Mullen Pleased With Opening Day Of Fall Camp

Spring training was several calendar pages ago. Still when Coach Dan Mullen had his Bulldogs line it up Monday afternoon he was looking for signs of carry-over. Happily, they were there for all to see. "It was good," he said of this first preseason practice of 2009. "They came out excited and we had a tough practice."

Which was as fair an assessment from opening day of Mississippi State's August camp. The Bulldogs arrived at the practice fields ready for some real football-type work, and went at it with day-one vigor. At least they did for most of the two-and-a-half-hour Monday session, and that was satisfactory to Mullen.

"They're not going to maintain for two hours the high, high intensity," he said. But the coach had no complaints with what he saw in such settings as warm-ups, the unit drills, and seven-on-seven competition. "And when we got to some one-on-one stuff and the team stuff at the end I was pretty excited with the intensity."

Not just that, but pleased—relieved, even—that to a large extent Mississippi State's varsity picked up on August 3 where they had left off back on April 18. Again, Mullen set realistic expectations for what he wanted to see this first time back together in a team setting. He was not disappointed.

"It was good, I was pleased. One of the things we wanted to see is hopefully we didn't lose a lot from spring. Maybe not the exact execution but at least the knowledge and understanding of what they were doing within the offensive and defensive schemes. And I thought they came out and did a pretty good job of that, of grasping what was going on out there on the field."

Mullen was talking of the varsity, which had the afternoon practice timeslot. Bulldog freshmen were not present, as they'd been through an early morning session of their own. Almost, because a sprinkling of other slightly-elder guys also had to report in the A.M such as DE Shane McCardell, WR Arceto Clark, walk-on quarterback Aaron Encalade. "We just wanted to be able to have an offense and a defense, so we had to bring a couple of guys out to fill it out," explained Mullen. And since that rookie drill was closed, it was up to the head coach to provide a complete, detailed evaluation of how the 2009 fall freshman class looked for the first time out.

"Like freshmen," he grinned.

The rookies will likely look even more raw Tuesday evening when they join the varsity for a full-team practice. All the same State coaches are counting on new kids to get up to speed and even into rotations as soon as possible because the next 28 practice dates will require plenty of bodies shuttling on and off the field. For the same reason Mullen is glad to have a number of springtime limited-action players participating in non-contact work right now.

WR Brandon McRae, for one, as the senior was running in the first rotation at split end. He's the closest of players who required operations to full-speed. RBs Robert Elliot (right knee) and Arnil Stallworth (left knee) are also taking part in their unit drills, at the end of that depth chart. TE Marcus Green (pelvic strain) was in the second rotation at tight end. Nobody wore a injury-color shirt to this first practice, nor did anyone go down with heat problems on day-one though conditions were not especially bad for early August.

Just in case, all had to take turns in the cold-tub and were warned post-practice about proper care and feeding. The only player leaving before practice ended was RB Anthony Dixon, who had a campus appointment.

Getting experienced, recovering personnel into action is progress to Mullen. "It helps an awful lot with some of the depth. Especially when you want to go through practice. and we want to get a lot of reps with guys learning things. It gives you that depth. And depth at receiver not only helps that position but also just the speed and the execution on offense because you need the twos and threes. When we get everybody together tomorrow I'll need reps so you'd better be deep at every position."

As far as first-day positioning went, the only noticeable difference from the final spring two-deep was on the offensive line. At right tackle junior Phillip Freeman and true sophomore Addison Lawrence were alternating at first-team. Lawrence is listed first, and held that status all spring, but today redshirted juco Freeman was getting at least as many snaps with the top squad.

The rest of the first line was RG Tobias Smith, OC J. C. Brignone, LG Quentin Saulsberry, and LT Derek Sherrod. Backing them today were either Mark Melichar or Templeton Hardy at right guard, OC D.J. Looney, LG Craig Jenkins, and LT Chris Spencer.

The first defensive line had Brandon Cooper and Nick Bell as the first ends, Pernell McPhee and Charles Burns at tackles. In drills these ends and tackles would respectively switch from right to left sides, as did the second unit of ends Trevor Stigers and Sean Ferguson and tackles Kyle Love and Rodney Prince. Devin Jones and Reggie Odom were third ends, LaMarcus Williams and Josh Jackson the third tackles.

The same linebacker trio of Jamar Chaney flanked by Chris White and K.J. Wright got first turn to begin camp. But late in the full-team situations a shift was made with Wright moving to middle, Chaney going back to his old outside-‘backer job, and White stepping out for an extra defensive back to step in. The defense ran from a four-man front base all this first day.

Since Encalade and freshman Tyler Russell had practiced in the morning and thus couldn't dress out in the afternoon (two a days begin Saturday), there were only three quarterbacks for varsity drills. Mullen was pleased with Tyson Lee's first day on the fall-job, and backed up comments by receivers that the starting quarterback is bringing the fastball these days.

"He had a little power, a little zip on the ball. Tyson has a nice, quick release anyway, especially coming from the shotgun, so he doesn't have a whole lot he needs to fix. Just that consistent accuracy is going to be the key." Chris Relf got plenty of work at #2 and showed why his running will bring another dimension to State's spread-offense scheme. Walk-on Riley Saunders was the third quarterback Monday.

As the coach noted, a host of new receivers will be running routes for those passers tomorrow. They're needed and welcome, but "There's a lot of unproven guys," Mullen said. "So we've got a long way to go. Ask me in October about our depth at receiver, I guess."

Still some answers should start taking shape Tuesday with all the new arrivals, on both sides of the ball for that matter. The second practice starts after 6:00 and will likely run late. Mullen said the plan today had been to practice at a time similar to the season opener (2:30, September 5, Jackson State).

"So we got out there with some heat. We're going to mix-up practice different times, some times try to get it at hot times to adjust to the heat and other times the chance to be cooled-off. But the effort was pretty good, these guys here did a nice job getting through practice."

The Bulldogs will have another evening practice Wednesday, then work in the mornings Thursday and Friday. These next four days like the first are open to public viewing, with Bulldog practices closing down Saturday for the start of two-a-days.

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