The ‘Balis Pit’ adjoining Mississippi State’s practice fields was a busy place Monday, not to mention more crowded than usual. Among the newcomers to this rehab section were first-team OLB Deontae Skinner with a boot on his left leg; as well as DT Quay Evans and RB Josh Robinson for unspecified reasons. They joined previous Pit occupants RB Nick Griffin, recovering this spring from a second knee surgery, CB Taveze Calhoun with a shoulder issue, and spring practice injured-OLB Ivan Muniz, along with a number of walk-ons.
The newest residents were kept busy for the first hour of Monday’s practice, whether in the normal rehab or maintenance drills or some twists Coach Matt Balis has come up with. Such as, shoving the equipment crew’s ‘Gator’ around without the engine running. This required three skill players or two bigger Bulldogs.
Also missing most of or part of Monday were two first-teamers. RB LaDarius Perkins, who took a shot to his helmet late in the scrimmage and was helped off that day, reported to the field in full gear. Then he returned to the training room for the rest of the session. DE Denico Autry practiced in defensive line drills, then when team competition began he too went to the Seal Complex and did not return. Though, first LT Blaine Clausell did delay his reporting until the team periods.
With several prominent players missing, the lineups had to be adjusted accordingly. Those injuries at running back left just one scholarship ball-hauler for practice, with RB Derrick Milton doing all first-team snaps. Coming off a solid scrimmage the sophomore has been in that three-man rotation already. And walk-on Kasey Akins got a lot more work than most volunteer backs in the SEC this time of year.
Those were the only injury impacts on the offense. While Clausell was out, RT Damien Robinson moved over to the left end of the line. When Clausell returned he was slotted back in at left tackle; and Robinson went back to the second right tackle, behind Charles Siddoway again. That was how the two right-side guys had finished the scrimmage, though it began with Robinson running first-team. This is the position of most competition on the first-front.
The second unit got more interesting, and intense, towards the end today though. After three bad snaps in 11-on-11 competition second OC Dylan Holley was swapped to right guard, and RG Ben Beckwith took over as the #2 center. The rest of the period proceeded without botched exchanges.
On defense, Autry’s absence was filled by DE Ryan Brown who has been battling so far with DE Preston Smith for first team on the right end. They got to work together today as a result, flanking first tackles Kaleb Eulls and P.J. Jones. Senior DT Autry had worked his way up to the second team early in spring and was even getting some first-squad snaps. Today he watched as soph Nick James got a lot more #2 work in alternation with Nelson Adams and Curtis Virges.
Monday’s substitutions also reminded how much recruiting Mississippi State has done on the defensive front, as despite injuries there were six true tackles and seven true ends available for practicing.
For that matter the defensive staff has practiced before during this spring’s schedule with Skinner, the ranking veteran linebacker, watching while others got to take more turns. So in his absence it was easy moving Chris Hughes up to the first team opposite Matthew Wells, with Benardrick McKinney in the middle. What this opened up were second team snaps and instead of just using Zachary Jackson there were some opportunities. Redshirt Beniquez Brown, coming off scrimmage-best tackler stats Saturday, took more turns here, and classmate Richie Brown alternated at the MLB spot behind Ferlando Bohanna.
After sitting out the scrimmage for unspecified reasons, CB Will Redmond was practicing as usual Monday. He rotated with starter Jamerson Love in fact, while Cedric Jiles was the other first-team corner. Justin Cox and Kivon Coman got most of the second-team snaps this day. Nothing changed at safety from the first pair of Jay Hughes and Nickoe Whitley, backups Kendrick Market and Dee Arrington, and redshirts Quadry Antoine and Deonte Evans.
The pass/skel period this day was in red zone situations, either at the 20- or 10-yard lines, which was close enough to let rehabbing QB Dak Prescott participate. He throws off a stool and does it well, as he strong-armed a corner pattern that WR Robert Johnson pulled in while tippy-toing the sideline over cornerback Redmond.
In full-team play Milton broke through the middle of the #2 defense and was gone for 80 yards. QB Sam Cowart found WR Jeremey Chappelle two strides ahead of Evans for a deep strike and touchdown. Cowart also saved a turnover as he recovered Holley’s first high snap ahead of charging DT James. Russell threw his share of scores in drills, though another touchdown was lost when WR Brandon Holloway just had Whitley whipped deep but short-armed the ought-to-have-been-a-catch.
And the defense still made plays, with reserve CB Rishun McCaleb intercepting QB Josh Hand in red zone. Love should have picked off Russell on a sideline throw. But it was Coman showing up biggest with three fine breakups of balls thrown for Brown, twice, and then Chappelle. Love collided with WR Jameon Lewis, hard, on a breakup of Russell’s throw. And in 1s-vs.-1s, the defense easily and efficiently picked up a reverse-run by Lewis that was caught for loss.
Kickoff return only got two reps with Lewis and Whitley fielding the ball. The practice opened with placekicking and two makes by Devon Bell.
Coach Dan Mullen had his own Monday change of pace. The squads swapped colors for the first time in spring, with offense wearing white and defense maroon. It had no bearing on the work of course, and likely meant little more than the laundry has been busy since Saturday.
Mullen did not meet with media after Monday’s work, with player interviews instead. The Bulldogs are back at work Tuesday at 4:00, then again Thursday at the same time in advance of a 3:30 Friday scrimmage at Scott Field.