Friday Evening Practice Report, Notebook

Friday Evening Practice Report, Notebook

Mississippi State wrapped up the second day of training camp, and their first split-squads session, with almost two hours of Friday evening work. The practice had some fifty Bulldogs participating, those who had not worked in the morning session. These were almost entirely second- and third-team players on the initial depth chart, with a couple of alternate starters mixed in.

The day's second session followed the exact same plan as the first, practically to the total number of plays in fact. Coach Dan Mullen is using this split-squad strategy to maximize snaps on Friday and again tomorrow for every individual player, before resuming full-team practicing with a better idea of who fits in where. Mullen did not meet with media after the evening practice having spoken in the morning already.

Since these units were much closer-matched than in the morning, when the first team shared snaps with the freshmen and reserves, the competition was accordingly tighter. Most of all at quarterback where soph Tyler Russell and redshirt frosh Dylan Favre resumed their contest for who will be second on the scrimmage order behind starter Chris Relf. Even the scripted plays emphasized the two passers, not least because Mullen prefers to focus on the air game when Mississippi State is not in full pads. When the evening ended, things were just as close as ever.

Russell had much the better of things in one-on-one passing matchups, while once the situation shifted to 5-on-7 the results were much more balanced. And in 11-on-11 passing it was difficult to give either an edge, though Favre admittedly was able to make—or just force—more plays under pressure. In either case the efficiency often hinged more on the caliber of receivers running routes, not to mention what grade of defensive backs were doing the covering.

Certainly Russell looked good on long sideline patterns to Michael Carr and Randy Moulds. Favre looked long whenever possible too, but his best moments came on creativity. Luck, too, as when a tipped pass ended up in the receiver's hands anyway; or an underhand flip before the sack was caught. The defense wasn't backing off much and kept forcing both quarterbacks out of any pocket. Russell showed he could move, at least to the right with rollouts that side. Favre just did it better with scrambles and throws, many on target and none intercepted for a big change.

The veteran wideouts even lent a helping hand for sure such as WR Brandon Heavens juggling and catching before touching a sideline. Russell caught a break as LB Chris Hughes went for an interception, missed, and went down with a hurt left leg. Meanwhile Carr had caught the ball and was gone.

But neither could finish a two minute drive, or rather a 1:45 situation with a timeout to use. Russell's opportunity lasted seven plays, and he did convert once with a scramble for first down before throwing on third down to Carr again. The drive ended on an incompletion near the red zone. But Favre's series didn't go as far or as long, and began badly as a blitz by corner Louis Watson resulted in a first down sack. On fourth down he missed TE Brandon Hill to end the evening.

Hill was struggling with some cramps towards the end of the day, though conditions were not all that intense. Chris Hughes was able to get back on the field later.

Mullen has scheduled Saturday's first session, again with the #1 and 4s, at 8:45; then the second and third squads return at 2:30. It is the last public practice of camp.

SECOND SHIFT: Though it didn't involve any specific plays, the most impressive aspect to Friday's split-squad them was how State was able to put four complete offensive lines together without any blocker having to work with another unit. The foremost front this evening, which would be the #2 line, had right tackle Archie Muniz, right guard Damien Robinson, center Dillon Day, left guard Templeton Hardy, and left tackle Blaine Clausell.

The third line was Eric Lawson, walk-on Hunter Cunningham, Sam Watts, walk-on Paul Thompson, and walk-on Corbin Stewart. They generally had the job of covering for Favre while Russell went with the twos.

Both were able to call on SEC-experienced skill players in the backfield and at wideout, though. LaDarius Perkins and Robert Elliott shared tailback and split what rushes were called. Only one came in 11-on-11 drills, that a draw by Perkins for no gain. Sylvester Hemphill and William Shumpert were 2-3 at fullback.

The usual lead receiver rotation had Brandon Heavens in the slot with Chris Smith and most often Michael Carr, though Jameon Lewis worked with the unit as well both inside and outside as needed . Sam Williams, Randy Moulds, Taylor Higgason, and Kasey Akins were the reserve receivers.

Only at tight end was there no varsity experience to call on. Though, redshirt Brandon Hill has performed like a man ready to make his mark, pulling in a variety of throws from both passers and most often operating as a slot receiver. McKellar Proffitt and Allen Tolbert were the other two tight ends.

There were nine down-linemen to work with on defense, not quite enough for two squads. For full-team situations regular backup tackle Devin Jones went back to his spring spot of defensive end on the #2 unit, opposite Trevor Stigers. Kaleb Eulls and Curtis Virges were tackles, though Eulls had to do double-duty and work third-team as well to complete a lineup. He joined walk-on Dewayne Cherrington there while the third ends were Corvell Harrison-Gay and walk-on Allen Tucker.

