The Bulldogs got going Thursday with the first of their 29 allotted practice dates, working two-and-a-half hours. The session was closed, as will be all but one of the remaining dates. That open session is actually two with split squads taking the field at either 9:00 am or 7:00 pm Saturday. There is no Friday practice, with final summer semester exams.
Coach Dan Mullen: "It was great to be back out on the field. It seems such a long time since we've been out there. It's what I love to do, I know our coaches want to do, I know our players love to do, so it was great to be back out there going."
Q: Are there any things you want to get settled early? "Well, I want a lot of learning to get accomplished. So you're in day-one, just in helmets. To me it's get repetitions for guys, getting them comfortable. It's hard to evaluate guys until they get fully comfortable with what we expect them to do. So a lot, a lot of teaching over the next two weeks."
Q: How long does it take to assess retention from spring? "It looked like there was. I mean over the summer it's sometimes tough to tell, you're just getting out there. We'll see as we keep developing but I was pleased with what appeared to be some retention. Obviously I don't think we were crisp every single play on offense or on defense. But it wasn't confused looks on peoples' faces. And we put a lot in on them today."
Q: How much are Nickoe Whitley and Tobias Whitley doing? "They're working with the team. We don't talk about injuries."
Q: How has the summer prepared the players with Matt Balis? "You know what I think a huge part of it is, is conditioning. I think the tempo is a lot faster practice than they're used to in practice. There's a lot more things going on. When you look at that deal, the fact that they've been able to condition with the team means they're prepared. Because if they don't come in, you're taking a whole group of guys that are in a dangerous position out there. It's great to have those guys here."
Q: Will there be more passing plays added? "We didn't add much. It's all stuff that's already been in. So I think there's a great comfort in it. The emphasis on where you go. Every single year, if you take 100 percent of our offense, we use about 70 percent of our offense in each given season. I would say 50 percent never changes so it's that last 20 percent that is about a fit on your team. It's really that last 20 percent that has been in the offense before but it's a bigger emphasis than in year's past."
Q: Do fewer open practices mean more secret stuff? "Not really, no. We open practice to the fans. We do have an open practice, Saturday is open. We're trying to pick the days the fans could come to and open practice for that. Having it on a Saturday is why we're doing that one. It's not like you're changing practice. You just take your installation schedule and maybe stuff that was installed practice 2 last year is installed in practice 10 with a bunch more emphasized and stuff that was installed practice 10 is in practice 2."
Q: What is the difference? "You look at reps. Mathematically you spend a lot of time preparing for training camp on repetitions. Where the 1s are where we have calculated have 500 team reps. Right around that against the defense. So you take those 500 reps and then you're doing to break them down into what you're going to practice. So something you're going to emphasize is going to get 80 reps and something you'll deemphasize will get 10. That's where you're trying to match the numbers with what we're going to emphasize."
Q: Do you see a different Tyler Russell this preseason? "Yeah, I see a Tyler that's very comfortable. I'm not a guy that's thinking on the field. I see a guy who is obviously going to make mistakes, but when he makes a mistake, he knows the mistake he made. Or when you're talking about it he understands what happened, where some younger guys or how he used to be in the past. Sometimes you'll tell them and you can see, well I didn't get that at all, so you've got to go back and teach it on film. With an experienced guy like Tyler he sees it."
Q: Is Marcus Green in practice shape? "Yeah. He worked out with the team during the second-half of the summer. When he found out that was an option, and he's an older guy, especially when you're an older veteran guy, he knows what to expect. This is his fourth training camp with us, so he knows what's going to happen, so that makes it easier to prepare for."
Q: How will Saturday's practice be split-up? "Each position coach has a different reason for putting this guy with this guy. And I want this group working together. And I think it's very position oriented. It's not flat across the board. Like for example, Greg Knox came to me and he wants (Ladarius) Perkins and Josh Robinson together and (Derrick) Milton and (Nick) Griffin together. Each coach has a reason why we do it. The reason we do the split practice is we had an installation today ... when you get in line and there's two running backs instead of five running backs you get a lot more specific teaching."
Q: How has getting bigger after last year helped Blaine Clausell at tackle? "The size just to handle the guys in the league. His body is kind of maturing into an SEC player. He always had the athleticism, but it's that maturing, that physical strength, the girth and the size that will help him out." Q: Are the walk-ons, Golden and Swindle, getting ready as emergency quarterbacks? "They took reps today. That's part of it, when you split the practice, like we have two of those days, they're going to get half the reps at practice. So they'll actually get some opportunities to function on the field. And then we'll see. Our third quarterback's always getting reps; he's not getting the reps maybe the ones and twos are getting. What we haven't done is we're not eliminating the third quarterback reps and just giving them to the other two guys."
