Bulldog Football Practice Notebook

Benardrick McKinney

Thursday's injury list grew by one. Reserve MLB Christian Holmes was sidelined with his left arm in a sling, a result of Tuesday's hard-hitting session. He had the same sort of sling, on the same side, as OC Dillon Day. The first-team center landed on the left elbow a week ago and missed the second scrimmage as well as this week's two practices.

#1 DT P.J. Jones participated in some drills today but no scrimmaging yet, or expected Saturday either. His gimpy left ankle is being protected this spring. Fellow returning starter DT Kaleb Eulls did not even report to the field until after practice had ended, in shorts after another rehab stint on the right lower-leg. The good news was he wore no cast or wrap on it this time.

#2 DT Curtis Virges reported late to practice with class conflicts. DT Trent Simpson began in the rehab pit and did no practice work today. S Jay Hughes has not practiced all spring. And WR Jeremy Chappelle has not been seen at drills for two weeks now.

Fortunately RB Ashton Shumpert is back from his ankle problem of a week ago and matching snaps with RB Nick Griffin on the second offense when healthy. Griffin did take advantage of Shumpert's absence to strengthen his case at #2 though. And WR De'Runnya Wilson has held on to a place in the first receiver rotation despite a groin that caused him obvious discomfort today. Until the ball was snapped, that is; then the sophomore ran and cut just fine as noted below.

*Day's absence has forced some interior line moves that involve more than the center depth chart. #1 RG Ben Beckwith has taken over as first-team center, and OC Archie Muniz remains on the second squad. In Beckwith's place, #2 OG Devon Desper is now running with the first team. This is of course because veteran RG Justin Malone has barely practiced this spring as he recovers from a serious opening game foot injury. And mid-year transfer OG Jocquell Johnson has not practiced in over a week with an unidentified issue.

So as camp ends the on-field depth chart would have a first team of RT Damien Robinson, RG Desper, OC Beckwith, LG Jamaal Clayborn, LT Blaine Clausell; a second unit of RT Rufus Warren, RG Jake Thomas, Muniz, LG Kent Flowers, LT Cole Carter; with a limited reserve group available to get through the spring game.

*On the defensive front things are similarly slim with the missing men. The first line today, left to right, was DE Preston Smith, DT Nelson Adams, DT Chris Jones, DE Ryan Brown; the second DE John Harris, T Jordan Washington, DT Nick James, and both A.J. Jefferson and Torey Dale able to work either end on the second squad.

*Physical play tends to favor defenses in intrasquad work, and the first unit did make a statement on the first snap. CB Taveze Calhoun rushed off the offense's left end and got a whistle sack of QB Dak Prescott. On 4th-and-1 Griffin was dropped for no gain by the first defense, which for the short-yards set had CB Will Redmond as the nickel back. In fact Redmond did far more work today as a third safety than on a corner.

The offense did better as play progressed. Prescott moved the chains by flipping to RB Brandon Holloway on the left side for a catch-and-go to midfield; then the next play sent Holloway sweeping to the right side for an overhand pitch that became a 45-yard touchdown.

Prescott ran some series with the second offense against a half-and-half defense; and Williams got to work with the first attack. The second quarterback apparently was not listening when defensive coordinator Geoff Collins shouted to his squad that everything was live. Because Williams was rocked on a scramble by LB Benardrick McKinney who didn't hesitate hitting the up-to-now safe green jersey.

Contact works both ways though. MLB Richie Brown got ambushed by RB Josh Robinson and was so shaken by the shot he had to leave the field, dazed. Even the zebras weren't safe; a side judge didn't get out of LB Beniquez Brown's way and was knocked down hard.

*On 2nd-and-goal at the defense's seven, S Justin Cox blitzed off the edge for a whistle-sack of Williams, On the next play Williams hung a throw for the goal that guess who, Cox intercepted at the five. His return would have gone 95 yards had Williams not chased the safety down at midfield with an authoritative shoulder shot.

Prescott found TE Gus Walley going down the numbers open for a 19-yard touchdown play. S Kivon Coman didn't hear a whistle, if there was one; because even after Walley had crossed the goal he blasted him to make a point. Walley didn't have to but he held on to the ball anyway.

In second-team offense from the 22-yard line, Williams saw WR Gabe Myles sliding left-to-right and rifled a pass caught at the three and carried across the goal with contact. Myles had a big day for sure; on a first-down play from the defense's 36-yard line Williams bought time rolling left as the slot man broke coverage. The ball was caught and run in for a score.

When #3 QB Nick Fitzgerald got the second offense to third-and-goal at the eight he was hit by DE Torrey Dale for a fumble and turnover. The day's best rush saw Griffin bolt up the middle, collide with a trio of tacklers and bounce free of all for a 69-yard gainer to the six. But the big play didn't produce points; on 4th-and-two S Deontay Evans caught Fitzgerald on a roll-left for no gain.

*Wilson was clearly hampered by the sore muscle but there was nothing at all wrong with Wilson's hands. In one period he made a double-move, went up for a pass, batted it around until able to secure possession, and still kept both feet inbounds on the right sideline. Later in full-team drills he got ahead of coverage for an in-stride catch from Prescott that went for a 36-yard gainer.

Wilson stayed in the first rotation on one end opposite R.Johnson; with slot WR Jameon Lewis and TE Malcolm Johnson. The second group was WR Joe Morrow and WR Fred Ross splits; WR Gabe Myles in the slot and either Brandon Hill or Gus Walley the split tight ends.

*The pass/skel period didn't lack for contact either, it was just a little more controlled. When WR Robert Johnson came down with a throw over on a sideline, a little off his balance, LB Dezmond Harris used only his left hand to grasp and rip the wideout down hard. During this work S Justin Cox jumped a route and picked off QB Damian Williams.

*Coach Greg Knox spoke Tuesday about the hours invested in special teams this spring, now that he has overall charge of that area. Thursday it showed as the running backs coach had all kicking and cover units operating. This included some continuing tests of who will make the front lines going either way; during one period only seven blockers and seven cover-ers were active, tearing into each other.

For punt coverage the primary fast-cover guys were starting corners Taveze Calhoun and Jamerson Love. For this work there was no real tackling, so all Lewis, Holloway, Redmond, et.al. had to do was catch the kick and make a few moves.

Placekicking remains a gamble though. PK Evan Sobiesk missed a field goal try from 27 yards, going wide to the left.

*After the spring game, Mississippi State will have used only 14 of the allowed 15 practice dates. Mullen will take advantage of it though, to hold a post-game session next week both to review camp and the final scrimmage; and issue orders for the short off-season and summer.

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