"They've been getting after it and playing pretty well," said Koenning. "We evaluate the film every day, in every way, and they're doing a good job."
The first film watched of course is of the first quarterback in the (perceived, at least) order. Being the only game-tested triggerman on the 2010 roster would have given junior Relf an advantage anyway. Just not so much of a margin that the lone veteran could count on his resume to stay in front of this pack.
To his credit Relf has first accepted, then responded to the challenge of earning this job on current efforts. Koenning has seen no signs that the fourth-fall junior is taking the situation for granted. After all, the coach notes, "Chris came in last year in the same position. He was competing with Tyson Lee." A competition won by the then-senior of course, but when the last game of 2009 was in the balance Relf rose to that occasion and staked his own claim to being top Dog. He's carried it on into '10 with encouraging results.
"It's been a good deal for him. The good thing about Chris, he's been through the offense for one year so he understands everything and how we want to do things. And it's been very helpful for him. When you watch him, he's done a really, really good job for us in the throwing game. We know he can run, and he's improved in that area and that's been very helpful for us."
Running is of obvious interest in this case since Koenning also coordinates this aspect of the gameplan along with backfield coach Greg Knox. Fact is Relf is probably the best runner on the roster regardless of where he lines up, and his knack for the ground game makes him a true all-around threat in Mississippi State's expanding system for 2010. Especially as he improves both field awareness, target selection, and ball delivery via the air.
Then there are the intangibles a veteran should provide.
"I really can see the difference in Chris this year," Koenning said. "I can see his demeanor, I can see his leadership qualities, I can see his confidence. All of those are important parts to being successful. When you have some success it helps you, too. His last game he played he did a really nice job and we've just been feeding off that."
At the same time no coach, position or coordinator or head, has filled-in Relf's name on the September 4 lineup. Not yet. "We really haven't started working on opponents or anything like that," said Koenning. "We're getting our system in and finding out what we can do and what they can do. Then we're going to go from there."
What is making this preseason competitive is finding out what redshirt Russell and true frosh Favre can do, and over two weeks each has demonstrated their own strengths and potentials. Odd as it seems, with media focus on veteran Relf and fan curiosity about rookie Favre, it is Russell who has slipped into the publicity background…odd for someone who came to campus last fall as one of the best quarterback prospects from this state in years.
Not to worry. Russell has no interest in pub at this point anyway, and Koenning likes how the second-fall kid has gone about preseason business. "Tyler has done a really good job. So we're excited about the outcome of that position and hopefully we keep improving."
And the best motivators for improvement for all these underclassmen is understanding that their coaches are stating fact: the job is there for the taking and the best Dog will play. Make that, Dogs, because Coach Dan Mullen has a proven record of getting more than the starter in the game. So being #1 or #2, or for that matter #3, is not an official big deal in terms of playing time.
In terms of player pride? Now that's another matter, and Koenning sees this at work in a good way as well.
"Just like in high school for Tyler and Chris, they were the best guys on the team. Now you have all three competing which has made it easier for me. Because you can walk in the meeting room and feel the pressure coming. It's not the coaches putting the pressure on, it's each other. They're competing and it's been really fun."
Especially watching a new kid with a big arm, which is Favre to a ‘t'. Or, a spread. There is obviously so, so much the first-fall passer has to learn about the college game in general and Mullen's schemes in particular. But then Favre brings something that coaching can't provide.
"Whatever he throws…whoever he throws to, he hits it," Koenning said, with a big grin. "He doesn't miss very often and as a quarterback that's a great trait." So is mental toughness, too, and in his very first preseason week Favre got an unexpected chance to show some. During a 7-on-7 passing drill, with regular defensive coverage and the play-clock running, Favre was walking up under-center only to pause, turn, and douse the turf with a lot of orange Gatorade. He looked at Koenning who was all sympathy…
"I told him to get back in!" the coach laughed. "That's part of growing up, you're not going to die from throwing up. He looked at me and I was uh-uh, get back in there!" Favre did and got the play off in time, showing that this kid is not taking reserve status as any sort of done-deal.
Which it isn't. All three will be doing game-prep starting next week since State does want three quarterbacks ready for use if needed. The trick in '10 is that it could very well be a case of ready for us as needed. Or at least that is the way Koenning is leaning at this MSU-moment.
"Right now we're still in camp, we're still evaluating; going through the completions and the incompletions and everything. As soon as that is over with we'll sit down, go through it, and have a plan for them for the rest of the year."