Mullen Reports Big-Play Practice Day

Dan Mullen had not decided yet whether to be pleased or be concerned about how Thursday's practice played out. What he did state for-sure about the morning session will probably sound just fine to Bulldog fans, though. "It was a big-play day," Mullen said. "You know, it was a sack or a touchdown."

Ahhh, big plays. Whether by offense (preferable in most minds) or defense (nearly as welcome to hear of, too), such comments make for an encouraging commentary about the state of Mississippi State's preseason work. Because it sends a signal these Bulldogs aren't boring on either side of the ball as they prepare for the 2010 campaign.

It's a view Mullen can appreciate, within limits. "We just need to get more consistency," he said.

On the whole though the head coach has found a reasonably consistent level of both effort and execution to Bulldog practices this August. Perhaps not as much in the way of really big plays until today, but reports from camp have reinforced coaching comments about progress in many areas. As well as ongoing competition for depth-chart status at running back, wide receiver, and placekicker.

All good to hear and report…but nothing stirs hopes of success like a team that can make big plays on both sides of the ball. That was Thursday's theme according to Mullen. Yet even better to his mind was how well the team performed immediately after Wednesday's two-a-day sessions. Instead of a squad drained by the extra exertions, Mullen got to watch his club picking up Thursday morning where they'd left off.

"Yesterday afternoon was probably one of most intense practices," Mullen said. "And I was pleased with that. It's hard to keep that level the entire time and that's what we're working on. Keeping it very, very high level of intensity." It probably did not hurt that the Bulldogs had taken a more cautious approach Wednesday and moved inside the Palmeiro Center, something this staff prefers to avoid.

Not everything got full Thursday approval though. Mullen is putting higher expectations on an offensive line with four returned starters, a right guard finally able to operate at full-strength after two injury-limited years, and more depth than State has had for practicing and hitting in many years. This group didn't play badly today, exactly, but then neither did they perform as well as their counterparts.

"I think the defensive line did a great job. The one question is was the offensive line performing poorly, or the defensive line really improving? And I think a little bit of both. Our offensive line, we have some experience there, guys coming back, and you can get comfortable at times. You've got to really grind to continue to improve, guys who have played a lot of football."

At the same time and on second thought Mullen questioned how well the defensive secondary played in full-team situations, too. Interceptions were good; touchdown completions not so much. "The secondary didn't have a great day today."

Of course one other reason the head coach has brought an upbeat attitude to media meetings this preseason is because an area of the team he particularly favors has shown real improvement since last season. "I'm happy with what's going on with special teams," Mullen said. "I feel more comfortable coaching special teams this year. I've a little more experience doing it. And I think really here in year-two our guys understand the importance of special teams. Especially the older players. Some freshmen are getting harsh reality, of when they talk to the older players and all they talk about is special teams."

‘Harsh' as in ‘direct' he could have said. Every program talks a good game about kicking, returning, and covering. Mullen intends to see a good game, make that a better game than in 2009…and there wasn't an area of Bulldog special teams that wasn't already improved from the disastrous record of '08. A comparable rate of progress in '10 should be a real source of big Bulldog plays.

Which is why Mullen likes what he's seen in camp so far, to the point of claiming it has changed the tempo of all practice. In the locker room, too, for that matter.

"Offense might have a bad day, and defense has a good day; and you can have that back-and-forth. But when it comes to special teams if everybody doesn't perform at the highest level you watch out. Because the whole team is coming after you. So they're held to a very high standard."

Mullen did not have much specific to say about running back Montrell Conner's situation. The redshirt freshman was said to have left the squad after Wednesday's second practice, but the head coach regards him as still on the 2010 roster. "He's dealing with some personal thing right now," Mullen said, while not responding directly to questions of whether Conner practiced or not today. Or, what his status is with the squad. "When we get all that figured out we'll let you know what is going on."

Also, freshman receiver Michael Carr continues to practice though he still has not been cleared for 2010 playing eligibility. "I'd love to give you an update, but you've probably got to call Indianapolis to find that out," Mullen said. "I know he's done everything he's supposed to get done. He's worked really hard to do everything he needed to do, so now it's them putting a stamp of approval on at the NCAA." Though, since Carr has been able to practice pending-clearance, his work at receiver has won the coach's stamp of approval already.

The Bulldogs had a walk-through period Thursday afternoon, with most of the attention still going to special squads; who lines up where and goes what direction, etc. Friday finds the squad back in pads and on South Farm for a morning and afternoon session. They will practice once Saturday afternoon, but not scrimmage until August 20th.

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