"I think I'm a decent football coach but no idea about weatherman. We'll be outside practicing unless we have a lightning storm. I'm not real big into that." Though, the coach added, he could get used to it under the right circumstances. "We'll have an inside practice hopefully the first week of December game when we get ready for our first inside game, in Atlanta," he quipped. "Besides that we play all outside so that's where we need to practice."
As to what the Bulldogs need to practice at the 8:00 p.m. session, the coach has a couple of items very much on his mind after evaluating Wednesday night's results. All come on one worrisome side of the ball.
"We didn't do very well on offense yesterday," Mullen said. Which bothered him not just because this is the third week of preseason but because it was a letdown from what the coach called a "great practice" on Tuesday evening. No such luck the next night. Though, Mullen clarified his comment by saying this time at least the problem was not outright errors, the kind that he admits make him "lose my mind sometimes when everybody is making mistakes." That wasn't the case Wednesday in a practice session primarily planned around the passing game.
"It wasn't that we were making mistakes, it was just poor execution. Dropped passes, overthrown balls, just kind of sloppy that way. I thought the defense came out and played real well yesterday, though." So, was the reason more offensive issues or defensive superiority at this point of preseason?
"You never know, but to me that's using a crutch saying well, the defense had our number today," Mullen said. "Watching the defense make plays is one thing but defense I don't think has a lot to do with just lack of execution. That is more offensive execution than defensive great play."
Which doesn't take away from the fact the Bulldog defense is in good camp-condition, building upon a strong spring and showing both variety this August as well as quality depth. The defense has been free, or freer, to play aggressively in team-on-team drills and taken full advantage. At the same time the offense had been picking up their own practice pace and making some (reported if unwitnessed) progress in scrimmage settings. Thus Mullen's disappointment in failure to execute as well Wednesday.
Though, there has been improvement in an important facet. Fumbles forced or unforced are down markedly from the first day of hitting. "It's been much better. It started really sloppy early, and it's been much improved," Mullen said. "Yesterday you look at the ball-mess-ups, it was more interception or overthrowing receivers and making poor throws. But as far as our backs holding on to the ball it's been better." Mullen confirmed that senior backs Christian Ducre and Anthony Dixon remain co-number-ones, splitting the first-team snaps. The news here is the unexpectedly fast comeback of classmate Arnil Stallworth from his March knee injury and surgery. Though the brace is still there, the senior has far exceeded hopes for his camp status. In fact Mullen admitted that the staff has been protecting Stallworth more than the trainers said was needed.
Now, "We've let him loose. So those first-team reps are starting to go three-way." The chief concern at this position has become protecting Ducre from over-work, whether as a fullback or on kicking teams. "Because he'd be a starter on every special team," Mullen said. As for the younger backs, Mullen loves the effort in drills. "It's the speed and how fast they pick it up," he said.
"You see improvements on a daily basis with Montrell Conner and LaDarius Perkins and Rob Elliot, but they're just younger guys and getting used to the speed of the game as well as learning the offense, how to pass-protect, how to make the reads on different runs. That's the big difference, where the older guys are used to the speed of what is going on on the field."
Speed is increasingly the word at tight end, too. Mullen reports that soph Marcus Green's return to health has been big for this offensive gameplan. "He's a weapon," the coach said. "Because he's a dynamic player in the pass game as well as a strong blocker. Kendrick Cook is probably a stronger blocker, not as dynamic in the pass game, but he is a ‘do everything right' guy. He gets open not because of pure athletic ability but because he's doing everything the right way.
"Those guys are going to have a pretty big role in our offense and hopefully they create the mismatches on linebackers, because of their blocking ability it's hard to put a d.b. on them. Their ability to beat linebackers in the pass game is key." Which is something constantly practiced when State works on the air attack these days. As far as the throwers, Mullen still regards Tyson Lee and Chris Relf as even, though the soph is struggling with repeating good play after good play.
"Chris has done a good job in the running game, he's done a real nice job throwing the ball at times. His downside right now is consistency. He'll make some big-time throws, real throws, then come back and spike one into the ground from ten yards away. We're working on his footwork and consistency in throwing the football. But his play-making and decision-making and leadership control of the offense is 100% better than it was in the spring."
The youngest quarterback, Tyler Russell, was supposed to be back at work this evening after missing two days with tonsillitis that proved non-contagious. He did show up Wednesday but was held out after the fever. And, "I didn't let Tyler breathe on me yesterday," Mullen grinned. DE Trevor Stigers was allowed to go home yesterday with flu symptoms, as the whole MSU campus deals with variations of the virus as well. Mullen had no more flu victims to report today, and TE Brandon Henderson was the only new name on the injury list after Tuesday contact work.
"Nothing really new, there might be some guys tweaked that are a little bit healthier. And a couple more guys that are just kind of sore, we might limit their reps."
There won't be any limiting the intensity tonight, though, as the Bulldogs pull on full padding for another session. "Today will be a big first-down emphasis, be a lot of run-game stuff and play-action. It will be full pads again and get after it. We still want a lot of contact. I like contact, there's contact during a game and it toughens our guys up. We try to do as much ones-on-ones, twos-on-twos, good against good as possible still this time of year so our guys are getting real game-speed reps."
This is the last under-the-lights practice of the week and likely the next-to-last one of camp under Mullen's current schedule. On Friday the Bulldogs will cut back contact, practicing in shoulder pads and helmets only, so as to be really ready for another Saturday scrimmage. Though Mullen said it won't be exactly the same format as last Saturday which was a true scrimmage. The Dogs will get on Scott Field for the first time since the spring game and try to do some real game-type drills.
"We're going to really concentrate on game mechanics," said Mullen, noting that where in the first scrimmage the assistant coaches were often on the field instructing, correcting, or motivating. "So they could evaluate them. Saturday we're going into the stadium, have our coaches that are going to be upstairs in the press box, get the headphones out so hopefully we look somewhat organized on September 5."
Including being ready to go in any kind of weather, for that matter. Mullen might not be much of a weatherman, but any Boy Scout would appreciate the coach's Be Prepared credo. "Like anything, I've done a poor job coaching if we show up on game day and I haven't put them in a situation they're presented to. If there's a chance it might rain on game day we'd better make sure we're practiced in it."