Meaning, Mullen was in a fine mood following Saturday’s practice. So was every observer, whether fans or the scores of invited guests for Junior Day at Mississippi State, if they enjoyed offense. There was plenty of that to enjoy over the course of a full-pads practice which included a good bit of scrimmaging in the last 45 or so minutes.
Now, the first four working days of this spring have seen good offensive efficiency already. This wasn’t a surprise for non-hitting situations, Mullen said, given a veteran quarterback in Tyler Russell, lots of experienced receivers, and a strong group of runners. Offenses are supposed to set the pace when they cannot be tackled.
But even when the Dog defenders were given the go-ahead Saturday, it was still the guys with the ball coming out ahead more often than not. It began as early as pass-skel work, the seven-on-seven settings, where Russell’s very first throw was a needle-threading number to WR Arceto Clark at the goal line. Russell’s worst throw in this drill was only broken up; #2 QB Dak Prescott was intercepted by S Louis Watson.
The full-team competition began at 1:00 and while this was to be contact-to-whistle there were some tackles made, mostly on rushing plays. There were some of those given the ball being spotted on the 40-yard line, and with the second offense RB Josh Robinson broke through the middle for a 50-yard scamper. He did the same thing a few series later against the second defense.
But more often the calls were passes. Russell found WR Sam Williams a stride in front of LB Chris Hughes down the right sideline for a 45-yard touchdown. And WR Brandon Heavens got between and behind CB John Banks and LB Deonte Skinner for a fine catch and run of nearly fifty yards. LB Christian Holmes ought to have picked Prescott on a short dump-throw for RB LaDarius Perkins, but dropped the ball. Russell wasn’t so lucky on a similar toss when Skinner read it right and got in front of Perkins for the easy intercept and open return.
The real hitting, and fun, came with ball spotted first at the 25-yard line going in, an extended red zone period of ones on ones, twos on twos, and no whistles until enough bodies were on the ground. On the second snap Clark made a great adjustment in the end zone, in contact with Watson too, to haul in Russell’s throw one-handed as he fell. The second offense liked that idea but on first down sent TB Nick Griffin down that same sideline; he lost S Jay Hughes for the easy touchdown.
TE Malcolm Johnson went up for a 21-yard catch from Russell on the next #1s series, and Robinson got the touchdown racing to the right pylon. Not to be trumped the second offense scored as RB Derek Milton ran over S Zach Jackson and Holmes at the goal line.
Interestingly the first defense was able to tighten up with the ball spotted at the 11-yard line, though Russell had Johnson open in the end zone on first down. They had to settle for a fourth-yard field goal, where the second offense scored on second down. Prescott rolled right and seeing everyone covered used the open room to run into the end zone untouched. Moving to the other hashmark, the first offense rammed Robinson at left guard three times and a touchdown, though LB Benardrick McKinney ought to have had the runner for a loss. In fact Robinson paid for the touchdown as DT Josh Boyd and DT P.J. Jones sandwiched him at the goal.
Prescott found WR Ricco Sanders at the left pylon for an 11-yard touchdown catch, before the ball was moved to the three-yard line. The first offense failed their first time, partly because both the right tackle and guard jumped the snap count. Prescott waited until FB Adrian Marcus slipped off S Dee Arrington before throwing for a touchdown. Robinson was able to get one more short-yard touchdown for the first team, but four Milton rushes with the #2s were stopped as on fourth down he was hit and fumbled.
Not participating Saturday were the same three injured Dogs, though OT Tobias Smith (knee recovery) and DS Reed Gordon (shoulder) were fully-dressed anyway. S Nickoe Whitley (Achilles rehab) only brought the helmet. CB Corey Broomfield was held out of most work for an unknown condition though when he did practice he showed no issues.
Nor did there appear to be any injuries suffered in Saturday’s hitting, contributing to Mullen’s good mood as he sipped the ceremonial sports drink to keep the sponsor happy. Though, he added, “Are we Coke?” too. Perhaps after one of next week’s three practices the Bulldog coach might be swigging something different.
Q: It looked like a good day for the offense? “At times they were good. I like watching us scoring touchdowns. I was real disappointed (with) the defense, we got down in the red zone in the end. But offense you also need consistency. And at times I thought the offense looked real good, and then when they didn’t look good it looked real bad.”
“When you get in a game situation and start counting some of what would be sacks and negative plays, they can be real game-changers. So we’ve got to clean up the consistency more, but keep the big plays that we’re having.”
Q: Do you like what you’re seeing from the receivers? “Yeah. And usually when you get into that first scrimmage the defense is ahead of the offense. I think just the experience in the passing game for us really kind of balances that out this spring. You know, the receivers have a lot of experience, the quarterback has experience with Tyler. It can maybe even offset some of the stuff with the offensive line, as they are developing, that you see those guys step out front.”
Q: Does that concern you with the line? “No. Little things that we’ve got to get fixed. And there’s a long time before those guys have to play. There are some things that I’m seeing good progress with them. But obviously we’re going to need to see acceleration for us to be successful.”
Q: Brandon Heavens got a lot of first-team snaps, what are you seeing out of him? “He’s doing a good job. I look at some of those guys that they’re all first-teamers. Heavens and Bumphis are first-team guys, a lot of the wideouts are first-team guys. It is weird at times, you might have a first-teamer going against some second-teamers and it can look bad. But that helps with the depth we have, with all the seniors at the wide receiver position.”
Q: How did Deonte Skinner play? “I’m really pleased with what he has done so far since we’ve been out here. He’s a guy that finally got a little role with special teams, got a role with the defense, and now he is becoming a more consistent defensive player and a guy we can keep on the field and a guy that we can keep on the field at different positions. So that will be a huge bonus for us.”
Q: Is this the best depth you’ve had at tailback? “It’s still early, we’ll see. But we like the talent of some of those guys have, the young players. We just have to make sure they can do it. I mean, some sack issues are tailback issues, not o-line issues too. They have to handle the complete game and pass protection, route-running, and all of that stuff to be all-around players.”
Q: How has Charles Siddoway fit in? “I think he is doing good. I think he has got a lot of ability and I like to see the talent level that he has. I think he is getting comfortable within the offense being a first-year player. The guys that he is competing with now have been through it a little bit. But I see him almost getting ready to rotate with the ones and compete for that starting job.”
Q: After five practices comment on the quarterbacks? “I’m pleased with Tyler’s attitude, his approach to the game. When you have an older quarterback you want him to come out and play that way on the field. I think he’s done that within his grasp of the offense. And that allows him now to really try to step up and be that leader. He’s not worrying about what to do on the plays, he is making sure the offense is performing at a high level. I’ve seen that out of him.”
“And Dak is getting a lot of reps. Dak is such a competitive guy, I’m pretty pleased with the progress that he is making. He takes it so personally when he makes mistakes, he wants to be so good, that’s what you want out of your quarterback. That he is going to continually improve. And we know he can make plays, he’s just got to manage the offense as well.”
Q: Does the passing game being ahead concern you with all you have back on defense? “Well, Broomfield is not going in a lot of team stuff right now. Nickoe Whitley is out of the mix right now. And in spring ball you’re going ones and twos, so a lot of times the two DBs are twos/threes where the two-receivers are all kind of still ones with all the seniors we have. So in practice sometimes the discrepancy shows more than if it was actually a game situation with ones-on-ones the whole time.”
Q: What is next week’s practice schedule? “Tuesday will be heavy, Thursday will be a little lighter. Then Friday will be all scrimmaging.”