay Bowser and O'Neal Wilder; backed by Charles Bailey and Delmon Robinson—the latter back to full-speed after some days nursing a hamstring. Juco Leon Berry, already a first-team regular, was in limited-yellow to protect a shoulder dinged Thursday; as was TE-running-WR Marcus Green. Berry still managed to make a nice reach-back grab on a late throw from QB Chris Relf despite soreness. Terrance Davis and Brandon McRae both practiced in drills but did no team-on-team work. WR Major Sosebee hurt his left knee Tuesday too.

With so many on sidelines and so many volunteers or moved personnel thrust into first- and second-team work, it was a victory just to get any productive practicing this day. "There were some new walk-ons and stuff today, we just threw them out here today," Mullen said. "Coach Hud (Mark Hudspeth) was changing them around, just trying to get them lined up with what route just so we could run a play out here."

Considering everything, the play run was actually encouraging in some offensive cases. Moreso in the ground game where 8-vs.-7 drills again the offensive line was able to make room and either Dixon or Hemphill find it. Nor did the defense force a turnover despite knowing the runner was staying between the tackles—or supposed to. Once Dixon chose to bounce around the left end where it was easier going, only to get a pointed comment from his coach. The only time the ball came loose, backup LT Chris Spencer recovered it for the offense.

Passing practices were another matter too often. The three throwers--starter Tyson Lee, backup Chris Relf, and walk-on Riley Saunders—focused on short and quick patterns and not successfully enough for the coach's comfort. At one point Mullen shouted for all to hear that as SEC quarterbacks they should be able to throw a catchable ball on a nine-yard slant. Not that they were throwing to all the best targets of course, but the coach's point was made and more such were completed afterwards.

In fact for a day when the Dogs were supposed to be prepping for a major scrimmage the action often got more intense than required. During 8-on-7s defensive coordinator Carl Torbush reminded Mike Hunt this was not a tackle-to-ground day, after the backup SLB put FB Patrick Hanrahan on the wet ground. Still when the eleven-man competition (again, no tackling) began with a fumbled toss-sweep by the #1 offense Mullen made everyone start over. Later on even when TE Thomas Webb made a nice move and grab on the slick turf, the head coach thought he didn't get back to the sideline fast enough. So Webb had dash back out to where the ball was spotted, solo, and return for all to observe.

For the first four days of drills the ‘starting' squads were essentially unchanged. Now the depth charts are changing a bit. On Thursday redshirt Devin Jones earned promotion to the first unit at left defensive end, ahead of Brandon Cooper. He joined #1s RDE Sean Ferguson, RDT Charles Burns, and LDT Pernell McPhee; while the second team going into Saturday is, right to left, Nick Bell, Kyle Love, LaMarcus Williams, and Cooper.

The first linebacker unit is unchanged with MLB Jamar Chaney, SLB K.J. Wright, and WLB Chris White. White is the one coming out when the nickel-package is used, with backup S Wade Bonner now the nickel back. First RCB Marcus Washington was the #1 nickel earlier in the week. While Bo Walters remains the #2 middle LB, Torbush is alternating his backups. The ‘first' second pair has Mike Hunt at strong and Terrell Johnson weak, but today Mark Lynn and Karlin Brown got to work at those outside slots not just with the #2s but even with Chaney a few series.

There was a change at left cornerback as Louis Watson was promoted to first team and Damein Watson put back on the second unit.

The offensive line also changed mid-practice today when redshirt freshman Tobias Smith was pulled from left guard and replaced by veteran backup #2 right guard Craig Jenkins. This made the first blocking group RT Addison Lawrence, RG Quentin Saulsberry, C J. C. Brignone, Jenkins, and LT Derek Sherrod. The second line, right to left, was Phillip Freeman, Mark Melichar, D.J. Looney, Smith, and Spencer.

Friday's practice was attended by visiting high school coaches participating in two days of clinics, which was a success to Mullen. "I've been really excited to have over 300 high school coaches in the state out here at the clinic, to see that support and the effort those coaches are putting into getting better." Now, the Bulldog coach can turn all attention to his own team getting better.

"We're cleaning up the fundamentals of the game," Mullen said. "We have a long way to go offensively and defensively, fundamentally. And learning he speed of the offense. Our guys are coming out and giving some effort, we just have a long way to go fundamentally and schematically. It's not going to change overnight, but I like the effort. That's what I've asked and that's what they're giving me."

And effort is what Mullen asks of Saturday's session. "I just want to see guys play hard. And see if we can find some guys who can make some plays on both sides of the ball. That's the number-one when you scrimmage, you get the opportunity to play live so you can see them tackle to ground, can see if guys make some plays with the ball in their hand and see if some defensive players can create turnovers and big plays."

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