Very much so, as Mississippi State began its ten-day stretch of preseason work down on the Farm. On the single practice field near South Farm, to be specific, where until the first fall semester class is held the Bulldogs, their coaches and support staff will be on their own. No public viewing, almost no media observation…and no distractions to their labors.
“Training camp is a time to get locked away on only football,” explained Mullen following Sunday’s session. “There’s no school going on, there’s no girls on campus (the coach wasn’t aware of preparations for sorority rush), there’s nothing. It’s just all ball. That to me is part of it, that this is a different deal.”
Mullen began using the temporary South Farm venue in his first August at State, and good usage it has provided. The Bulldogs spent some two hours there today, in a full-team practice that came after two days where Mullen divided the roster. Putting 105 players on the same field makes it challenging for position coaches to find sufficient working room in unit drills.
But it certainly lends a ‘team’ air to the entire affair. Besides, everyone and everything is within easy view of the head coach. For that matter cramming so many stressed bodies into that space amplifies the already-intense afternoon conditions. Though, Mullen belied his sweated-through shirt—in fact his entire headband was saturated as well—in post-practice review.
“It didn’t seem that hot out there! Nice and warm, but hard work. It wasn’t that bad.”
Probably because Mullen gave a generally positive review. “A good work day. But it’s a lot of teaching still going on, it’s so early in the process for our guys getting used to being back out on the field. A lot of teaching.”
What was taught wasn’t told, and players were not available for interviews as they returned to the locker room around 5:00. A shower, meal, and review was still on their busy Sunday evening schedule, though doubtless many were already anticipating an early lights-out. (See Brandon Hill feature posted today.) Especially as they have full-pads practice starting Monday morning on day-five of camp.
Mullen didn’t offer specific Sunday practice items, because there weren’t any. “We just worked on everything. Special teams, offense, defense, individual, the whole lot.” Besides, to the head coach the key to today was making the transition from Friday and Saturday split-roster practice to entire-team approach. “It’s a different style of practice, because it moves a lot faster,” he said.
“When you have the ones and twos the ones go, the twos go, and then they’re exhausted pretty quick. Now you’ve got the threes going and sometimes the fours go. You just get a little more breather in-between, but that also allows you go move practice along that much faster.”
This does not mean Mullen wasn’t happy with how the previous two days worked, so to speak, out. Dividing up the two practices each date with first and fourth teams in the morning, twos and threes later, accelerated instruction and meant everyone was better prepared for full-team drills.
“Definitely. The immediate thing is you see a lot more from the young guys,” Mullen said. “Because they got a lot of individual attention the last two days. So they’re not quite as lost as they would be if we hadn’t done that.”
But now that everyone is re-assembled in the same session, or sessions as true two-a-days begin Tuesday morning, nobody can afford to get lost. Mullen keeps his club on their toes when shuffling the various practice schedules; spring training with fans all around the field, the closed-away atmosphere of two-a-days, and the routine grind of game weeks.
Yet this is meant to do more than produce a squad that can changes with the seasons. It develops players able to adapt to circumstances and maintain their hard-working mindset. At least that is Mullen’s goal, and never more so than these days down on the Farm.
“It’s one of those deals, training camp is different. And it has to be different. But when you go out there it just allows you to have a whole different mindset. That is the benefit of making everything different.”
College teams are allotted three two-a-day dates, with at least one single-practice day in between. Starting Tuesday puts Mississippi State on schedule to finish that phase next Saturday. Classes begin middle of next week, leaving another whole week though before Mullen gets into any specific preparations for the September 1 opener at Memphis. And, for really heavy hitting.
“We’ll do a couple of scrimmages here and there, the main one is not for a while; a full, all-out scrimmage where we scrimmage beginning to end. I think there’s only one of them in all of training camp, I think that’s the 19th of August.”
A good date to judge just how bumper a crop of Bulldogs have been grown down there on the Farm.