Ducre Likes 2009 Season Outlook, Opportunity

It was a fair indicator just how drained Christian Ducre was that he sighed in open relief taking the proffered chair. He wasn't merely weary, either, but somewhat surprised to be soooo worn considering the previous off-day. "That's what I was thinking, I thought we were going to be fresh!" At which the seat creaked again as Ducre settled in.

Yep, this was a tired fellow for a Saturday noon. Yet that cannot be construed as any criticism. Not considering what Christian Ducre himself and the entire Bulldog team have been through during their first preseason under the direction of Coach Dan Mullen. And especially not after their major Thursday scrimmage followed by a grueling weekend morning pads practice that was nigh-about as hard-hitting. So small wonder the senior halfback, no stranger to physical preseasons, was showing some big strains.

"We had heavy legs," he admitted. "We just fought through it and got through it. It was the whole team that was tired. But I think it was the coaches trying to see what we can do"

And that is the prime point in how Mississippi State is going about 2009 football camp. Ducre is echoing the coach talking about the way these Bulldogs are being pushed to find every limit, and then beyond. Not just physically either but emotionally and mentally. If anything, Mullen has been more interested in testing just how much this squad can handle inside their helmets as when using the armor in open contact.

Ducre also knew another reason why the players were under extra-stress on this particular day. "Really it's the tempo that we're trying to play at on Saturdays," he explained. "We're trying to get a feel for that because we're going to do a lot of no-huddle and a lot of signals and stuff. So we've just got to get used to it."

By which Ducre is not just speaking for the offense, since their defensive counterparts will also be forcing the tempo at every opportunity. But then the guys with the ball do get to say when a play starts and where it wants to go, so in this camp the clock runs fastest for an offense trying to absorb more and more of how Mullen wants to play the game. So far, he reports, so good; or at least good enough to feel encouraged about the upcoming season.

"In the beginning we couldn't really pick up on it, but now we're getting a feel for the offense. We know what to do now." Not only what but how and to some extent why, which is in keeping with Mullen's philosophy of offensive football. There is still much, much, much to learn and refine but Ducre likes what he's seen. Especially compared to the previous two seasons of offensive frustration at State. There's a new gameplan in town, after all.

"We can have a lot of big plays," Ducre said. "The receivers, they just have to run the right routes. With the backs we can have a lot of big plays, we just have to read the right key. And we can have big plays in the receiving game too from lining up in screens and empty formations. We can have a lot of big plays."

Accounts from the past week's closed practice, on and off record alike, do report some big plays. For that matter during the open first week of camp there were clear signs this offense should show more punch by ground and air alike. At the same time the great practice failing was keeping a grip on the football. Contact played a part in some fumbles but too often it was a careless or incompleted exchange that left ball on ground. "It was terrible," admitted Ducre, who added that things have gotten better.

"We do it, but I hope that's just because its practice and we're getting it out of our system! But we haven't been doing it lately."

It's hard to say any one Bulldog is the very happiest about the change in systems for State, but Ducre would certainly come early on that list. Oh, he's had a respectable two seasons in Starkville, playing in 25 games with 709 total yards and a 4.2 average gain (best of the vets in fact) and five touchdowns. Four times Ducre has gotten the starting call at halfback, and along the way he's proven not just a reliable ball-carrier but a steady blocker and capable catcher. In short, all the things needed to be an all-around back in any offensive scheme. At the same time he's also taken a back seat in most situations to classmate Anthony Dixon, the usual starter whose gotten the big dog's share of snaps and stats.

But again, there is a new way of doing things here now. And Mullen typically brings up Ducre's name first when discussing the backfield. Certainly the ongoing if unspecified punishments Dixon has earned for some pre-camp foolery is part, yet the main reason is simply that Ducre has adapted quickly and effectively to this offensive approach. Not to mention the way he's been handled since the regime change by a staff that has given everyone a fresh start.

"I think it was a blessing to me, it gave me a new opportunity because I was kind of on the bad side of the other coaching staff, for whatever reason. But I think it really helps me out."

Certainly Mullen and the offensive staff are counting on Ducre to be a big help because as of the end of two-a-days they account him as a co-starter with Dixon. Sure, much can change between now and opening day, but it's the sort of status Ducre can appreciate. Without, it must be added, not making too big a deal of labels.

"This is the first time I've been even mentioned like 1 and 1A. I've usually been a 2. But me and A.D. both can be ones, as long as that helps the team. It doesn't matter. I think he's going to play whoever has the hot hand at the time, and whoever is able to execute and everything at 100%.

"It's whatever with me. Because A.D., that's my boy! We've been here together since three years ago and I want what's best for the team."

Seriously, because Ducre has been around the college game enough to know there will come his chance(s) to set the pace. Much like in 2007 at Kentucky when Ducre got to do the honors and gain a career-best 119 yards in State's pivotal victory. Or at Auburn that same year where it was Ducre given the clutch-situation handoffs and produced the crucial first down and touchdown both. He did not get as many such opportunities in 2008 (no carries at all the last two games) but then lots of things were out-of-kilter too much of last season.

Here in 2009 the outlook is more optimistic all around. Ducre hasn't taken anything for granted though and worked his hardest-ever in learning a new offense at the end of his college career. Again, it just feels a better fit to him. "In the past I've made a lot of mistakes on different reads and doing the wrong assignments on plays. But during this camp I think I might have made one mistake the whole camp. I've trying to execute everything and have been so far.

"It always takes a little while to learn a new offense, a new defense, new special teams, everything. But since we had the spring to work on it the older guys know it, and since the freshmen came in they've asked us for help. And we help them out."

Speaking of help, Ducre is lending a hand in other areas. While Mullen hasn't settled on complete kicking teams just yet, reports are Ducre is solidly set on two of these with the chance for more memberships, unless the staff opts not to over-work the man. Current weariness aside that might not be a problem because he's a rock-solid 225 pounds now, which is up only five from last fall but looks much more with the bulk, so to speak, packed at shoulder-level.

More than the poundage though is the confidence State players ought to have about their physical preparation for the season. Emotional, too, because Ducre says surviving the previous seven months was a victory in itself. And it shows, he adds.

"Yeah, I think we're real comfortable. Going through all the mat drills, all the summer workouts, all the camp. I think we've just got a good bond right now. And everybody is clicking and executing on time. In the past we had a lot of individuals by themselves, we've never been together this much. Because of that I think we have a good relationship."

At which, interview done, Ducre groans—quietly, as player pride resurfaces—and heads out to the next obligation of the day. But, for all the praise his coach has had for the past week in their temporary working quarters, there is one Dog glad to be going back to the primary practice fields again. Ducre won't miss the Farm, he said.

"Nah, it'll be easier to just walk out there! Way easier!"

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