Dogs Make Mullen Smile With Tuesday Energy

Coach Dan Mullen called it a "specialty practice." Yet what he liked best out of Tuesday's preseason session was something that could hopefully become really special about the 2010 Bulldogs. "Guys were flying around at the end of practice and making plays, and that's what we want to see."

Effort was the order of the morning session, the only practice Mississippi State has scheduled for Tuesday. Sure, Mullen and staff were working for progress in all sorts of technical areas as they settle into the preseason routine. And they will spend the afternoon evaluating those results whether in full-squad or specific unit reviews.

Which is why Mullen was able to discuss more intangible aspects to the morning session that came in just under three hours at the temporary South Farm training camp facility. "I like to look a lot more coming off the practice field at the overall," Mullen said. "And watch the film to get the individual. But the overall, I was pleased with the effort."

Actually Bulldog coaches had some initial concerns in this area. The players were coming off Monday's initial two-a-day date, and quite the grueling sessions they were. So naturally Mullen had reason to wonder just how much spring would be in Mississippi State steps when everyone assembled this following morning.

"When we started it was a little bit slow at the beginning," he reported. "And you get a little bit worried when the energy is not high right at the beginning. But it turned and the energy, I loved how we finished."

Because it was a single practice date the Dogs had to be selective about what parts of the 2010 gameplan they wanted to address most. Thus the ‘specialty' label given by Mullen which wasn't a direct reference to special teams…though some of these of course get a look every day during the week's scripting. In this case he meant putting special Tuesday emphasis on both red zone and goal line work for both the offense and defense; the tough stuff where games can be won and lost on any snap. In keeping with the tone set last spring these plays required all-out effort, and likely that factored into turning the tone of the entire practice.

At the same time the offensive staff is trying to get a lot, a whole lot, done with the spread system's key play maker. There may be a perceived pecking-order at the quarterback position, and since junior Chris Relf is the only SEC-seasoned veteran he does indeed deserve the top spot on any depth chart.

But for practice purposes all orders were left in the locker room Tuesday as Mullen and staff did some pretty clever shuffling. And interestingly the resulting opinion was that quarterback play this day was better than Monday despite shifting squads.

"We're moving guys around," Mullen said. "One of the things we're doing is letting the quarterbacks play with each huddle and see how they respond. We let (freshman) Dylan Favre go with the 1s some, we put Chris Relf with the 3s, and jumbled them all around into the different huddles to see how they responded, how Chris can be a leader with that group. We had (redshirt freshman) Tyler Russell with the 1s and Favre with the 2s, and just moving everybody all around the place.

"So I think that went pretty well. And the guys picked it up from yesterday and there was some good leadership from the quarterback position."

The Bulldog bottom line remains that veteran Relf is being counted on to set a old Dog's pace this preseason, much as he did in spring coming off his November '09 breakthrough winning the Egg Bowl. Mullen said that Relf is showing progress in the off-field aspects now.

"He's coming along. He's not real vocal leader, but he is really come a long way. The guys on the team believe in him, and he's a hard worker. He's not your rah-rah guy but he does do a good job of leading by example." This doesn't mean though that anything is set in stone at this pivotal position; Russell and Favre are getting every chance to make their own preseason cases for season status.

The same holds for other play-making positions, such as the five-man battle at tailback and wide-open contests for spots in the multiple-receiver rotations. Yet Mullen, much as he likes how players are trying to out-do their fellow Dogs, is not evaluating practices as true ‘competitions' just yet. Soon, but not right now. The head coach has other ideas about what this time of preseason is about.

"I don't know if it is one position as much as everyone playing. You see a lot of development now. The wide receivers are taking giant strides every single day but that's because they're young guys. If they weren't we'd be in trouble. Last year a lot of them just played on talent; now you're watching them run routes the right way, understand leverages, understand coverage, trusting in their techniques. You're seeing a lot of improvement out of that position."

And most positions, including a defense that again showed the level of energy Mullen likes today. The same, or even more, will be demanded from now through the end of training camp to keep collective progress coming. There won't be a second practice today but the Bulldogs were coming back soon enough following the lunch break for other afternoon assignments.

"It was our one-a-day today so we'll get some walk-throughs and our guys will get a lift in with Matt Balis today, maintain their strength levels," Mullen said. Tomorrow picks up on the same sort of schedule as Monday, too. "Oh, yeah. Every time we have two-a-days the morning will be full pads and run emphasis, and the afternoon will be pass emphasis again."

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