While Tuesday's opening activities were split into two practices for separate halves of the current 105-man roster, it still counted as just one practice day in NCAA eyes since no player was involved with both periods. Divvying-up these Dogs had a productive purpose too as it allowed Mullen to give everybody more snaps, whether in unit drills, partial- or 11-man teams, than a typical all-team workout. Or if not more snaps there was a lot less standing around and awaiting a turn. Both Tuesday periods moved crisply.
Even during the afternoon session which managed to transition from outdoors to inside the Palmeiro Center due to a thundershower in barely ten minutes with little lost efficiency. Perhaps they didn't do the same workouts as players, but Phil Silva's equipment crew, the training staff under current supervision of Justin Gremillion, and Brock Dulaney's videographers showed they are in regular-season shape already.
The Bulldogs themselves assuredly look ready to at least practice and many of the veterans to play today. It may be just his second year with State but defensive tackle Fletcher Cox can speak fairly for the squad. "I mean, this is the best condition that we've ever been in. As a D-line, as a whole defense, as a whole team. We trained hard with Coach (Matt) Balis and do a lot of stuff in the summer to get ready for this time of year."
By the same token, even if the older Dogs weren't in prime preseason shape, they wouldn't dare show anything less to the new pups in town. Yeah, junior guard Quentin Saulsberry said, elder egos are involved here in sweltering season.
"It's always a pride point!" he laughed. More seriously, though, Saulsberry said veterans are expected to set the right example in everything, whether how they run a drill or what they say on the sideline between snaps.
"Because a positive attitude is just as powerful as a negative attitude, it will spread quickly if you come in with a bad attitude and next thing your whole team is down. If a young guy sees me pushing hard, I'm tired but I'm trying to step it up, he's going to do the same thing too."
Now Mullen is asking his freshmen and redshirts to do the same on-field things as their elders. Tuesday's morning session pairing the available rookie class with the starting sides provided frosh as much instruction from peers as from coaches. "Now when we get the full team together they're going to be more comfortable with how it works," Mullen said. The second- and third-teams will join starters and rookies Thursday for the first on-field time, though there has been plenty interaction already in summer workouts.
Admittedly—and wistfully it seemed--Mullen often mentioned Tuesday the old days when freshmen had their own three-practice mini camp before the varsity reported. In his first MSU preseason Mullen went by the traditional opening day with complete roster; this time around he altered things, nominally due to semester exams but realistically to get that much more individual instructing done with split-squads. Especially those frosh, who in almost all cases appeared to find their niche pretty smoothly. Most.
"It was their first day, we threw a lot at them," Mullen said. "But I was pleased. The goal with them was to learn how to practice with the older guys. Just how to run on the field, how to stretch, how to run from drill to drill, those are the important things right now. They'll get the scheme later on. What was important was getting the tempo we expect at practice."
Tempo understood, the pace of practicing will pick up tomorrow. Not the actual instructing, or not yet. Mullen did not speak with media after Tuesday's second session, and seemed quite let-down nobody had any more questions for him. For that matter Mullen was in an openly-upbeat mood all day, probably just from being able to get back on a practice field and do some coaching for the first time since April. In the morning session he spritzed water on fallen-out freshman receiver Michael Carr after heat got to the kid and teased the kid a bit. At times during the day he joked with media and fans watching from the sidelines, and the snapper-punter combo of Aaron Feld and Heath Hutchins actually dared pick at the boss over their assignments. To which Mullen only grinned more, blatantly enjoying himself.
Still the signs were clear by 6:00 pm that things are about to get preseason serious. Mullen told the team that everything the will work on these first few days has been installed and the same play-calling script will be followed Thursday. Which means they will be expected to run these plays, offense and defense alike, with familiarity and efficiency. And nobody will be cracking jokes about mistakes this time.
"I believe Thursday is going to be a much better practice though," said an optimistic safety Charles Mitchell.
Mississippi State appeared to survive opening day work as well as conditions—temperatures peaked at 105 degree before a thundershower interrupted the afternoon practice—with no real problems. The only issues were Carr (heat) and backup defensive lineman Josh Jackson (leg), neither serious. Carr was able to return to work on a limited basis, and Jackson limp to the locker room on his own power.
The first team two-a-day session is Friday, which is also open to media before camp is closed.