Mullen Carries Contented Tune About Practices

It must have been a satisfying practice. How else to explain Dan Mullen having some friendly fun in the media room Wednesday morning, such as when he picked up the FOX microphone in front and asked if he could sing? Sadly, the only request coming from this crowd was an evaluation of the morning practice, though Mullen was happy to comply with that too.

"It was good," he said. "It wasn't that hot today so we got some good work in where heat wasn't that much of a factor. We worked hard, I was pleased to see that."

The Bulldogs hit hard, too, since per preseason schedule Wednesday morning was booked as a full-pads and hard contact session. The larger portion of plays called were in the ground game as offense and defense alike hone the fundamental attack. Though, Mullen noted, there was some carry-over from Tuesday's drills.

"We cleaned up some red-zone work this morning, still need to clean that up offensively but it was better today than yesterday."

Since Mississippi State is just a week-and-a-half into practices, and four days into true ‘training camp' there are some limits placed on contact. True tackling-to-ground remains somewhat restricted so as to keep drills on schedule without too many delays. For that matter Mullen said that because the Bulldogs have yet to scrimmage there are a few aspects to individual performances that can't be evaluated in detail. Such as, who is running hardest and best at the ultra-competitive tailback position.

Still the coach is pleased with what he's seen so far in controlled contact as well as drills. For one, veteran Robert Elliot—the only tailback with a college carry to his credit so far—has practiced as an old hand should. "Robert is a hard worker, and that's what you want out of the running back position," Mullen said. What he doesn't want is a lot of chatter from the five Dogs doing battle for depth chart status, and they've obliged.

"Robert, Vick (Ballard), even (LaDarius) Perkins, those guys, you don't hear much. They just come in, do their job as hard as they can, they run off the field. Which is kind of what we're looking for." Mullen will look for a lot more from the backs this weekend when State does get serious about running into or away from tacklers. "It's kind of hard sometimes to see how many tackles would he break, how many long, special runs would he do," Mullen explained. "I'm not into that right now as much as making sure everybody is doing their job."

The often-overlooked fullbacks are doing their jobs, too. In one case maybe even more, as veteran Patrick Hanrahan is openly predicting a larger role for his group in ball-carrying. That too had Mullen amused today. "Yeah, he wishes. He's drawing up a lot of plays for the fullbacks this year!"

But seriously, folks… "For those guys we're just making sure we're utilizing them within the offense," Mullen said of proven blocking backs Hanrahan and Sylvester Hemphill. Then there's that redshirt fullback who is making some real camp noise in the most impressive manner. "William Shumpert is a pounder in there, he's still figuring it out but we call it ‘getting Shumped' and people get out of the way when he's running through a hole sometimes. There's a lot of tagging-off going when Shumpert is going through the hole."

The Bulldog defense has performed at the more consistent level thus far in 2010 camp, as expected. Speaking of expectations, Mullen has higher hopes for many of the defensive Dogs as they mature, whether redshirts who are due their first turn this fall or even classmates who got on the field as true frosh in 2009. Take Jonthan Banks, who has practiced as first-team cornerback after making a big (4 picks, two TDs) splash as a substitute safety the past season. Mullen said Banks is becoming a complete player now.

As are a couple of redshirts. Nickoe Whitley emerged from spring camp as a first-team safety, the spot Banks had last October-November, and nobody has budged him including a proven senior or talented redshirt classmate. And while senior K.J. Wright is bound to be on the field every play possible, redshirt Deonte Skinner is not an ordinary backup weak-side linebacker. Those are just a few cases Mullen can point to on a defense that is getting deeper, and better, all across the lineup.

"You know, some of the guys you start to see developing a little bit better, which is where you want to see it. Guys that we're depending on but are still young guys, starting to see some strides out of. You just see them growing as players, with the speed in which they're playing the game. On special teams you see them fundamentally in the right position. And they're doing it as football players now, where a lot of times before you'd see them doing it as an athlete."

It hasn't gotten as much attention as competition at tailback, quarterback, receiver, or some defensive backfield jobs. But placekicker has emerged as maybe the tightest contest on the club. Last fall, and even after spring camp, senior Sean Brauchle was the more consistent kicker and junior Derek DePasquale the longer-leg pick. Now? All gaps have narrowed according to the charts State's staff keeps in camp.

"Very, very close," is Mullen's grade to-date. "They've both been in pressure situations in games and responded in those situations. We create some tough situations now but as we get close to game-time we'll create some more high-pressure situations." Because as of today Mullen admits which would be told to run onto the field first. "And it wouldn't make that much difference," he adds. "I think they're that even right now.

"Sean has gotten more consistent and more pop on his field goals and longer kicks. And Derek has done a great job, we did some kickoff work today and he was booming down into the end zone. It's pretty dead-even, which is where you want to be. When your #2 is just as good as your #1 and you think your #1 is pretty good, you're in good shape."

The Bulldogs as a whole will show what physical shape they are in this afternoon during round-two of Wednesday's work. Just as on Monday, the non-contact period emphasis will lean towards passing plays, which means resumption of the three-way duel at quarterback and revolving receiver rotations. Jobs, as they say, are up for grabs, and Mullen says will remain so for a while longer.

"The first day of school is Wednesday the 18th, then we'll go three more practices after that and a big scrimmage. And that following week we'll get much more into game-mode where we need getting people ready. I don't know that the depth chart will be finalized by then but we'll really kind of organize who is getting ready to play in the game."

At which point, conference concluded, the coach grabbed that FoxSports mike and began crooning "Strangers in the niiii-ght…."

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