Ferlando Bohanna, Deonte Skinner, and Chris Hughes were the #2 linebacker trio, ahead of Ethan McKee, Jamie Jones, and Christian Holmes. At safety it was Nickoe Whitley-Jay Hughes, then Asian Ruff, Ivan Muniz, or Jonathan Phillips. Damien Anderson and Marvin Bure were the top cornerbacks with Louis Watson and Jamerson Love on third team rotation.

No kicking plays were practiced in either Friday session.

ROOKED BY A ROOKIE: It was just about downright embarrassing. Sure, the new kid came with a big rep…but this was Johnthan Banks on the coverage. A guy with two varsity seasons to his college credit, while Joe Morrow has an entirely blank Bulldog resume.

Or at least he did until getting behind Banks in a Friday morning play for a deep out-throw from Dak Prescott. And coverage wasn't really bad either as old Dog Banks had the young pup pinned on the right sideline. All Morrow did was elevate and haul in the strike for at least a 30-yard gainer. Against the first team defense.

Against Johnthan Banks. Minutes later it still stung the starting cornerback.

"I mean, with that boy catching that ball on me, that was on my mind," Banks said. "That's a freshman, I'm a junior, I should never let that happen."

If it seems Banks is taking a single play, on the second day of training camp, a bit hard, well…he is. Never mind that even he admits things like that are sure to happen during practices. And Banks was far from the only first-team defender beaten by a freshman Friday. Twice new tight end Rufus Warren escaped coverage for touchdown catches in two-minute offense.

All the same, "I set a high standard for myself," Banks said. "I look to be one of the best in the SEC, I want to be one of the best in the SEC. So I've got to go hard out here, defend these guys."

Two days in and Banks is doing his defending on the corner, just as all last season. Late in spring though he took a week's turn at safety, the position he played as a 2009 true freshman. That stint raised the prospect that a starting corner could swing both ways in fall games. No sign of such so far, Banks said.

"Right now it's totally off the table. I'm just rolling at corner." The corner opposite fellow starter and junior Corey Broomfield. It's not really a ‘left' or ‘right' title either any more as coordinator Chris Wilson and corners coach Melvin Smith are playing them as boundary and field corner.

For that matter while they are the #1s, and thus taking the morning shift along with new & reserve players in split-squad practices. For Friday morning their backups were true frosh Darius Slay and Taveze Calhoun. The evening session, now, that was bound to be even more competitive what with veterans like Damien Anderson, Marvin Bure, and Louis Watson; along with redshirts Jamerson Love and Jay Hughes.

"I mean, we've got seven, eight guys on the corner that have got to play this year," Banks said. Seriously. Not that he wants to give up his starting job, understand. "That's just how deep we are. It's going to be fun, I hope everybody gets to play, we're going to have a rotation keeping guys fresh. And we're going to run people off the field."

Speaking of such…Saturday morning there is a contest a-brewing.

"I'm looking to go on and stalk Joe Morrow. Just let him know what's up. I mean, I'm ready to come back out here tomorrow and the first person I'm going to call out is Joe Morrow! I like Morrow, though."

BOTH OLD & NEW: Brandon Maye could understandably find his situation ironic. After all, here is a three-year veteran of BCS league football, with a triple-digit tackle season to his credit, and a senior to boot. And yet the transfer from Clemson spent Friday morning assigned to a practice team made up of third- and fourth-team reserves as well as true freshmen.

There are good reasons of course. Maye is taking his first practice snaps as a Bulldog this week, having arrived during the summer with no spring chance of working with his new teammates. So he is learning the system like…no, not like any other rookie, but more like a juco transfer.

Also, Maye is getting a shot at his desired position of middle linebacker. He played a strong season at Clemson there then was moved to outside linebacker the last year, which factored into his decision to transfer since as a graduate already he wouldn't have to sit a season. But while Mississippi State technically has to replace graduated MLB Chris White, '10 backup Brandon Wilson had an outstanding spring and remains first-team to open this camp.

Then there is impressive redshirt Ferlando Bohanna currently running #2. Look for competition to get intense upon resumption of full-team drills Sunday. Until then, Maye spends time with back-benchers doing what Mullen wants him to do.

"It gets him working on a leadership role," the coach said. "He's playing with some kids out there and he's a veteran, so it lets him step up and lead those guys. And while he's learning, he goes with the older guys and they need to lead him because they know everything that is going on on the field. But just his experience makes him a lot more advanced."

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