Dogs Turn Focus To Ground Game Friday

Ironically, the head coach himself had participated in pre-practice warm-ups, running sprints and stretches alongside his players. But when the Bulldogs were ordered to line up for some post-practice gassers, Dan Mullen wasn't in any mood for fun. "Balis, you got ‘em."

Not words that Mississippi State players like to hear, of course. Fortunately the extra exertions consisted of just—easy enough for an observer to say—three trips forth-and-back on the practice field. The point was well-taken, too. Whether or not that wrap-up running had been planned anyway the Bulldogs understood that mistakes come with a price. In Friday's case, a fumbled exchange by first team center and quarterback during running game drills.

That miscue had Mullen shouting "We just lost on a turnover!" at the varsity offense, though the message was intended for the whole half-roster taking part in Friday's first session of a split-squad day. Just as on day-one, the first-team offense and defense with selected alternates were joined by true freshmen for one two-and-a-half-hour practice. The second- and third-teams followed an hour later and were still underway with drills as this was filed.

After those sprints, and a lengthy talk to the half-team, Mullen was in a better humor when asked about the energy displayed at the end. "From me, or the players?" he quipped. In fact the coach had no noted complaints with the effort given by this portion of the roster, whether in unit drills, seven-man, or full-team work.

Execution was the issue.

"We've got to be better," Mullen said. "Coming out here on a warm day you get a little adversity at practice, you have to toughen-up. This is what it is, training camp you find out what type of team you're going to have when you battle through a little adversity like this." To be fair the players had been warned this would be a more demanding day, as Mullen explained since only half the team was present everyone would have to work twice as hard.

However redoubled efforts were measured, the Bulldogs appeared to meet the demands. Friday was the third day of camp and the first with players donning shoulder padding. Thus after devoting the first two days almost entirely to throwing, catching, and covering, drills took a ground-bound turn this time. Friday was predominantly about running the ball.

"When you're not in shoulder pads you're going to be a lot more pass oriented," Mullen said. "So first day in shoulder pads we were able to install some more of the base run plays and get a little bit more run game in. You don't need pads in the pass game, pass rush and pass protection. It's a lot of moving your feet and being athletic."

The running backs were moving their feet too, though. With Robert Elliott and Vick Ballard taking first-team turns; and true frosh Nick Griffin as their backup, the ground got pounded early and often Friday. Redshirts LaDarius Perkins and Montrell Conner were saved for the second split-team session, which was to the benefit of fullback Patrick Hanrahan who got to tote the pigskin at least a couple of times himself in 7-on-7 work. Usually though he was blocking in multiple back sets, which Hanrahan managed to enjoy even on an official no-hitting date.

Elliott and Ballard had their moments in these drills, whether seven- or eleven-man, but the best runs were by quarterback Chris Relf. Defensive graduate assistant Marquase Lovings paid the price for not watching the offense one such play as Relf came bursting up the middle and ploughed the coach over. Mullen found that amusing. Linebacker K.J. Wright obviously wanted to stick the quarterback on another such carry but held back, only swatting at the ball as a reminder he had the open shot.

The freshman offense wasn't as effective, even though they were paired against an all-rookie defense. QB Dylan Favre and temporary center Dillon Day had serious exchange problems all afternoon with repeated fumbles or high snaps. Though a couple of times when the play went off Griffin got a chance to make some gains.

Wright was able to get a measure of revenge when drills shifted to 7-on-7 passing. He dropped a couple of steps into middle coverage and Relf hit him in the numbers for an interception. In freshman teams play Favre and TE Brandon Hill weren't on the same playbook page and the throw was picked by LB Christian Holmes.

For Friday there was one adjustment to the offensive lineup, as Chris Smith has moved into the first receiver rotation along with Chad Bumphis and Leon Berry. Brandon Heavens took a small step back to the second trio, a group that varies period by period with so many receivers to be fully evaluated. On defense, Johnthan Banks replaced Maurice Langston as first-team cornerback on the left side with Corey Broomfield still #1 on the right corner.

There were no injuries, though the offensive line got a short scare when right tackle Addison Lawrence stayed down after a run-drill collision. His right knee needed some attention but Lawrence was able to return for the next period. He limped through the next hour and in after-practice running was allowed to do sit-ups instead. Farve showed he can not only heave the ball, but simply heave; during a passing drill he stopped to deposit a quart of orange Gatorade on the turf, then got under center still in time to take the snap. WR Michael Carr is still acclimating himself to working in heat, too. He struggled in some drills and later was unable to do the gassers. Bumphis, Elliott, and Ballard were the first to complete the third gasser.

The Bulldogs are back to practice at 4:00 Saturday, again in shoulder pads but not on the same field. Starting tomorrow preseason moves to temporary quarters on South Farm, just as Mullen did last August in his first MSU preaseason.

"We go over to the farm tomorrow," Mullen said. "Their introduction days are over, training camp officially starts tomorrow. We're moving into the hotel tonight and we move practice out to the farm and find out who is tough and who is not once we got out there. It'll be us and the cows. And if we're working harder than the cows I feel pretty good."

The cows might not, though. Who knows, if the Bulldogs out-work everything in sight Saturday the bovines might hear Mullen giving them to Balis.

ADDENDUM: Friday's second session ended at 8:40, with the second- and third-teams having run the same drills and matchups as in the first session. QB Tyler Russell, who had put in a couple of erratic Tuesday and Thursday practices with his passing, was far sharper the third time out. His rotation-receivers did their share to help, too, with a surprising number of grabs for walk-on Krisjon Wilkerson in 11-on-11 work. The volunteer wideout paid the prices once, though, as after a catch LB Deonte Skinner managed to knock his helmet off on a reaching grab. Nobody was hurt.

But there was one late injury as backup DE Trevor Stigers went down in full-team play. He turned a knee and was taken to the training room for a look, though nothing serious was expected.

The full 105-man roster will reassemble for Saturday's practice at South Farm.

Gene's Page Top Stories