Well yes…and again no. Because last year Tyson Lee was the new guy at quarterback, the less-experienced (if a year older) transfer to one-year veteran soph Wesley Carroll. The pair spent four weekends alternating, though Carroll started each, before Lee was promoted to top-status the rest of the season.
Fast-forward to September 2009. Now Lee is the old Dog sharing practice snaps with third-year sophomore Chris Relf. Both of whom are being primed for opening-day duty against Jackson State (Scott Field, 2:30, ESPNU). It's a measure of Lee's level of personal poise, not to mention the obvious improvement in his younger cohort, that the senior is not offended by intentions to split the job. For that matter Lee is not discernibly bothered that Coach Dan Mullen has yet to name an actual ‘starter.'
It's just how the game is to be played under a new regime, and Lee likes his place in it whether calling the cadence or watching Relf by-turn. "I'm definitely more comfortable. Going in and out and seeing how the offense can still move the ball whichever quarterback is in there, it not only gives me confidence and Chris confidence but gives the other guys confidence as well."
To be clear, Mullen has intentionally not specified starters at many positions this week; nor does the new coach put a lot of emphasis on the traditional idea of ‘starters'. Much like his Bulldog roundball counterpart, Mullen is more interested in ‘finishers' that who technically takes the first snap. At the same time this is the quarterback, the guiding hand(s) as it were, who will put what coordinator Les Koenning and Mullen call into action. And hopefully production.
"I guess you could see it as different because the quarterback is involved in every play," agreed Lee. "But as far as the personnel on the field, I think with the kind of offense we're running and the different things we're doing I think it will be just fine doing it either way."
And as for disrupting any offensive rhythm, Lee can see the point. Just not a reason for worry in this case. "It could happen especially playing two quarterbacks with the tempo and definitely the chemistry. But throughout practices it's going well, it hasn't really let up any. So I think based on practices and based on what we've done it can be just as successful as a one-quarterback system."
It won't be just the triggermen sharing a job this week, either. Koenning will be posted upstairs making the initial call, then going through the boss before an aide makes the signals. It's an entirely new ‘team' as well so both quarterbacks will have to be on their cleat-toes to avoid any mix-ups. Lee says it's helped that Mullen has been involved with practice-day planning, joining the quarterback meetings with Koenning at some point every day.
And as for who has the final say, at least before the quarterback(s) take over, "Coach Mullen knows the offense better than anybody so based on that he has a lot to say with it." Ahhh, but won't Lee be the one having the final say on the play? "Right, right!" he grins. "But he calls the play and I just try to execute it!" Alright then, based on preparations so-far how does Lee anticipate the Koenning-Mullen combo calling this first game? Will the Bulldogs try to play things safe in the debut or throw everything on the field and see what works? For his part Lee expects being ordered to just move the ball. Otherwise he's got few clues about how this staff wants to approach their first real competition of 2009.
"I really don't know how to answer that question as far as expectations. Really just whatever we do in practice I continue doing that. I think he'll kind of be aggressive with the play-calling but at the same time whatever he feels needs to be done and depending on how we're doing throughout the duration of the game I think will really determine how plays are called." Which is a longer way of saying, show up and see for yourself.
Lee does expect to see lot of aggressive play from the opening foe. Besides the usual game-week scouting materials, the senior has already spent quite a few summer days in the Holliman Center checking out videos of the Tigers from last season. What stands out to the quarterback is Jackson State's defensive speed, and when a SEC veteran says another team can run that word must be taken seriously. At the same time Lee thinks the Bulldog offense should up their on-field pace in 2009 as well. It's partly because this ‘spread' offensive scheme is designed around the roster's athletic abilities. And, partly because that has been upgraded by the arrival of some young runners and catchers.
Look for a lot of rookies to make their college debuts this first weekend chance. "I'm confident in all of them," Lee says. "They got here in summer and really, really worked, but since the summer they've got in the playbook and understanding what we're doing. I think with the way they've been practicing and handling things Coach has a lot of confidence. And so do we."
For that matter the Bulldogs go into this season with a reasonable degree of confidence, tempered by many squad memories of how last year opened. And, knowing that Jackson State will give every atom of effort in this first-ever meeting of Southeastern Conference and a Southwestern Athletic Conference clubs on a gridiron. Still, it's clear Mississippi State players intend to show the football world something about themselves, not merely take care of business.
"Oh, definitely," Lee says. "Any time you're playing you want to make a statement. Being the first game of the season that's what we're trying to do. But more than making a statement we want to execute and play our game. And if we play our game and we execute I think we have a chance of making a statement."