"It was good work this morning," he said, a positive sign considering that the Bulldogs are now in full-padding and spent Monday morning making full and frequent contact as they work into the preseason rhythm. This practice, as are all remaining preseason sessions, was closed, leaving Mullen and players as the only sources of reports.
The coach didn't waste any time getting to the final ‘score' though, giving the defensive Dogs his nod for the overview. "I thought they came out, played hard, performed at a higher level."
This probably should have been expected, of course. Defense typically does set the early-camp pace, and more to the 2010 point because this Bulldog unit is well-stocked with veterans and backups who have bought quickly into the aggressive schemes planned by new coordinator Manny Diaz. Another reason though is that Monday's full-pads plans were to focus first on ground gaining. And, as was proved this first time out, run stopping.
"When we go two-a-days we have a real heavy emphasis on the run game in the morning. First down, play action. It was a pretty physical practice, full-pads." Even with play-action the Dog defense had a fair idea the ball would be staying on the ground, lending enough advantage that the offense couldn't overcome often enough.
Not, Mullen added, that execution was any better when the ball was being thrown.
"The quarterbacks were a little off today. In our offense if the quarterbacks are going to be off it's going to be an ugly day for the offense."
That had to be a little bit of letdown given the impressive pace set in opening week work by veteran Chris Relf, and the fast rate at which redshirt Tyler Russell came on towards the end of the week when the quarterback race tightened-up a lot. Though, coaching review belied sideline impressions with Russell as Mullen said he didn't know if the redshirt freshman had been off much at all in those days he worked only with the second and third offenses.
"He's been pretty good the whole time," said Mullen, or at least up to now. "It wasn't great this morning." Which applied to all passers for that matter. The coach said that throwing, as well as catching, takes center stage in the second Monday session.
"So we've got to come back and clean it up this afternoon. Afternoons will be helmets and shoulder pads and we'll be a lot more pass-game oriented, drop-back and third downs."
In the opening week, which was non-contact officially if not always actually, Mississippi State freshmen were exposed to as much instruction as they could handle along with lots of practice snaps. In fact Mullen's change in practice scheduling, splitting the roster in half two of the days, meant more repetitions and opportunity for the newcomers than Bulldog rookies have had since the NCAA did away with the old three-day freshman acclimation camp. It was of obvious benefit to all the first-year Dogs and a few even managed to stand out such as receiver Jameon Lewis, running back Nick Griffin, linebacker Christian Holmes, and so on.
Full-padding, full-contact, and a full-out pace of practicing is underway now, and made the freshmen look, well… "Like freshmen," Mullen said. Which means the head coach is not at all bothered that these new kids have been slapped in the facemask with the inevitable reality-check training camp is supposed to provide high school hotshots.
"The funny thing seeing freshmen is they figure how to go hard," Mullen said. "They think they're going hard when they're actually not. That is a learning curve." Which becomes all the more evident when a prep superstar is suddenly knocked on his ego by a SEC veteran who knows tricks only training and experience can provide. Then there is the sheer effort factor. Mullen said a great example is showing the rookies tape from special teams.
"Watch them covering a punt, after the drill they're going to think they went real hard; you go back and watch it on tape and they watch themselves you can ask them is that as fast as you can run. And to a ‘T' every single one of them says no. Even though on the field they think they're going that fast." They are going fast by high school standards. This is the next level and everything accelerates, which is what this particular week will teach a freshman class that even with hard knocks looks more than able to live up to expectations. In time.
"The learning curve of the speed of the game and how hard you have to play the game in college is the thing they take the longest as freshmen to catch up to," Mullen said. The trick for Mississippi State coaches is to push that curve as fast and far as practical in August, without breaking anyone's spirit. Which the coach knows full-contact scrimmage can do if the young pups aren't handled with care.
"One of the key things we're trying to teach our guys is adversity. Especially with young players. One of the easiest things for young players is drop a ball, miss a throw, fumble a handoff, blow a coverage on defense, and the first thing they do is drop their head. What you'll notice is the next bad play is even worse and the following play is even worse after that.
"Part of learning the adversity is that if you make a mistake that's fine, you'd better have a quick memory, erase it, and get on and make the next play."
Or the next practice, as training camp on South Farm continues now up to the opening day of fall semester classes.
Per a policy announced on Saturday, Mullen did not offer any injury news or updates.