Nor is it a tongue any Bulldog can really expect to master over just one semester's instruction. Give Ballard and other spring newcomers credit though as they attempt to get up to spring-speed during Mississippi State's ongoing practices. 2010 camp resumes Thursday afternoon with the fourth session. After last week's workouts, Ballard was initially left in something of a Dog daze.
"It didn't go too good for me the first day, because I'm still learning the offense. But I think when I learn the offense I'll be alright."
Coach Dan Mullen and the offensive staff are counting on it. And after getting over the first-day shock of another way of speaking and thinking, Ballard was looking like a pretty quick learner. Not to mention strong runner.
Proof? When the head coach gave the varsity offense a last-chance challenge to avoid extra wind sprints following the practice, guess who got the call? Needing to score from a yard out, do-or-die, it wasn't veteran quarterback Chris Relf keeping; nor veteran HB Robert Elliott on a sweep; nor impressive redshirt freshman Montrell Conner.
Nope, it was the juco All-American taking the handoff and crashing left guard for the yard, the score, and a very happy--not to mention relieved--offense. For that matter Ballard was the most productive back in goal-line work Saturday whether at the start or finish of contact drills. In the process he showed he didn't just get all those yards, touchdowns, and awards at Mississippi Gulf Coast C.C. by avoiding tacklers, that he can go into the pile and gain ground at the college level too.
Ballard was signed in December to provide immediate help. With record-setting runner Anthony Dixon moving on to the professional ranks, and the graduations of cohorts Christian Ducre and Arnil Stallworth, juco Ballard joins veteran Rob Elliot and redshirts Conner and LaDarius Perkins to make up the new Bulldog backfield.
As his junior college record shows Ballard is expected to make a real run at the job. He rushed for over 1,700 yards last fall with 22 touchdowns and was fourth in the NJCAA in game average gain. And for a lightly-recruited back out of Pascagoula, juco ball was a great venue to hone his game and show his stuff. Now he's making the transition to a SEC offense, and while as Ballard notes the moves are similar enough the nomenclature is very different.
So, he adds, is that stack of plays handed him upon arrival in Starkville. "It still surprises me every day," Ballard said. "It surprises me every time I look at the book. It's pretty in-depth, pretty big." This from a fellow who played for a coach, Steve Campbell, who has a fairly extensive playbook of his own. But this is exactly the opportunity Ballard was looking for when colleges came with offers, and why Mississippi State was his best choice. Even, he agrees, if it means competing with backs of similar skills.
"I mean it's always good to have a challenge to see where you're at. It just makes you work harder."
On day-one of his first State camp, Ballard found himself working harder on the passing game than the usual ball-hauling. Naturally this had something to do with the language barrier since in JC ball running exacting routes was not his prime responsibility. Also, he admitted, "I think I'm a little out-of-shape from spring break. I worked out like, two times, but the rest of the time I sat at the house. If you take off a day it's going to take a toll on your body."
Added to that, early in drills some mixed-messages in the huddle resulted in a collision, with a teammate's knee hitting Ballard's thigh and leaving him with a limp. "But it ain't nothing the cold tank can't take care of," he said, and proved as the week went on. When he got the right routes, and the ball was delivered, Ballard showed he could pull in a pass.
And when the backs did get to do some real running Ballard fit the spread-option sets nicely with good moves getting outside and around the corner. An undefended corner, albeit, given that extended scrimmage work begins next week.
That's when the serious unit competition gets going too as Mullen and ground game coordinator John Hevesy reevaluate their backfield depth chart based on each day's results. Whoever comes out of camp first, Ballard likes the outlook.
"I think we're going to be alright. We'll come to practice and work hard every day, we're going to be pretty good."
Mississippi State is back on the practice fields Tuesday at 3:45, then again on Thursday and Friday before holding the first full scheduled scrimmage this Saturday.