Wright Ready For Next Phase Of Preseason Camp

Maybe the best indication of just how grueling the first two weeks of preseason football camp has been is that the Bulldogs were actually looking forward to…to grabbing the textbooks and heading onto campus for their fall semester? That's right, K.J. Wright grins. "Football, and straight to classes!"

Yep, it's back to a more normal sort of semester grind beginning this week as Mississippi State, the University, reopens for fall business. Thus the Bulldog players who have been busy all August already with practice field duties now formally resume classroom obligations. OK, so maybe when the fellows settle into their seats and open said textbooks it won't be the most thrilling event of their fall. But it is still a welcome change of pace, said Wright.

Besides, "The good thing is they (the football staff) give us the first day of school, so we'll have Monday off!"

This brief break, which included a Sunday spent in meals, meetings, and team chapel without practicing, is all the more welcome because Coach Dan Mullen and staff have pushed their first Bulldog team hard. Very hard. So hard that even an old hand like Wright, a two-year regular and the returning starter at weak-side linebacker, has felt the strains. The junior thought he'd done hard work before; this camp has been a real revalation.

"Two-a-days has been rough. I'm not going to lie," he said. "Five o'clock in the morning every day and going to bed at 10:30, it's been hard. But one thing they do, they give us enough breaks. They keep us well-hydrated and feed us good. So I believe it's worked out the best for us."

Good words, and all the more positive because as Wright said them he held the left arm at an awkward angle due to the big ice-pack on the elbow. It was a souvenir from the Saturday morning contact practice, further evidence of just how vigorously the Dogs have gotten after each other this preseason. Senior halfback Christian Ducre tried to claim credit for what his head coach would call a practice ‘ding' but Wright was having none of that talk.

"He really didn't hurt it, I was making a tackle on him and a gang of guys came," Wright explained. "I guess somebody came and hit me at the back of the elbow." Just in case anyone dared imagine that an offensive player got the better of a defensive Dog, you understand.

And to hear Wright review camp to-date, his half of the roster has kept a steady lead in the unofficial practice standings. This isn't exactly breaking news because coming out of spring practice the defense was in a more established situation. So it would have been tough for the offense to catch-up in the course of two August weeks, especially as coordinator Carl Torbush has expanded the defensive repertoire.

"We put in a whole lot of stuff," said Wright. "And we kept competing, offense and defense, and the defense has won every week! So with this defense we've got, everyone flying around good, the defense is looking real good." Good enough across the lineup that it's difficult to single out any members of that unit for special camp achievements. Perhaps that means not many individual names get dropped in practice reviews…but it should speak volumes for this unit as a whole.

Now. Having proclaimed his side's superiority, could Wright spare a few encouraging words about teammates on the other side of the line of scrimmage? The linebacker is happy to oblige because, locker-room pride aside, he sees some good signs over there.

"This offense, they're really clicking," Wright said about the last full-contact session of two-a-days. "I thought they were moving the ball real good and using our players real well. Like these new freshmen, they've got a lot of speed out there. And (Coach) is mixing up the run and pass." Which has admittedly kept his defense on their cleat-toes. Because after a month of spring installation and two more August weeks of further teaching and refining, the offense is now able to mix-and-match more successfully.

Or, as Wright notes, to run the ball out of what formerly were just passing formations and vice-versa. That is a marked change in gameplan from spring to be sure. "So I notice they're playing some new stuff and have some new plays that they run that they just click on," he said.

Such a report has to be welcome news since praise from an opponent—and in State's scheme of practice things the defense is to treat the offense like a real rival—is the best sort of compliment. But of course Wright already has plenty of professional respect for offensive peers he's been in constant camp contact with. Joking aside, the linebacker likes what he's seen from something as basic as the Bulldog ground game. Because after all even the high-flying spread offense is founded on classic ground-pounding.

"They've been real good with (Anthony) Dixon and Ducre leading them," said Wright, who is impressed at the physical shape the senior backs are in after losing (Dixon) or gaining (Ducre) the right sort of weight. "And bringing up some young guys, they're looking real good."

Wright has gotten a really good look—not to mention feel—for the Bulldog backs lately in his alternate role. He is a standout working the weak-side, with 72 tackles and four sacks as a sophomore starter, and is emerging in SEC consciousness as a player to consider for all-star status. But back in spring Torbush moved him over a few steps to practice as a true middle linebacker for some scrimmages. Wright did it well, too, as would be expected. He reports getting some more snaps there in August drills.

"I actually played middle linebacker Saturday," he said. "(Jamar) Chaney got tired and Coach told me to stay in for him, so I got out there." To be sure Wright's skills rushing the passer suit him ideally for working the weak-side…but this staff feels free to try some twists and combinations that ought to keep opposing blockers guessing. And Wright has hit it off with his new boss splendidly.

"Coach Torbush has done real good. He knows what Coach Mullen is going to try to scheme-up and he has something right back for them! So every time something on the offense gets us, he's always got a backup plan."

Wright and his defensive teammates will likely learn some more new plans Tuesday when practices resume, this time back on the main workout fields. And, after a full day's classes as the new Mississippi State school year is underway. Still Wright leaves the ‘Farm' camp with a feeling of a job well-done because it was a good, productive two-a-days.

"Because when you're alone, away from everybody else, it's strictly football. You're away from the public and it makes you focus more on football, that's all we've been doing."

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