It was not exactly a day-off for anyone, of course. "Nah, they worked," said Mullen. "Our older guys came out the beginning part and worked. And these young guys who don't get a lot of reps in games it was great to get them a bunch today in a scrimmage situation." But the Mississippi State coach also allowed a noticeably lighter air around the session, even cracking some smiles himself at times as opposed to the normal intensity of game-week work.
Further evidence of the eased atmosphere was opening the practice to observation, whether fans—who did their part by showing the colors in Lexington in good numbers—and media members getting their first real look at a Bulldog practice since early August. Good mood, indeed.
Even so there was some work to be done. The State staff has already begin initial preparations for next weekend's home game with Alabama. But that's for later as Tuesday was in many ways a return to an August-like practice approach. "This bye week gives us a chance to really hone-in on some fundamentals that you might lose a little bit as the season goes on," said Mullen. "So I was pleased with that. We're into the flow of the season but we're going to do some things on a lot of fundamentals this week."
That suited the varsity Bulldogs just fine. "The last time I went against the ones was in two-a-days," noted Wright, who welcomed a break from taking on scout-teammates. "So it was real fun going against them and trying to get back into what we do."
There were some team-like periods Tuesday but for the most part the units drilled on their own, going over areas that indeed do tend to atrophy during a season. Ball protection was the order of the day for offense and seemed to go well; while all three defensive areas practiced strips, deflections, knocking balls free, and such. Though full-gear was worn contact by the varsity was kept to a minimum. That was for the scrimmaging period.
In that concluding period lots of players who see minimal game action if any stayed behind to round out complete offensive and defensive teams, particularly on the lines of scrimmage where very few freshmen are being redshirted. For example, the offensive front was RT Phillip Freeman, RG Mark Melichar, C D.J. Looney, LG Gabe Jackson, LT Chris Spencer. Third OC Sam Watts is the only other redshirting blocker. To flesh out the defensive squad older hands like LaMarcus Williams and Rodney Prince scrimmaged along with former starting CB Damein Anderson and backup LB Jamie Jones.
True frosh scrimmaging on offense were led of course by QB Tyler Russell who ran three of the four series. He had either Montrell Connor or LaDarius Perkins as the usual halfbacks, though walk-on Adrian Marcus had the best run of the scrimmage taking a handoff from fellow volunteer and QB Daniel Stegall in his one series. Russell was able to throw for rookie receivers Dennis Thames and active frosh Chris Smith along with some older walk-ons and redshirts like Charles Bailey, and William Shumpert alternated at fullback/single back.
Defensively, Cameron Lawrence already plays regularly on special teams but hung around to scrimmage at one safety alongside redshirting Nickoe Whitley. Deonte Skinner was working at strong-side linebacker and Johnathan McKenzie at left defensive end. There are 11 scholarship freshmen for 2009 who have yet to play this season and now are presumably redshirting, though Russell has dressed for all but the Kentucky game and McKenzie has made some road trips of his own.
A handful of veterans were either limited or held out of today's practice. RB Christian Ducre is coming off a bone bruise in the third quarter at Kentucky; it originally looked as if ligaments were strained but this happily is not the case and Ducre is on a routine rehab schedule. "We expect him for Alabama," Mullen said. OG Tobias Smith, inactive the last three games with ongoing ankle issues, was practicing in most line drills today and stayed after for extra conditioning running.
RB Arnil Stallworth (hip) practiced some today as well, while special teamer and backup S Wade Bonner (knee) was limited to just running. "Our approach is getting them ready for Monday," Mullen said. Reserve OG Templeton Hardy (dislocated elbow) has a heavy wrap on the right arm and unlikely to see action soon.
But even the healthy Bulldogs welcome the more relaxed and even entertaining at times tone of these practice days. "We're really enjoying this," said Wright. "It's somewhat a learning practice this week, just getting our fundamentals back, and getting an edge on Alabama."
Mullen said Wednesday's practice will look a lot like today's did. "The older guys will practice a little bit longer and the scrimmage with the younger guys a little less. But very similar." And might tomorrow be also similar in that it is open to media observation? Mmmaybe. "I'll think about it," Mullen grinned. "See the mood I'm in tomorrow and what we've got going!"
State players will be off this weekend but not most of the staff as they will be out recruiting by Thursday evening. That includes the head coach. Mullen will hold his weekly call-in show in a different address this time, from the Fairpark Grill in Tupelo from 7:00-to-8:00, before he flies on to a variety of visit sites.