Quick Hitters From Friday's Pads Practice

The preseason pace picked up for Mississippi State as Coach Dan Mullen put the Bulldogs in full pads, lined them up in a variety of unit and team drills, and told them to hit hard or be hit harder. It paid off in an energetic, if not always efficient Friday practice on the fifth day of camp.

Because Mississippi State is also holding a media day for the afternoon, there were no immediate interviews with coaches and players following practice. Instead here are a sampling of Friday observations from the first day of full-contact camp.

*DE Brandon Cooper, who missed Thursday's practice with an eye appointment after a Wednesday practice problem, was back in uniform but did not participate.

*WR Major Sosebee, who tore knee ligaments in spring practice, made his first fall appearance. He had to wear partial gear as his ‘acclimation' period continues. He brings the fall camp roster total to 104, one shy of the pre-semester limit. Once school starts on August 17 more players can join practices.

*Practice was run almost entirely on the easternmost field for the first time, which came in handy for some observers who took advantage of the tennis and softball stadia upper rows to watch. Even better for them, the final full-blast, red zone and goal line periods were run at the end of the field nearest them so many more fans could watch from the grandstands' shade.

*For the first real contact of first full-pads day, Mullen began with the popular one-on-one wrestling matches pitting offense against defense with plenty of pride on the line. He made clear how serious these drills are when RB Montrell Conner didn't fire off hard enough against classmate CB Jonathan Banks . Mullen stopped things, shouted at Conner that "this is Division I football" and made them go again. Conner won easily.

*WR O'Neal Wilder is still skinny but showed the benefit of Coach Matt Balis' strength program as he held his own against a cornerback. Admittedly, that CB was former wideout Arceto Clark who is practicing at defense during this non-playing season.

*Coming to school a semester early gave CB Cameron Lawrence an advantage as he easily handled RB LaDarius Perkins. And in these fire-off matchups height isn't a big advantage, so to speak, because short, quick DE Devin Jones was able to get a step on 6-6 OT Phillip Freeman and win. Because bigger things were expected, DE Shane McCardell had to run his drill four-straight times; the wear showed as Freeman crushed him on the last try. In a good rookie matchup OG Gabrial Jackson wrestled down DT Shane Boyd. Later CB Damein Anderson welcomed freshman WR Chad Bumphis to SEC hitting by putting him down hard.

*But one rookie impressed, because Mullen had freshman FB William Shumpert represent the offense and walk-on S Robert Gurley show the whole team how it was to be done right; or as Mullen put it, "put your face in the other guy's face." It was a draw.

*The first unit hitting, 7-on-7 ground game drills, gave a clue what the day would feature too often: turnovers. RB Christian Ducre let the ball come loose in ones-vs.-ones work, that snap interestingly called by QB Tyler Russell who got some first-team turns today.

*Special teams periods were again featured, this time with kickoffs—both coverage and return—going full-steam and three-teams deep. All that lacked was complete tackling of the return men, because everyone else had to hit hard. Freshmen Brandon Heavens, Perkins, and Bumphis took their turns fielding kickoffs with elders WR Leon Berry and CB Marvin Bure. For that matter Bumphis and freshman WR Dennis Thames were put in kick-return ‘wedge' positions to block bigger guys. Safe to say everything about State's special squads are getting younger, and faster.

*Even first RB Anthony Dixon was assigned a turn in kickoff coverage, pulling the yellow mesh vest over his jersey to do that duty.

*With Cooper held out, Nick Bell and Sean Ferguson were the first-team defensive ends Friday. The rest of the first defense was unchanged since Monday, though CB Corey Broomfield is getting a good portion of first-team snaps alternating with starting RCB Marcus Washington.

*Bo Walters and Jamie Jones are in a good battle for the second MLB job behind starter Jamar Chaney. Friday, Walters opened there in 7-on-7 drills but for the final full-team tackle drills Jones was the #2 middle man.

*For full-team offense Brandon McRae, Berry, and Tay Bowser are still getting the first snap as wideouts. That isn't keeping kids like Bumphis and Heavens from taking their share of series, at time with the first unit.

*RB Arnil Stallworth's comeback has been faster than anticipated, and while he wasn't doing any hitting today he did get some first-team snaps in passing-situation drills.

*Coaches are supposed to yell at mistakes; now veteran Dogs are allowed to emphasize the error of other's ways at times. When a not-to-be-named first-team tackle jumped the snap count on a check-off play by QB Tyson Lee, OC J. C. Brignone gave his teammate a deserved earful with full approval of the bosses.

*Along the same lines, in third-down-and-distance drills in the open field after a young safety waved at a receiver MLB Jamar Chaney barked "no hand tackles!"

*In those same drills first QB Lee did a consistently good job picking up the open receiver under pressure and delivering a catchable ball. Problem was, the defense swarmed quickly enough on the short completions to stop it short of the first-down mark.

*HB Rob Elliot made a good defensive play of his own on an under-pressure dump pass into the flat that third S Chris Cameron read and caught on the run. Elliot swatted the ball loose off the safety's hands to prevent a return touchdown.

*For the first time in camp the defense—in this case the third unit—briefly showed some three-man fronts in third-and-long settings. This was seen more often the last two weeks of spring camp.

*First CB Washington and backup SS Wade Bonner are the usual nickel-safetys in drills. Today other starting CB Damein Anderson also took some turns as the third safety in passing drills.

*When practice went to red-zone team play, the specialists were making contact of their own; on the open middle practice field hitting the tackling-sled just to stay in the spirit of the day.

*The first, second, and third teams all ran three series in red zone offense starting from the 12-yard line. The first unit got first-and-goal at the one and switched to a true wishbone set (Sylvester Hemphill at fullback in front of halfbacks Dixon and Ducre). But Dixon fumbled at the goal for a turnover. He would later have another turnover at the goal line on a third down, though Freeman nearly saved it in the end zone for a touchdown; WLB K.J. Wright barely won that scramble.

*By contrast the second offense, against the #2 defense, scored in one play as QB Chris Relf faked the counter-right handoff and dashed off left tackle, vaulting the goal line to some cheers from the crowd. Later in a series starting at the five-yard line Relf again got it all in one play by reading the defense and keeping around right end.

*On their first chance the third offense was in goal line when Russell had to check-off. It took so long a flag would've been thrown in a real game, and then the snap was fumbled and recovered by third WLB Karlin Brown. It was Brown who had intercepted Russell in third-down-and-distance drills, too.

*On 4th-and-4 for the first teams, Lee rolled right and tried to find TE Marcus Green only to have the ball batted away on the sideline.

*The third-team's wishbone set had Patrick Hanrahan at fullback with halfbacks Montrell Conner and Elliot. Conner did the work on two tough runs in traffic to get the touchdown. Later Russell lined up a wishbone but faked the routine run, looked the other way and flipped to RB Allan Tolbert in the end zone for the touchdown. He also beat Friday tormenter Brown on that play.

*Two Dogs left goal-line drills gimping; first team LG Tobias Smith, and second-team DE Trevor Stigers.

*To end practice, Mullen told the offense they owed two ‘gassers' for having been beaten so often by the defense this day. But that they had a double-or-nothing chance to save themselves the extra sweat if they could score on one play from the one-yard line, first team against first team. The defense even used a stacked front with an extra tackle for the expected inside run. From a straight wishbone set Lee put it in Ducre's hands and the senior vaulted left-of-center for the touchdown.

Gene's Page Top Stories