Bulldog Backs Learning Knox's Spring Lessons

Bulldog Backs Learning Knox's Spring Lessons

It wasn't as if Greg Knox did not have enough on his practice plate. Just working his Bulldog running backs in spring camp is a full-time job. But when Coach Dan Mullen looked for the right staffer to take overall charge of special teams, Knox was his obvious choice. Which means now…"I'm up here a lot! I spend a lot of time doing it, it takes time."

Time that will have been well-spent if this fall Mississippi State makes major gains in kicking, covering, and returning. To be clear, Knox has always had a big hand in these areas along with the rest of Mullen's staff. The difference is that for 2014 one coach has over-arching responsibility, and his name is Knox.

Which is fine by one of Mullen's remaining 2009 staff members. "It has to be well-organized and I have an assistant that does a great job for us." Fans will get at least some look this Saturday at what has been adjusted, altered, or just plain improved about the kicking games.

And, more often, at Knox's primary position. Going into the final week of spring football there is some question if everyone is available. Soph RB/FB Ashton Shumpert has been sidelined since turning an ankle late in the first scrimmage game, though it doesn't seen a serious injury. Veteran RB Josh Robinson has missed some practices with a hamstring tweak early in camp, but he was back for the second scrimmage.

What fans will also want to see is how far RB Nick Griffin has come since a second knee ligament tear; and what converted wideout Brandon Holloway is making of his move to full-time member of the backfield. Knox discussed his Dogs following Tuesday's closed practice.

How would you evaluate spring for the running backs? "It's going well, going well. We're getting a lot better with our technique and fundamentals. I told the guys I'm really proud of them for taking control of the situation as far as our leaders in the room, being very productive in all the little things. That's what this spring has always been about, is just technique and fundamentals and doing the little things right."

Josh Robinson said he wants to be the leader this year, is he doing that so far? "He's trying, not there yet but he's trying. Again that's all of them, they're all trying to improve every day. The leadership role has got to continue to pick up and I think we're getting there."

"He's trying, he's not where I want him to be yet but he's trying to work on his leadership skills."

What have you seen from Nick Griffin this spring? "Healthy! We're staying healthy so far this spring, it's good to have him out there again. I think he's finally getting back to where he was before he got hurt again. We can see the sharpness in his cuts, his vision, everything is getting a lot better."

He seems to be handing out the hits on defenders, what allows that? "His pad level. Then his mentality. I think we're changing his mentality from being more of a scatback to being more of a power guy. His pad level helps him as far as delivering blows. So I think that part is coming along for him, he's doing well."

How much does he look like himself before the injuries? "He's still got a way to go. But the improvement is coming. As a staff we've seen him continue to get better each and every practice. And nick is smart, that helps him."

Have you seen anyone go through what he has with two knee surgeries, to get back to where he is? "No, I haven't. The doctors felt really good after the last surgery, they thought the repair went well. I think that was the first part of it, they were able to mentally help him along as far as the repair of the knee. And he came back just more tenacious as far as getting back in his rehab and everything. Then when he got back on the field it showed-up. Him being a smart player helps him so much."

Ashton Shumpert got to play a lot as a true freshman, is now the time you can really teach him? "Exactly. And that's what we're spending time with him, the learning process. I always tell my guys the smarter you are the better you'll be. So we just drill, drill, drill over and over and in the meeting rooms. The more he learns the better player he'll be."

He's been banged-up some, what are you doing with him right now? "Learning. Just continuing to learn. Again we put a lot of emphasis on being a smart player and so again—I hate to say it over and over, we talk about it so much—the smarter you are the better player you'll be. We spend a lot of time in fall lifting weights, running, getting bigger, getting faster, getting stronger, alright? And that's going to help us on the field. But to help us to perform better we have to become smarter."

In the goal-line set, he gives you options as the fullback double-threat? "Yeah, he can rush the ball, he can block, he can catch. So he's a threat there at the fullback spot."

How is Brandon Holloway working out as a full-time running back now? "Doing well, doing well. He's a guy that we have to use in spots. And he's gotten a lot smarter this spring, that has helped him."

What does he allow you to do compared to the three bigger backs? "He's a change of pace pitch. He's that Jonathan Holder curveball or breaking pitch, you know, that the batter's always out in front of swinging and missing! He's that changeup pitch for us."

He said this feels natural because he was a high school running back? "He was, he was. And he has good vision from the running back spot. He sees a hole, he can put a foot in the ground and make cuts, change direction. So those are things he's good at."

You don't get them until August but there are some impressive freshmen backs coming in? "Right, I'm really looking forward to having those guys in, getting them going in the offense, learning the offense, getting involved. So right now we've got four or five backs, so getting those guys in is going to help the depth tremendously."

With bumps and bruises in spring how does it help having a walk-on like Van Lee? "It's been great having Van. He's been picking things up slowly, being his first time out there with us. But just to have him there to give those guys a break, and when he's in there he's been able to be efficient. That's been good also."

You've taken charge of the special teams, what are you seeing? "Got a lot of work to do! A lot of work. I tell you what, the guys have really bought into the technique and fundamentals that go along with the special teams side of it. So every day we've been having some great meetings and I think they're beginning to understand the mental side of it."

There have been a lot of candidates returning kicks, is this an audition for everyone? "It is, it is open. So we're getting a lot of guys involved just to see what they can do."

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