Q: Might we see any players at different positions Saturday such as Corey Broomfield at safety? "Broomfield's playing some safety. I don't view who's at different (places), we just have guys going all over the place doing different things. They're still defensive backs, so it's kind of a safety and nickel and this and that that we'll move guys around at, even though it's really the same position."
Q: Will Russell and Dak Prescott have limited contact still? "Yeah, I'll protect them. Sometimes I'm pretty, I guess people come in on the spring time, a lot of times I let those guys get hit and beat up every once in a while. This year we'll protect them a little bit more; even this spring we did. I was much more protective of them this spring, where if you have more of them, I kind of let them have a little bit more freedom and play a little bit more live to get ready to go. We'll protect them."
Q: In spring the tackles practiced at both right and left, are they moving around? "When you get guys ready, a lot of times you're traveling with travel squads and all that stuff, if you're taking sometimes eight linemen are getting ready – two tackles, three guards and two centers. They've got to be able to swing back and forth. A lot of that also depends on depth. If we feel there's four tackles ready to go, then you don't have to really swing a guy. You're an injury away from having three, and someone better be ready to go be the swing guy at that point."
"We'll always have guys kind of playing both. Moving guys, and just throw them in there, like potentially what happened in a game. They're home position's this position, but they might have to have a secondary (position)."
Q: Has moving up the schedule, like going to the Farm early, got guys' attention? "It's all scheduled based for us. When we look with days at the farm, what practice number we want to go to the farm at, how many practices we have out there. It's all based on that way and counting back from the first game of when you want to scrimmage and all of these things to balance out the reps. Every year is going to be a little bit different depending on the calendar. For example, we can't practice until tomorrow with final exams going. We couldn't wait until after final exams because there were not going to be enough days for us to even practice before the first game them. Those type of things have an effect on it."
Q: There are some diehard fans that will miss watching practices? "We open up spring practice and I know there are a lot of people who don't even open spring practice out there. I think we're probably more open than a lot of teams in the country. We open Saturday's practice."
Q: With fewer open days are you trying to ‘close ranks' a little bit? "No. No, we just sometimes open up two or something or three. When we looked at the calendar, there was a Saturday practice. That made sense for the fans that we would be the day they come out to see it. There are two practices that day, so they can come out. If they can't make the morning, they've got a little league game, they can come at night. That's why we did it."
Q: Saturday will be a long one, with a morning and evening practice? "As long as there is a break in-between. I think the last two years ago or last year we did it back to back, we got a lot of negative reviews from our coaching staff."
Q: With Ben Beckwith and Justin Malone, are they being evaluated behind Smith at right guard? "You've got Tobias and Gabe, starters. There is experience there. It is the backups that are going to be the whole part. That's the main emphasis, the guys who haven't played. Beckwith hasn't played a lot. Justin Malone hasn't played a lot. Archie Muniz hasn't played a lot. Dylan Holley hasn't played any SEC football. Those type of deals. When you're looking at those interior-type linemen, we've got to get them as many reps as possible to get them ready to go. And go from there. It's one of those things. Don't be surprised during the season we play guys and you say why are you rotating the line in? Much like, a lot of times, Dak Prescott is going to play early in the season because I have to get him reps in case he has to become the guy, I want to make sure we broke him in a little bit."
Q: John Banks and Chad Bumphis were nominated for the Hornung Award today, that gives you seven players up for national awards and five from your first signing class? "Great. That's good. That first class was a good group of guys. The great thing is those are guys that originally came in and bought in. They had tremendous faith in what we're doing. The recruiting class afterward got to see a little bit of what was going to happen. Those guys had faith because I guess if you throw in Pernell McPhee and Fletcher Cox, they've had some awards, too."
Q: The Hornung is for versatility, you know Banks will want to play offense and catch passes again? "He didn't catch one. Oh, he did catch one in the spring game! Yeah, so he did catch one. You know, a couple injuries away he might be playing quarterback."
Q: Has Archie Muniz moved inside? "We're going to move him everywhere. All those guys, there are a lot of guys to me that, if you look, that are certain tackle bodies and certain guard bodies and guys who can do both. And Muniz is a guy who can do both."
Q: How will you work Tobias in as he comes back? "I think that's going to be a breaking-in process, come game time. You know, you want to make sure guys get confidence back, so it's a lot of confidence building. When you deal with significant injuries—Nick Griffin, we're still building his confidence. He's 100%, but you're still building that confidence at certain injuries."