Lee Likes Offense's Summer Session Progress

Tyson Lee exits the Holliman Center, grins at the interviewer's blinking reaction to his garb, and explains the towel-skirt worn to protect his post-practice modesty. "I'm about to get into the cold tub," Lee says, as part of the alternating heat-cool cycle after a workout session. "You do whatever you can to keep the body right, know what I mean?!"

And this summer Tyson Lee is most assuredly about getting and keeping things right. Whether making the body stronger, the mind sharper, and the arm better, Mississippi State's senior quarterback is committed to doing whatever he takes, whenever, to make 2009 right. Including putting in the extra effort in his final college summer, even if it involves that much more recovery these summer days. Speaking of which, while it sounds sensible the cold-tub isn't actually for chilling after a grueling July afternoon.

"We've been working real hard and my lower body is just sore," Lee says. "So I'm about to get in the cold tub to deal with that. Tuesday is a big lower-body day, Monday a big running day, then running on Wednesday too I think combined has me sore." But a good sore, sorta, since Lee is enjoying the results. Such as the steady 201-202 showing on the scales for almost two months now.

"I've been maintaining it right there. We've picked up the running a lot in the last week I guess for July conditioning and I think that's helped me maintain the weight better." A dozen pounds over his listed 2008 season weight, by the way. And if at 5-10 he'll never be called a strapping specimen Lee certainly has re-shaped his physique for the senior season.

But then naturally the main muscles fans and probably foes want to hear about are those attached to the throwing shoulder. Back in March new Coach Dan Mullen made some rather stern comments about how his spring quarterbacks hadn't been throwing the ball often and well enough. Lee says the coach has nothing to complain about now given how often the football is getting aired-out this summer.

"We have been doing that. We usually throw three days a week and on Saturdays, we'll go when we get through running and lifting, so we try to maintain. On our lower-body days we just come out and toss around, do the short routes and get a feel for it. On upper-body days we try do to the whole thing, especially on deep balls."

Yes, you read rightly. Bulldog passers and receivers are voluntarily giving up a portion of their precious summer Saturdays to play catch. Not that ‘voluntary' gives anyone good reason not to join this number, given how much importance everyone places on this extra effort.

"We get up in the morning and it's just an hour, and hour-fifteen minutes running routes and keeping everything going," says Lee. "We did a little bit last year and didn't have as many guys come, but this year we have a lot of the guys step up and come. They've been diligent and responsible and hopefully that will continue."

Since such sessions are closed to media review, we have to take Lee's word for it. Yet it's interesting to ask what we would see if allowed to watch. Lee doesn't delve into technicalities or game-speak. No, "I think you'd see us communicating and having fun. You know, we're talking about it and everybody is on the same page. And we're having fun." Whoa there, fun? State summer settings can be called a lot of things but…fun? Ahhh, but this ought to be a very good sign the way Lee talks.

"We know kind of what to do now and we have fun with it. I mean, you can't play well without having fun and I think that is what everybody is doing now." Indeed, where back in spring there was all sorts of tension about a new system and staff, just a bit of familiarity—not to mention efficiency—has turned the Dogs loose emotionally too. Besides, Lee says, there are some pretty free spirits out there. "That's true, you can't help but have fun with guys like B-Mac (Brandon McRae) and Anthony Dixon always talking. They make it fun for everybody."

At the same time Lee says he is doing more talking these days, too. Just not the sort of silliness that those aforementioned class clowns specialize in. No, he isn't trying to be Mr. Serious or something and Lee can have just as big a laugh as anyone on the field. At the same time his unique status as the returning starting quarterback and the only real veteran there means Lee has to open his mouth more now, and to have everyone listen.

"I think talking is the biggest change for me. Really just kind of leading the way with guys, letting them know what we expect and not accepting anything less. We have the capability, we have the coaches, and we have the potential. Now it's just a matter of executing and I think I've been doing a good job and other guys have been doing a good job of expressing that." Which, Lee adds, is another good sign of better things to come.

Especially for the offense as everyone on that side of the ball gets increasingly comfortable, and confident, in Mullen's spread system. Lee says that just the way the Dogs are ‘playing' this summer shows a big improvement on spring ball.

