Mullen Sets Stage For Key Friday Scrimmage

Hopefully the Bulldogs enjoyed their Thursday afternoon session indoors. Because tomorrow evening they are going to be under the lights, and under the even hotter glare of Coach Dan Mullen's observation as he holds the decisive scrimmage of this preseason.

After a day-off for the start of fall semester classes, %%MATCH_10%% returned to their August practice schedule today with a two-plus-hour session. The Bulldogs didn't return to the usual practice field, though. Mullen opted to have this day's work done in the Palmeiro Center for another change of pace. Though there was an afternoon shower the adjustment had little to do with weather and everything to do with having the entire team ready for tomorrow.

For the scrimmage, the one all-out, full-game-type session of this preseason. Mullen didn't want to wear anyone out in advance of what could well become the benchmark point of August for a whole lot of Bulldogs.

So, "Today we did prep work, " Mullen said. "We did a lot of team stuff working on Tuesday, and we've got a big scrimmage Friday night. So it was a lot more first-down, not scrimmage, everybody staying up. We did a lot of different situations that were controlled."

Now a number of Bulldogs can take control of their preseason positioning with how they handle the challenges of Friday evening at Scott Field. The 6:45 session, timed to match the conditions at 6:00 on September 4 when State kicks off for-real against %%MATCH_11%%, is closed to media and public alike. Mullen will not be available to discuss the results until early Saturday afternoon. And there could be some interesting outcomes. Certainly Mullen intends to tape as much scrimmage competition as practical at this preseason point. How many snaps might this take?

"A lot," Mullen said. "I think we'll have a pretty good scrimmage. I'd like to see at least 65 with the ones, 65 with the twos, to get ready for a game." And since these are the fellows expected to see action in the opening game, it will be a true test for both first and second squads. Most of the time, that is.

"It will be a lot of ones vs. ones because on the field they're playing against other ones. But we'll rotate a lot of guys. We'll throw guys in with the ones that are sometimes twos to see how they perform in those situations." In the case of quarterbacks it looks to be a three-way work, though, since Mullen as usual wants a trio of triggermen always available.

"There's a good chance we'll rotate the quarterbacks. I just want to see how they're going to perform with each group in the huddle." Mullen doesn't seem overly concerned about establishing a set order at this position at this mid-month moment though. And as for how he thinks the first few games should be scripted at quarterback, well…

"No idea. No idea yet," Mullen said. "I think there are so many other variables that could come with it, we're still a couple of weeks out. We'll start getting more game-prep organized next week. And from that point a lot is going to depend on the game, and how the flow of the game is going and how guys are playing what that rotation will be."

This is just one of several very aspects to the 2010 team that Mississippi State's staff will be putting in game-type situations Friday and grading results over the weekend. Mullen says there are more than a few places where the competition can't be called right now.

"Wide receivers. Backups on the offensive line. Quarterback. Tailbacks, in a really good way is one. I mean it's going to be a brawl to get carries for those guys. The backup linebacker spot. I think those are the real battles, to see who is going to step up tomorrow night."

For that matter even jobs that might would seem to be a lock for returning starters, aren't. Sean Brauchle and Derek DePasquale are waging a fine fight for who is top placekicker on any one day, and DePasquale is making himself known as a challenger to punter Heath Hutchins. Mullen also wants to test some fresher faces in the return game despite the proven presence of Leon Berry and Chad Bumphis. The latter, by the way, working as a backup placekick holder to Chris Cameron.

Mullen does admit to "a pretty good idea" of how the return tandem should look. Still, "We'll still wait and see. We're going to do some live returns tomorrow night and I think that's going to determine what we've really got. I've seen Bumphis and Berry do it before so I feel pretty good about them."

Good feelings about how the first 16 practices have played-out have been a regular feature from the head coach too, with rare exceptions. As an August-whole the Bulldogs have maintained a productive practice pace with much less ‘do over' days than in Mullen's first training camp. State players are getting familiar not just with his schemes and sets, but with the way this boss wants the job done. It shows.

"I've been really pleased with the attention to detail. We've had very few practices, maybe one, maybe two where we really had to get on them to motivate them out here. And when you're going through two-a-days to have that leadership, guys step up, have that focus to not let anything slip, I'm pretty pleased with that attention to detail."

Now, if the focus is on and the competition crisp Friday evening, Mullen should have some good things to see and then say. But in the case of this crucial scrimmage effort alone won't be sufficient. Not with the season coming up fast.

"I want to see some execution from guys who haven't played a whole lot," said Mullen. "The guys that have played a lot, I'm not going to walk out of the scrimmage feeling great, (starting right tackle) Derek Sherrod did a heck of a job. After starting for three years, he should. It's some of the guys that are still growing-up that I want to see perform."

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