And, the most enjoyed by the boss. "I liked the energy that we had today at practice," Coach Dan Mullen said following the first full-team session of preseason. The first date, Tuesday, had been a split-squad schedule. This time all 105 Bulldogs were on the same field, same time, and same goals.
"The practice set-up was a little different than Tuesday," said Mullen. "A little less individual, a little bit more team stuff." Or a lot more team stuff, including full-unit drills for both passing and running plays as well as defensive instruction. This after almost as much time was spent in 7-on-7 periods. Mullen had told the team Tuesday that nothing new was to be installed on day-two of camp; that this would be their day to execute what was taught the first time.
On the whole, Mullen was pleased how both sides of the squad put plans into action all evening. It certainly met one of his preseason goals set back in April.
"The one thing we hope, is when you come back in the fall is that you're not starting behind; that you're at least at the point we left in spring, and improved. And looking at how we ran around today I think we're at least where we left off if not better than in spring."
There were no real changes in terms of lineups from where the team ended spring training, at least not on the first- and second-squads. Differences consisting of freshman faces new for fall were showing up on the third unit, and showing up impressively. For that matter a couple of rookies got to take some second-team turns, and in the wide-open, wide receiver rotations new Bulldogs are making the most immediate bids for depth chart status.
Friday morning an early evaluation of that dept chart will be posted.
Actually the first true ‘team' work of this day was by special teams. Specifically, the punt protect and rush units, which went full-speed short of hitting the kicker. Which was comforting to Heath Hutchins and Derek DePasquale as the onrushing teammates didn't seem about to stop. Nobody was back fielding the kicks in this drill, though later in the evening wide receivers Chad Bumphis, Leon Berry, Brandon Heavens, and freshman Michael Carr practiced catching high throws. In warm-ups S Charles Mitchell got to catch a punt or two as well.
Of course the defensive backs were able to catch their share of passes too. At that point of practice Mullen decided that there had been sufficient attention paid to the running game and made it all-air, all the time. It would have been a good time to charge admission because both sides put on a show as opportunity presented.
First-team QB Chris Relf had an efficient day. Though one of his throws in 7-on-7, an out-route try for WR Heavens, got picked, that was just a fine play by safety Mitchell reading and reacting. Relf had no other turnovers, and in 11-on-11 showed a starter's poise under a rush and hit TE Kendrick Cook for twenty yards. Not allowed to scramble as he would in a game Relf stood in and delivered catchable balls or at least throws that could not be caught by the defense.
It was more feast-and-famine for second quarterback Tyler Russell. An early attempt to go deep for Chris Smith ended up in the hands of CB Louis Watson during 7-on-7. Russell responded as, when given an extra half-second, he laid one over two converging defensive backs where impressive freshman slot receiver Jameon Lewis could pull it in behind them and go the distance. Lewis would get another chance later in single coverage and beat it deep for an in-stride catch.
But in 11-on-11 Russell, blitzed by the interior linemen, tried to throw anyway and his deflected dying-duck ended up in the hands of backup CB Damein Anderson for a go-the-distance return. Another throw over the middle for RB Montrell Conner was picked by DE Trevor Stigers.
Rookie Dylan Favre got as many turns as his elders in drills, also with mixed results. Under rush by rookie linebacker Christian Holmes, the freshman dropped his arm slot and fired a sidewinder bullet to an open Smith. But he might have had too much confidence in the arm strength because an attempt to check-off and fire to the sideline was picked by reserve linebacker Mark Lynn and run back all the way. Later a forced throw was intercepted by CB Dexter Shelton.
Still there were enough completed throws to keep the coaches content on the whole. State continued showing some of the shorter ‘passes' first revealed Tuesday, too, such as shuffle-throws. On day-one it was to TE Marcus Green and worked for a big gainer. This time it was backup RB LaDarius Perkins turning the interior flip into a break-it-long.
None of this had the defensive staff unhappy though. When both sides were making plays, both halves of the staff had something to like about day-two tape. And what did the head coach like best? Why, how the practice moved along in all aspects over the full evening. It was an efficient session showing some lessons have been learned.
"Our guys understand how to practice now," Mullen said. "I think there's a lot to practicing without pads and understanding that nobody is winning a job on the field today; they're working to get better. So they're not diving around or falling to the ground or being sloppy, they're practicing fundamentals, technique, and speed to get better."
The next chance for improvement starts after 3:00 in the first of two Friday sessions, these in helmet-and-shoulder pads. "We're going to split them up again tomorrow and do more teaching," Mullen said. "Then bring them back together Saturday for more team stuff."
And, assuredly, more contact…no matter how little padding anybody wears. That's the tone the Bulldogs are taking in year-two of the Mullen era. Hit and get hit, practice and improve is how Carmon sees it.
"It's really nothing but competition. We're out here trying to compete. We're not trying to be like last year or year-before-that MSU; we're really trying to prove a point to the SEC and the whole world that we can compete with the best. And I think that's what we're going to do."