Dan Mullen Opening Comments
"It's great for us to be back out on the field, being out there with our guys. This is what they work all year for, the opportunity to play. And our coaches get so anxious to get back around our guys. We're the only (coaches of any) sport where leading up to the season, to start training camp, that isn't allowed around our players the whole summer. So I know everybody is excited to be around those guys.
"And I know our team is excited. After the way we finished last year, the big Egg Bowl victory, the Gator Bowl victory, (there is) a lot of momentum in the program. And our guys are excited to get back out there and keep that going hopefully into the season. Just the overall excitement around the program, with season tickets sold out and the other things that we've created this 'buzz', this atmosphere. Not just around campus but around the state of Mississippi and the South for Bulldog fans. It's amazing, and I know this team is going to work as hard as they can to make those people proud."
Questions and Answers
Q: You said the defense won practice this morning?
"That was just today's practice. Two days ago it definitely was the offense I thought that kind of took the day. But the defense had some momentum at different times during the practice. That's where the offensive guys need to step up.
"You don't see total evaluations because there is still a lot of installation going on. Right now, the offense is trying to install and teach certain things, the defense is teaching certain things. So you're not really scheming against each other. But I thought the defense did a good job making plays today, where the offense when things weren't going great, the quarterbacks were just checking down, let's take what they're giving us, and seemed to keep forcing the ball down the field."
Q: What did you see at practice today?
"I thought it was good intensity. We didn't do a lot of live tackling, just a real quick period here and there where we went live-to-tackle. So it wasn't a whole lot different than yesterday. But when you get out there and go full pads the demeanor of the team has to change. And I thought it did, our guys adjusted to what's going on on the field and the intensity they're bringing, I'm pretty happy with that. That being said, it has to be much greater than last year's intensity if we want to improve."
Q: Is practicing on the farm that much different than the practice fields?
"I love being out there. It's different. One of the reasons you go out there is it's so different, the mindset of our players (is) this is training camp.
"There's all the different seasons we go through, with the offseason, spring ball, summer conditioning, training camp; then in season. This is training camp. That's a great time, I think everybody is fresh and excited to get out there on the field and see what kind of team we have.
"When you get out there on the Farm it's just us and it's a special feeling. I think there's a lot of bonding within the team, and team building that goes on out there."
Q: How is your team handling higher expectations this year?
"I think they're handling it fine. I'm sure our expectations are even higher than anybody in the media or how anybody votes us. Our goals are to get to Atlanta. Nobody picked us first so our expectations are even higher than everybody else. They're handling, I guess, your expectations very well!"
Q: How important is it to have another strong year?
"I think the consistency of the program (is important). You don't see championship programs that just win a championship one year and fall off the charts for the next three or four years, and come back and win a championship again. Championship programs are consistent winners, and (they also) find a way to have that special season. That's what we want our program to be and that's what we're building towards."
Q: What have you seen from your quarterbacks so far?
"They're just getting used to being out there. All the work they do in the off-season, they throw in the summer and all that stuff. It is a lot different when you put pads on and someone is coming to hit you and you're dealing with blitzes and all those things.
"I'm happy with the fact that they know what is going on out there on the field. That they're not looking at you with kind of lost eyes and saying what's happening? They're trying to take those next steps (to) graduate level quarterback play. Hopefully by the end of camp with Chris Relf we need to be on doctorate level here pretty soon; Tyler Russell and Dylan Favre still have some time. Dak Prescott I guess has plenty of time (because) he's still young."
Q: The Ivy League has gone to non-contact practice, what do you think of that?
"I worry about the dangers involved in that. Football is a collision, contact sport. And if you're only going to do that in game week or just in a very short window, or only during games, I think you can put some players at risk. They'd better get used to getting hit, they'd better get used to hitting each other and hitting somebody else. I think there is some danger involved in that.
"We're a tough, physical team, but we're not silly in how we do it and how we hit and how we have our guys go through contact. But I'd be nervous of saying hey, don't hit anybody at all, let's not put any pads on and not do any of this; and go play a game and see what happens. I'd be nervous of the dangers involved in that."
Q: What kind of job is (wide receiver coach) Angelo Mirando doing?
"He's a young guy that's worked hard. Part of my job as head coach is not just to develop players, but to develop our coaches as well. He's a very committed, very hard working young guy. I have a lot of confidence in him. The great thing about that, he's very tough on our players, they'll tell you that. But he also can relate to them. I think that's a very important fact for those guys, that they have somebody who can understand some of the things they're talking about. And he does a good job of that."
Q: You have to replace three starting linebackers, who is standing out so far?
"I have no idea right now at that position because that will be a long time before we figure that stuff out. Most of the guys are just learning the defense we're installing right now. So I'd say Skinner, Cameron, Wilson, Wells, Hughes, Maye, Bohanna, all of them are kind of standing out right now and getting their reps and getting ready to play."
Q: How do you feel about your depth?
"I think there are a lot of positions you look out there and say we're building a program where we want it. Where we have depth across the board at different positions, where you have a group that is your one group and a group that is right behind it pushing them, competing; and a young developmental group behind them.
"A lot of positions across the board we have that, so that is comforting. We still need some depth on the defensive line. That is going to be a big deal for us recruiting in the future, guys that can come in and play right away on the defensive line. But a lot of those positions, we're becoming more balanced throughout our classes and balanced in our depth within each position. (Now) there are guys we can throw out there and play."