"I think now people are trying to get in and watch the film a little bit. It's hard in spring, you know what to do and you knew how but you didn't know why to do it. I think now the ‘why' part is coming along. Hopefully we can keep working and continue and the guys will understand why we're doing it."

It would only be natural for Lee to occasionally pause and ponder just how much things have changed for him in a year. Last July he was still relatively new to State, having practiced in spring as a walk-on (an invited walk-on true, but it's still a key part to his story). He went into fall as a backup, then by October was the starter. While the season didn't play out as hoped, Lee was one bright spot with 1,519 yards, a 59% completion rate, and a rare (for State this decade) positive ratio of touchdowns to interceptions.

Happily Lee has no problem maintaining the right mindset, both about how he got this job and what he has to do to keep it. "I would say age has helped me put it in perspective. Things happen sometimes in life, in football, in sports that makes you grow up quicker. A year ago I'm not where I am now and it's hard to believe through one year the, I guess maturity that you get. Not only on the field but off the field and watching other guys play."

Including other guys who want his job…and whom he is helping become that much better competitors for both himself and Bulldog opponents. In fact Lee is so team-oriented he actually insists there is no ‘starter' yet going into fall camp.

"They're looking good," he says of Chris Relf and Tyler Russell this summer, "they're working hard. It's all about competition and that makes you better. It's tough sometimes, you know what I mean? But if Chris and Tyler see something in me they'll tell me, and if I see something in them Ill tell them. Because each person is only one play from playing, and when you think about being one play from being a starter it really changes the way you work. The big thing is understanding every play is a play, I've explained to Chris and Tyler."

By the way, explain this to curious reporters and fans who can't watch the fun: who has the best gun of the quarterbacks? "That's a good question. Tyler and Chris might have just as good an arm. The thing I do have may be a quicker release, but that doesn't matter as long as you're putting the ball where it needs to be." In fact Lee has a most un-senior attitude towards statistics. He doesn't see his quarterback's job in this offense as playing for numbers and honors.

Instead, "Just to maintain and really manage the football team. Keep the composure and make the plays, and stay positive all the time. And not turn the ball over. With the offense that we have if we just move the football like we're capable of I think we'll be fine. The yards will come, the touchdowns will come, the points will come as long as we execute the gameplan the way we know how to do. I know the defense is going to be fine, so if we do that we'll be alright."

The ‘we' first and foremost being the triggerman, because for all the modesty Lee knows better than anyone just how absolutely decisive a capable quarterback is to making this spread run…and pass. And he has already learned something interesting about the spread. "It can get out of control real quick. Real quick." Soooo, the first order for Lee, Relf, Russell, whoever is keep themselves under control, work within the system, and use the tools available to force the best matchups possible. Lee, who owns the great advantage of having operated a somewhat similar system when he was at Itawamba Comm. College, has adapted to this edition on schedule. To the point that it's fun being the quarterback again, that he can use the arm and the smarts and sometimes even the legs as opportunity presents. Though, "When you get a 350-pounder who runs a 4.7 after you you'll be a little quicker to run, too!" he grins again.

"Every play the ball is in my hand obviously. So I think I have something to do with managing that! And when it comes up my number to make a play I have to make that play; when it comes Anthony's time to run the ball he has to run the ball. As long as we do our part I think we'll all click.

"But the biggest thing about this offense is the offensive line has to be on the same page, and the receivers. People understand if I have guys like Brandon and Tay and Delmon and all these freshmen that have come in that can make the plays, it makes the job of quarterback easier. A lot of people see you threw for 200 or 300 yards; they don't see that you threw it for five yards and they ran for 80! So when you have those guys around you and especially a running back like Anthony or Duc or those guys, it makes things easier to move the ball and spread things out."

Spread the ball, the stats, and the fun that is. Which Lee intends to do as soon as he can warm-up from the cool tub, change into some more typical practice garb, and get back on the field for some pitch-and-catch. Oh, and about that improvised kilt…Lee has no reason to be shy. As anyone of Gaelic ancestry understands, it takes a real man to wear a skirt well.

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