Relf Keeps Rising To Spring Camp Challenge

For all the spring emphasis on making Chris Relf a more complete package, there is still one aspect of his game coaches don't want to change. Nor have they. Because when the pressure was on Saturday the junior quarterback reminded everyone he can always beat a defense with his feet.

Twice during Mississippi State's weekend scrimmage Relf made his defensive counterparts pay for attempting to contain him with just one defender. The first time it was a sweep to the right end that Relf read rightly, cut inside coverage, and was gone over 60 yards for a touchdown. The second was a lot shorter but maybe more impressive. Because it was a red-zone play from the five yard line that, if not converted, would multiply post-practice punishment for the entire offense.

Relf took it on himself to get in…and did with another run-right and hard cut that finished with the quarterback carrying both the ball and a linebacker across the plane. Don't make the mistake of assuming Relf simply fell-back on old habits though; each occasion was actually evidence of how much he has matured in both experience.

And, confidence.

"Yes, I've been just working, working, and I feel more comfortable," said Relf following the scrimmage. A session where he also threw for a couple of touchdowns including a 60-yard strike caught in-stride by WR Chad Bumphis. Thus Relf scored with both feet and arm. "I had a pretty good day," he agreed…before showing another area he has matured by noting it wasn't a good-enough day.

"When we first came out we started out well. We didn't execute along the way, we did pretty good in the red zone. But I think we need to just go in and study our playbook and just come out here and do the right thing."

The good spring news at State is that Relf is doing plenty of right things, particularly in the passing plans. His ability to tuck the ball in and gain ground afoot is proven; in fact Relf looks an even better runner now thanks to some intensive reshaping of the physique. He's not heavier per se, and 240 pounds ought to be sufficient anyway. It is the decisiveness he is showing of when to, and when not to, haul the ball himself. Even allowing for the no-tackle red jersey (which bad-attitude Dog defenders have taken a few liberties with already) Relf appears the most reliable runner in State's stable for now.

Ahh, but it is the passing everyone wants to know about; to see if those creative, albeit unplanned, touchdown tosses that tipped the 2009 Egg Bowl balance in MSU's favor were just flashes…or signals of what Relf can become. So far? So good.

"Coach Mullen always tells me to be calm and if could just hit that guy, make the throws," Relf said. "It's just going out there and being confident on the field. Picking everything up and making the reads."

Teammates have commented since State ended last season with the rivalry win how much more confidently Relf has carried himself, on and off the field. Interestingly, this also is a reflection of the confidence those players have in their veteran quarterback. And those attitudes do feed off each other, so Relf said he came into this spring meaning to show he up to the responsibility.

"My goal is to be a leader on the field. Players are going to look at me as a quarterback and as a leader so I'm going to go out there and try to give it 100% in everything I do."

Relf gave the extra effort during pre-camp weeks, too, after coordinator and quarterback coach Les Koenning told him to work on throwing the ball. Three days a week, he did, and it has been paying off in real practices with better accuracy. "I think I improved that a lot," Relf said. He had to because redshirt Tyler Russell was out there those days, too, showing his own skills and accuracy of arm.

"Tyler is a great guy, he's young right now but I think he's going to pick it up well," Relf said. "When we go out there and throw I just tell him to try to do everything right." Though, Relf won't say if Russell returns any tips…or for that matter who is more accurate in informal sessions. "Uhhh, I don't know!" he just grins. And he's still smiling after a scrimmage when Russell had several impressive throws as well, particularly to tight ends, as well as one nifty uncalled keeper for a good gain. Maybe Relf's talents on the ground are rubbing off on the rookie?

"I see it as whoever goes out there and works the hardest, the best man wins," Relf said of the quarterback competition. Just don't take this as the older Dog trying to play nice with the kid. Because ask directly, and Relf gets serious. After sharing the job last fall he wants to be The Quarterback in 2010.

"I prefer being out there the whole time. I know Coach has high expectations for us, being in the system for a year now. So next year there will be expectations for us." Not to mention expectations of himself as a play-maker and team-leader. Oh, and talk of how much the Egg Bowl win gave him self-assurance at last? Relf doesn't want that over-stated either.

"I had confidence the whole year. It just moved my confidence up more. I don't think back on it much, I look at the future now and try to get better."

Which he needs to, because even with those big scrimmage plays and encouraging statistics the Bulldog offense was still required to do additional conditioning duty as the price of defeat. As in, the defense ‘scored' more points overall in Coach Dan Mullen's scrimmage accounting. Having to shove a sled carrying one of his quarterback cohorts back-and-forth across the practice field was a reminder to Relf that A) his 2010 has a pretty good defense, and B) room for offensive improvement is obvious.

"Yeah, they kind of confused us a little bit. They were sending a lot of blitzes and I think our o-line got kind of confused. But we'll be good." Spoken like a veteran ready for the responsibility of leading an offense and making things happen…running and throwing both.

"It's going to make me better, and I'm going to make them better," Relf said of this camp's competition.

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