Q: Does better depth give you a better chance at winning?
"I think it certainly helps. One, depth increases competition at practice. When guys start clawing and scratching just to get a rep at practice you're going to see drastic improvement. So that's great for our development within the program. But also when you're looking at having to play a SEC schedule you'd better have some guys that are ready to jump in the fire and go play. That's certainly going to help us at several different positions."
Q: With quarterback depth how would you handle them?
"To me, know if we're going to play with two quarterbacks, Chris and Tyler are going to play. If that's our depth chart at one and two, Tyler has some experience so I don't have to force him onto the field. If we go to Dylan, if he's going to be one of our guys or he's our number two, I have to force him in and play some two-quarterbacks because he needs experience. He needs to play. It's a long season.
"For us it is like saying who is behind Vick Ballard? For his first situation you don't want it to be a win or lose situation, you want him to play in the first quarter and get in the flow of the game. That's how we'll do it at quarterback. But the fact Tyler played a lot last year, if he is the #2 guy, we're not forced to try to get him on the field. We just play him where he deserves to play, where we need him to play."
Q: Are you pleased with the development of a guy like Johnthan Banks?
"He's done a great job. He matured from day one which I am happy with. A lot of guys who go out and play as freshmen start to pat themselves on the back a little bit and say hey, Coach why are you yelling at me, I was a star as a freshman, get off my case! But John is not that way. He's continually worked hard to improve himself since he's been here. That is what you want. Now the benefit is he has a lot of experienced players at that position around him. You're sitting there with a group of DBs and have Charles Mitchell in that group, you'd better play at a very high level because he has that leadership. Even though John has played a lot there's some older leadership in front of him to help him out."
Q: How has James Carmon progressed at left tackle?
"He hasn't played a lot at the position, so not only is he learning the offense, he's learning the fundamentals of the position. Coming out of the spring, I'm very happy where he picked up this summer, where he didn't take a step back. Maybe even a little bit ahead, working on his own doing offensive line drills and studying the systems so he was ready to start training camp.
"I'm pleased with how he's working. He's got a long way still to go (due to his) inconsistency. You see some flashes of great things, and then you'll see something horrific. (At) our left tackle spot we're used to consistent greatness, so he needs to step up and try to fill those shoes."
Q: Talking about Relf being at the graduate level, what kind of strides has he made the past years?
"I mean, (at the) start (of) this time last year he was way in the undergrad years! And when you look at quarterback play, one, you have to learn the system - really understand the system. Then you have to get used to the speed of the game out there on the field. And then you really start applying the system to what you see. If you're worried about or thinking about what am I doing on this play, what are my reads on this play, you have problems. You have to know all of that and you have to apply it to every defense you see.
"So when you get to that high level you're thinking about OK, I know the mike linebacker blitzed in the A gap, that told me the other side of the field is going to be this coverage because I know that blitz and this coverage matches that blitz. And I have a receiver running a certain route over there and I have about 1.2 seconds so I want to get the ball off because with the blitz coming I have to get it off in time.
"Now, that is happening in about 1.2 seconds, then you're starting to hit doctorate level. Those are the things that I don't know if you can teach; I think it just comes with time. It takes a long time for you to really understand those things."
Q: You had to play guys like Banks, Chad Bumphis, Fletcher Cox, Josh Boyd as freshmen your first year. It hurt them then but is it paying off now?
"Yeah, there's some benefits in it for them. I'd love to have some older guys for them to look up to learn what it is to be a college football player. But hopefully our guys coming now can look up to that. The defensive linemen coming in now are looking up to Fletcher Cox and saying wow, that's a big-time guy; see how he works, see what he does, that's what I want to do.
"I think one of the things that has been great with the development of the offensive line, guys at practice said there's Derek Sherrod, watch how he works and practices, he's a first round draft pick. So I think when you have those older guys it helps. Some of these guys had to play immediately and get experience on the field. And they were hurt in their development not having those guys to learn from. Now as we're starting to balance out, getting more experience across the board at these positions, young guys can come in and really learn from these position players."
Q: Can you talk about the kickers?
"It will be alright, it will be OK. They weren't very good at all today. The first day we did live kicking and they were terrible. But Derek (DePasquale) has been in big games, made big kicks in big situations so you feel comfortable with him. The return game we have a chance to be pretty good, guys that were our returners last year are coming back. I don't know if they will keep that job with some young talent really pushing them to get the ball in their hands to make plays.
"That can really help a return game, having some guys that can really do things with the ball in their hands. And then the punter situation, I thought with the benefit of having a big crowd at the spring game, Baker Swedenburg, who has never kicked a ball in a big game, went out in a live situation and performed, that's what you want to see at that time. But until he gets in a live game situation we're going to have to wait-and-see, It looks good in practice, but there is a big difference between practice and games."
Q: Have there been any light-hearted things you do to make practices fun?
"Yeah, to me the whole practice is meant to be fun. If you're not having fun out there you're in the wrong game. If you're sitting back saying boy, I wish I was back running hills with Coach Balis or sprinting up stadium steps or squatting 500 pounds - you got problems!"
"So if you're not loving this, having fun from the first second to the end of practice, you've got a problem. To me this is the greatest time of the year for our kids. I can't imagine how much fun NFL players have. All they worry about is playing football. (Right now) our kids have no school, no other issues, all they do from the minute they wake up to the minute they go to sleep, and hopefully dream of it when they're sleeping, is football. It's the greatest time of the year."
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.