Realistically any danger was to unwary traffic around the Seal Football Complex exits as Mississippi State players and even several coaches left this early afternoon for their Easter break. Though just to be safe, sort-of, Coach Mullen and staff put the Bulldogs through a longer-than-planned practice which ran well past the alleged 1:00 finish.
The extra time wasn’t wasted. It was entertaining. Because day-four of spring training concluded with a brisk 20 minutes of full-team and full-contact work in the red zone and right up on the goal line. Mullen gave the effort by the first and second teams a positive grade, and judging by his reaction observing the hitting he generally approved of the execution.
Primarily, by the offenses. They came out the winner in this first serious hitting of camp. Three snaps into the red zone period snapped off a throw that TE Malcolm Johnson turned into a touchdown. The next time the ones squared off, on second down RB Derrick Milton slipped down the sideline without a defender any nearer than ten yards. It was an easy catch and jog for touchdown. Starting at the 12-yard line, WR Jameon Lewis burned the first defense with a reverse run as he got to the left pylon just ahead of S Dee Arrington.
The second defense had better results, incompleting QB Josh Hand on 3rd-and-five on his first series; then getting an intentional grounding to kill the second chance.
With the ball placed a yard away, both offenses produced. RB Josh Robinson squirmed through the middle for a first-team score; then on fourth-and-little Milton broke the plane for the twos. RB LaDarius Perkins caught the first defense looking inside as he sprinted to the right pylon to score, and the period ended with Robinson’s third-down dive play.
There was a half-hour of 11-on-11 in the open field, and for another day Russell showed he can draw a defense offsides as he pulled the trick on the second play. Some guys weren’t waiting for the red zone period to hit as Redmond drilled Lewis in this segment, then Skinner dropped Robinson hard. Russell showed a fondness for bootleg rollout plays here, and had R.Johnson open long just in front of CB Cedric Jiles and S Jay Hughes. The wind hung his throw up too long for an incompletion.
After getting stuck by Hughes on a draw-carry, Perkins got even as he bounced to the left sideline and was gone 70 yards outrunning Hughes and Wells.
Russell had his way in 7-on-7 work inside the 20-yard line, as he floated a throw just over LB Beniquez Brown to TE Brandon Hill…who dropped the easy touchdown. Hill recovered later as on a cut he just shoved S Dee Arrington aside to make space for the end zone reception. WR Brandon Holloway also did a great job staying in bounds on a back-of-end-zone toss from Russell.
But when Russell tried to feather an end-zone throw to TE Christian Holmes, MLB Richie Brown just jumped and picked at the goal line. And in twos-vs-twos CB Kivon Coman broke up a throw to WR Jeremy Chappelle in the back corner.
The first-base front is still tackles P.J. Jones and Kaleb Eulls with ends Denico Autry and Ryan Brown, with safeties Nickoe Whitley and J.Hughes and cornerbacks Jamerson Love and Jiles. Preston Smith was essentially an alternate #1 defensive end with Brown. There might be a change in the making at one outside linebacker as Chris Hughes got more snaps on that unit than Matthew Wells; while Benardrick McKinney remains first MLB and Deontae Skinner the other outside ‘backer. Though in one nickel package Wells did join Hughes and the other linebackers with a d-end lifted.
For second linebackers, R.Brown took middle flanked by Zachary Jackson and B.Brown. This day both Evans and James were given turns as second team tackles in full-field, with either Preston Brown or A.J. Jefferson at right end and Torrey Dale at the left. Often as not the second defense would put James directly over the center with Quay Evans or Nelson Adams offset and Jordan Washington rotating. Jordan Washington got second team snaps as more of an end than a tackle this day.
State also showed its jumbo goal line set of James, Evans, and Curtis Virges in the middle. On third down in twos-vs-twos James mauled OC Dylan Holley to hurry an incompletion by Hand. S Kendrick Market took a turn as goal-line extra safety allowing McKinney to move up to the line of scrimmage as an extra end.
Afterwards Mullen pronounced himself pleased with Friday’s results. “It was good. I loved the energy, the excitement our guys having fun out playing. It was good to see a good crowd of fans coming out to watch. That’s the energy that I like for guys to come out with and fans watching practice is fun.”
“And getting to do a little scrimmaging is fun. You know, there’s so much learning going on out there right now when you’re in practice-four, with all the installation that you have. Some guys are getting confident. You look and say you made a good play; it was the result of someone else making a terrible error. Or, you made a good play but made a mistake on it and in reality it wouldn’t happen that way. That’s as you’re learning the process. But overall, a pretty good day.”
What did you think of the goal line/red zone work? “You know what, it wasn’t bad. It wasn’t bad. Again, we just put it in today. You put in a little of the red zone packages today. So when you have younger guys you’re probably going to make a little more mistakes than some of the older guys. And it looked like the guys that were making the plays in the red zoned were the experienced guys. The younger guys are still trying to figure it out because for a lot of them it is their first time doing it.”
“But even through next week it’s still a lot of learning. Then you want to see guys who really grasp what we’re trying to do.”
What is the plan for next week? “We’ve got another big installation on Tuesday. We’ll let everybody go home (today) and spend Easter with their families, we’ll come back and watch the film with everybody on Monday, come out Tuesday with another big installation; and then after that really everything we’re going to install in spring is in. There’s one more day with a couple of small things here and there. But a week from Saturday will be a big scrimmage for us, the whole practice will be scrimmage. Everything is installed so they can go scrimmage.”
How is the quarterback comfort level under-center? “Good. We did a bunch of it last year, too. So he (Tyler Russell) is there. I think it’s something a guy like Tyler that has spent most of his career in the shotgun always takes a little bit of work. It’s good that we’ll probably emphasize it a little more at practice, because you’ve got to get them comfortable doing it before you feel good about putting it in a game. But it just adds a little dimension.”
You’ve been mixing-up the defensive linemen a lot already? “Yeah. One of the things and especially on defense is you want to roll guys through on defense in a game. You’ve got to feel comfortable with your two-deep. You should be in a gameplan at least 22 guys on defense, hopefully up near 30 that play in the course of a game.”
“You can get stuck, and we monitor that sometimes this group only plays together and that group always plays together. Then there’s an injury and that guy is ‘I’m not used to being with these guys around me’. So as you mix and match guys they get comfortable doing their job with all the guys around them on the field.”
Robert Johnson and Jameon Lewis seem to be having good springs? “Yeah, this is kind of their year. And they know. They’ve done good things in the past, but they always had that safety net of a lot of experienced guys on the roster. Now, they’re the experienced guys. So I do think that’s something for them, that they really have to come out with a great focus every single day.”
The transition has to be fast for Justin Cox? “I like his athletic ability, his physicalness, and his energy on the field. He’s got to figure out what to do, because you watch him one play and he’s sitting in the flat and there goes a guy deep running right by him. And it’s like oh, I’m supposed to be back there. But that comes with time, with reps.”
“And for a lot of these young guys we’ve put a lot in, a lot on them so we can see what sticks and what they can grasp. This is probably more than he’s ever done before in such a short term.”