Meanwhile Mississippi State's players continue to make their own sort of noise in the final week of August training camp. The Bulldogs spent over two hours Wednesday working in full-gear, with the result graded as "A pretty good day," by the head coach in a quick briefing to media. Mullen is still keeping pre-season pressure on the Dogs, with just two more camp-type practices scheduled before the real game-week preparations get going.
And if the personnel need any reminders that they are still very much under close observation, they got it when Mullen stated jobs remain open. Make that, all jobs. Asked to comment about a particular area of the lineup, the coach expanded the answer to take in an entire team.
"I think there's a lot of battles," he said. "I don't think we're set at any position yet. I haven't looked down and said OK, this is how we're going to be. We're still looking at guys who can play, you know? We're not going to play one guy an entire game at any position; we're going to be rotating guys. We're trying to find guys that are ready to get on the field and go play."
Time would seem to be running short for this ‘tryout camp' sort of approach. But it is the best way Mullen knows at this point to keep pushing players to prove their place(s) in any gameplan State comes up with for Jackson State. So asking about any sort of depth chart right now is meaningless in Mullen's mind. Oh, he has ideas of how folk are stacking up. But just that.
"Like ones, twos, and threes? Guys that are going to play in a game? Everybody says ‘ones'; there are no ones to me. Our three-deep who will play in a game, we should know that by Sunday-ish. Nah, probably Wednesday of next week I would guess. Maybe."
Some areas remain in-flux based on health. The offensive line has had the only true injuries, but they were to first-teamers. One, first left tackle Derek Sherrod, has returned to full-contact work so both ends of the line are back in form. But first right guard Tobias Smith (ankle operation) is out for at least two more weeks. And when Smith came back post-practice to the Holliman Center on a cart, he had company; first center J. C. Brignone was riding in the front seat with a set of crutches, grinning at waiting reporters and saying nobody was seeing nothing.
Mullen confirmed it was a low-sprain of the left ankle, but not seemingly serious. "They tell me he should be able to go Friday; we'll probably hold him to Monday just to give him the extra days." In the interim though Brignone's injury could factor into how both right and left guard jobs are lined-up for the opening game. Mullen said Smith's replacement has not been picked yet.
"No, there are still different guys battling for that. And it depends on how (#2 center) D.J. Looney might do pretty good this week at center and we can move J.C. there (to guard). There's a lot more options still ahead of us." Veteran center Brignone played backup guard as a 2007 freshman and started once in a '08 pinch at left guard again.
Meanwhile Mullen is completely serious about battles for status. Including quarterback, where veteran Tyson Lee and Chris Relf continue to be regarded as co-starters by the boss. Here, too, being a ‘one' matters not at all in the big gameplan. "We'll play at least two in the first game," Mullen said. "If we need to play more, we'll play more!" Which is also as good as saying that when the Bulldogs play the Tigers they aren't just competing with a real opponent, they are always auditioning for duties the next week. And the next and the next and…
"It's always that way. It's always going to be competition to see. But by Wednesday we've got to have it all cleaned up, so then we'll know who is going to play in the game, who is going to do what. The first game we might try to play more guys than we might down the road and see. I mean, it's a lot different when you go in the stadium in front of 55,000 than when you're practicing in front of me! So we'll see how they respond to that."
The Bulldogs will have a pads practice Thursday evening, then partial-gear Friday evening to conclude camp. Well, at least the practice portion. "And we have a big Fan Day Saturday," reminded Mullen. Where the players should get to hear some real cheering and well-wishing, not just the taped stuff. "And then it's get ready for game week," the coach added, beginning with a Sunday practice.