"It's all in the legs and the chest part, where it counts," McRae proudly proclaims.
Of course in McRae's case there is much to be said for heart-and-mind as well, given the last image anyone had of him in a game uniform. The account of his leg snapping in Oxford while merely making a cut; the emergency run to Columbus for surgery; the long recovery and tough rehabilitation; and his return in time for controlled spring practice; it's all been well-covered. And McRae's work in both spring and preseason has been encouraging as he completes a very long comeback.
Not, he says, that it's entirely done. As of now McRae evaluates himself as "95 percent" strength. He'd hoped to be full-speed in time for opening game and coming off the practice field this week he let some frustration show. "I'm doing alright. I'm not doing as good as I want to, still having little problems. I don't want to say too much." Because, after all, he's gone nine months now without open complaint about the (literally) bad break. Admitting any lingering issues might come across the wrong way under pre-season circumstances.
But pressed, McRae does acknowledge lingering after-effects that have shown up under the increased stresses of August work. "Maybe I've got to get a little rust knocked off," he muses. It'd be surprising if that did not happen given how hard the Bulldogs are being pushed, especially with the demands placed on a wide receiver corps that is key to making the spread-offense operation.
And most obviously, McRae has higher expectations of himself as the ‘old Dog' in his unit. So anything less than best is bound to leave him unsatisfied. "I ain't doing nothing spectacular," he evaluated the last couple-weeks of camp. "I'm just trying to lead my team, lead my unit, and as long as they're doing good I'm happy."
Well, them, how good is the unit doing these days? Results and thus reviews by coaches and players alike have been mixed over the course of training camp; not surprising for a system that bears no resemblance to what these Bulldogs tried to execute in previous seasons. One week the air game sputters, the next it clicks in grand style, while regularly Coach Dan Mullen expresses concerns about the overall strength of the wideout group.
Individual strengths? That brings more encouraging words. State may not have the true do-everything receiver to begin this season but there are guys who've shown they can run a route and catch a pass. Maybe when he gets to 100% McRae will fill the bill; regardless he is bullish on Bulldog aerial offense this fall.
"Oh, as far as passing it's looking good," he insists, adding that all three regular quarterbacks are getting on the proverbial same-page with their targets as opening day nears. In fact, he says it's "no problem at all" in drills when triggermen change play by play. "When Chris Relf or Tyson Lee are in there it's like you don't miss a beat. And Tyler Russell is right behind them. They're all good to me."
It's also good to McRae that with game-week upcoming coordinator Les Koenning has cut back on the installation and turned to honing what the pitch-and-catch Dogs do every day. "Oh, yeah, because just learning the plays that day and having to out there and run them was a tough deal. It's easier now that we just know the plays and go out and execute."
Along that line, it's been easier for the newest kids in camp to get with the gameplan since settling on a preliminary playbook. Mississippi State is absolutely counting on contributions from freshmen this fall, and the elder Dog has been pleased with the way most rookies have jumped into the practice action. For examples, "Chris Smith is looking amazing," McRae relates, "Brandon Heavens is making a lot of big plays." Prior to hurting a foot so was Chad Bumphis. McRae even sees walk-on Taylor Reed as a factor this fall.
Which doesn't mean youth is all that will be served in 2009. McRae and spring transfer Leon Berry remain at the forefront of the receiver rotations with O'Neal Wilder, Tay Bowser, Charles Bailey, Andrew Ellard, et.al. taking their turns. Maybe no one Dog catcher will emerge as the nominal ‘go to guy' in the mix, but that's not necessarily a worry; not if a lot of names are called every game day after receptions.
"We're just looking good as a unit," repeats McRae, showing his faith in State's improved passing prospects. "Running the ball is always going to be there, with Anthony Dixon, Christian Ducre, Robert Elliot, Arnil Stallworth. And we've got little Montrell Perkins. So it's looking good for us." OK, so the senior wideout mixed up the names of those rookie running backs Montrell Conner and LaDarius Perkins; there was bound to be some point where ‘BMac' exposed his well-developed jester side.
But it's time to set the jokes aside and get serious about opening this senior season right. And yes, Brandon McRae is very serious about 2009. "I'm putting a lot of pressure on myself because it's getting close to the season and I want to show off for my fans."