"There's just a lot of introductory stuff going on," he said, which ranges from a compliance staff review of NCAA and SEC groundrules to reminders of keeping the fluid level up going into hot-month practicing. "Also we have final exams the next two days so we're going to break up here pretty quick and get over to study table for finals," said Mullen.
If this seems a low-key approach to a benchmark sort of day in the football calendar, well, there is a reason. "With Coach Mullen it ain't all about the speeches," said linebacker Jamar Chaney. Of course for a fifth-year senior these camp-opening meetings are old hat anyway. Yet Chaney likes how his new head coach keeps it simple and straightforward with everyone.
"He's just going to tell you if you want to play you're going to give that relentless effort. Everybody out here is trying to get a position, so that's going to bring the competitiveness out in everybody and make you want to go harder and harder."
Which is one message Mullen hopes comes across clear. Not to say that spring training for the new coaching staff wasn't intense in its own right; and the strength/conditioning program installed by Coach Matt Balis has achieved legendary status in just seven months for competitiveness. But Mullen says the players must pick up their paces even more now.
"You're preparing for a season. You're getting ready to play a game here in a little over a month so the sense of urgency is much greater. As well as, there's less time in-between practices now. When you go spring drills a lot of times you have a day to practice and a day to really learn what you practice before the next one. When you get into fall you practice one day, you learn it, we're teaching all-new things next day and there's none of those days to catch-up."
For that matter Mississippi State is having to play a bit quick with the calendar this month. The Bulldogs have the ‘privilege' of being one of the first college clubs to get on the practice field. Setting aside the welcome changing of pace, from lifting and running to doing real football stuff, this does make for a lengthy lead-in to the September 5 opening game. Or does it?
"School starts early here," Mullen explains. "For us to get those 29 practices in we have to start now, because when school starts it's hard to have more than one practice a day with school in session. I think most of the schools that have that advantage of starting school can bring their guys in later and have more two-a-days, those types of things."
Regardless, now that everybody—or almost everybody, as State awaits clearance of one more freshman and resolution of a transfer's legal status—is here, might as well get to serious work. "We don't know what is going to go down but we feel we should be prepared for anything that they throw at us," said offensive tackle Derek Sherrod.
"It's exciting," said Chaney. "We've been working hard this summer and this is the best shape I've ever been in in my life. So I'm looking forward to tomorrow and getting started." If for no other reason than showing off just how honed he is for the second senior season. Chaney is completely recovered from the September 2008 broken ankle and full-steam for the bonus year as a Bulldog.
He's not the only one strutting around campus these days to show off a finer physique. Balis' regimen is grueling but it has clearly produced results, such as bulking up senior quarterback to over 205 pounds going into camp. Or in the case of most linemen, trimming them down to preferred fighting weights. Mullen said he hasn't even needed posted reports from his strength coach about player progress.
"More, the guys have told me. I think the guys take a lot of pride in the goals they've set for themselves. When they meet with Matt before summer they set goals for themselves. We haven't met much about that but I've had guys come up to me and say hey Coach, I'm proud of myself, I made my goal."
And such Bulldog bragging is allowed since it is honest fact. "I'm not as bad as other people!" said Sherrod of his own boasting to the boss. "But I've made my target weight every time so I'm very proud of that fact and I definitely let Coach know I've been working hard!"
Now the work shifts stage from weightroom to practice field. Veteran Dogs had a good idea of the opening-day routine with their former regime, but now? "With Coach Mullen we really don't know what to expect," receiver Brandon McRae said. "We're going out there hoping for the best and hoping to have fun."
Fun? Pre-season? Those are ideas that don't fit together easily, at least not based on most Mississippi State experience. But there's no denying that Mullen has infused another sort of attitude in his first team (re: bragging about summer exertions) already, and that spring fling at Scott Field certainly has the fan base more motivated than usual for preseason reporting. Along those lines the first five practice days are open to public viewing. That is full-practices; freshmen will have their own Monday morning session closed to all eyes, but not out of secrecy per se.
"Really it's our first opportunity with the freshmen as a coaching staff," said Mullen. "So it gives them a chance to get out there and for us to see them, coach them one-on-one and teach them how to tie their shoes, how to get taped, how to put their pads on. And really take them time to teach theme every little bit of thing they need to know before they get thrown into the fire with the older guys."
And oh, yes, the older Dogs do mean to bring the heat when everyone assembles Monday afternoon. Especially a vocal hound like McRae. "I've been talking trash to the DBs, I told them already don't take it lightly on me, I'm going hard so they better come," he said. McRae rates himself 95-100% back from his Egg Bowl-broken leg, so some of his camp enthusiasm is just the joy of getting back in action. Some, now, is the chance to pick on the pups, which a reporter suggested might be a bit mean of him.
"They're going to be practicing with us!" McRae said. "So I told one of the cornerbacks, Jonathan Banks, if he presses me he's going into the ground! I'm talking trash, I'm ready to go."
Not all that the elder State-smen are saying about the kids is trash though; in fact the veterans have come away from June and July work impressed with what the new kids bring to the roster…and gameplan. For example, McRae has very good words for his young cohorts at receiver as well as some of those new defensive backs. And most-touted frosh quarterback Tyler Russell has gotten rave reviews since he arrived in June. Though, McRae adds, don't forget senior and starter Tyson Lee. "He's switched up his throwing range and balls are coming harder and faster," the wideout said. "So it's looking real good."
Ditto for the muscle positions. "There's big expectations with the linemen because we have a lot of people coming back," Sherrod said. "I know the offensive line as well as the defensive line, we've all been working hard to get in better condition and get into the playbook a lot more so we can contribute a lot more this season."
There are two first-year Dogs yet to officially report. Wide receiver Ricco Sanders is still awaiting certification from the NCAA's clearinghouse, "But he'll be here shortly we hope," Mullen said. The coach is more cautious about junior transfer defensive back Maurice Langston. "We're letting the judicial process run its course, as soon as we get some answers we'll make a decision."
Decisions will also be made about some practice specifics. Mullen does have a general script for this first camp, but he is also leaving plenty of room for changing directions along the way…sort of like a good ‘spread' offense quarterback in fact. Such as, how many scrimmages are booked for preseason.
"We're always going to be flexible with things. I guess full-out whole scrimmage days maybe two but there's going to be a bunch that are half-scrimmage days. A lot of it is going to depend on where we are as a team and what we need to get accomplished. So our schedule is going to be constantly flexible until kickoff."
Full team practices begin at 3:15 Monday afternoon. Tuesday is a 6:15 start, Wednesday at 4:45; then both Thursday and Friday at 9:00a.m. The first of four two-a-day sessions is Saturday, and closed to media and public alike.