Mullen Wants Complete Focus In Camp Football

How it succeeds from a technical standpoint remains to be seen. But Coach Dan Mullen's idea of a true ‘camp' week for Mississippi State certainly seems to be working as intended. "It's tough out there but we got a lot of stuff accomplished," reported Jamar Chaney. "It's making sure we're 100% focused on football right now."

The fact is there ought not be much else Mississippi State players could focus on this week than football. After a week of normal and open practices Coach Dan Mullen has taken the Bulldogs to the other end of campus, away from both media and public observation, and gotten down to the really serious stage of this preseason. For that matter the coach has put the players up in a hotel, on the same floor, as well, further isolating them from outside influences and keeping their attention on the tasks at hand.

The response? "We're not worried about anybody or anything," quarterback Tyson Lee said after Monday's morning session. "All day, every day, we get ready and go out there and try to build the team as a whole."

That building process resumed Monday morning with a full-pads practice at the temporary South Farm facility. Much as on Saturday, the first of four two-a-day dates on this 2009 practice calendar, the morning workout included plenty of full-contact and an emphasis on aspects of the running game, both offense and defense. Mullen figured he could push the players harder this morning since they had been given a free Sunday…well, free other than team appearance at church, their meals, and instructions. Or as he put it, a lot of eating and a lot of meeting "and a little bit of praying." Still the slight change of practice pace after six-straight days of work helped with resumption of camp.

"It went good," Mullen said of the morning practice. "We came out and worked hard, we had a little break with no practice yesterday so we came out and went real hard today. I was happy." Just as he's happy with the way his camp plans are proceeding.

"It's a time for the team to come together and work real hard. And the ability to just push themselves without any outside distractions. This one week is all about football, so by going out in seclusion to practice it's all about football."

As for the football part itself, the respective reports from Lee and Chaney indicated that the defense came out ahead Monday morning. Not by a lot, and defensive captain Chaney was still annoyed about a particular touchdown toss completed in full-team work. Still the offense trailed in the unofficial final standings and much of this was self-induced, Lee explained.

"We're this close a lot of times to executing; just small things here, small things there. the plays, the calls, we were there, we just missed the execution." And, both players said, missed the handle. "The offense put a couple of balls on the ground and that's not really them," Chaney said. "(Anthony) Dixon put some on the ground and the quarterback-exchange wasn't too good. But that's easy to straighten up."

Hopefully so since turnovers were also evident in Friday's initial full-contact drills, though in most cases forced as the defense shows itself a step-ahead in the overall process. This isn't big news of course and the defense should be ahead at this point of camp. Besides, Lee said, after the first week of drills his side of the squad is "kind of going back to what we installed in the beginning.

"Going back and breaking it down really, really slow. If we don't have much at least we're executing sound the things we do have." While at the same time figuring out how to fix some of those issues in receiving the snap and delivering a secure handoff. The good news was "the offensive line did extremely well today, and really all week," according to the quarterback.

"We did a lot of installing last week. This week we're trying to go back and look at things we installed and try to be picture-perfect, if you will."

Just because they've set a tone in contact work so-far does not mean the defense is a finished product either. Coordinator Carl Torbush is taking advantage of his unit's experience in the base system to do some extra installing of his own, and that means things are getting more complicated on this side of the ball. Chaney isn't complaining though.

"The main thing is just we show more looks; three-man fronts, four-man fronts, three linebackers, four linebackers, five defensive backs. I mean just to try to keep the offense off-balance, give them a lot of looks and pressure the offensive line to make all the checks they have to make."

Both lines were without a starter again this morning. DE Brandon Cooper (eye) could have returned to practice after last Wednesday's injury. "But we decided to give it another day," Mullen said. DT Pernell McPhee was shaken-up in the Saturday morning practice with a minor concussion but returned to work this morning. "He didn't go every period but he did a bunch today."

On offense, ROG Tobias Smith has been sidelined for a while with a sprained ankle. "He will probably be a little bit longer coming back," Mullen said. "They're aggressively treating him, something like that we're not going to push to get him back and make it worse than it is." Freshman WR Brandon Heavens was back at work after a mild groin strain Saturday. First LOT Derek Sherrod "got dinged-up" this morning according to Mullen but the trainers expect nothing serious. "We'll find out later this afternoon."

That will be at the second Monday practice, which Mullen said will like Saturday be in headgear and shoulder pads with minimal contact. It will thus have a stronger emphasis on offensive passing and defensive rush/coverage situations, as well as more attention on various special teams which are of special, so to speak, interest to the head coach. For example, when he had three complete units of both return and cover teams practice kickoffs in succession. While some Dogs have come to the fore in these situations there are still open jobs for everyone, including freshmen.

"If you give a great effort, you have a good chance to play," Mullen said of kicking team roles.

Even after an open Sunday, the intensity of Monday's practice showed. Even an old Dog like Chaney couldn't avoid sighing as he took a comfortable seat in the Bryan Building interview room, glad to be off his cleats for a moment. It's just the pace this new staff has brought to camp, he said.

"They've been doing a lot to get you going. Our warm-ups are so hard, all the running and fast-pace, they get you tired before practice. And that's what they want. Then we have the ‘fourth quarter' after practice where we have to run. So they're getting you physically prepared but mentally prepared too."

And being off to themselves is helping with the preparation. "It's working, our guys are focused," said Mullen, who added that Tuesday's single practice will also be in the morning and full-pads. This secluded setting certainly is changing some MSU mindsets in other ways. Officially the Monday morning temperatures were down markedly from last week, but not to Lee.

"I think it's a little hotter over there."

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