Very hard, when defensive lineman James Carmon and offensive guard Gabe Jackson suddenly tied-up during—of all things—a field goal drill. The contestants had to be yanked apart, fortunately quickly as PK Sean Brauchle managed to get in between those big bodies somehow. Mullen paused the placekicking period to let the Carmon and Jackson go at it one-on-one in a bullring; then sent both to start a long series of five-and-stops with Coach Matt Balis.
Then, the regular scheduling resumed with a few more kick plays concluded when Derek DePasquale hit from 50 yards out. While Mullen could initially joke about the competitiveness shown by a couple of linemen, he did want them to understand there is a time and place for everything including scuffling. During drills was not it.
“Nah, it wastes a lot of time at practice. I mean, I’d rather do that between the whistles than after. A little more energy between the whistles will make us a better team.”
Mississippi State did spend the rest of Thursday getting better as both a team and individual plays, in a full-pads practice lasting close to three full hours thanks to the interruption. Before that incident Mullen and staff had reason to be pleased with the general level of execution as well as effort.
Day-five of camp saw a strong emphasis again on the running game. Whether in unit drills, 7-on-7, or full-team work, the offense operated out of a bigger variety of sets and schemes than seen last fall, as well as with alternating combinations of halfbacks and fullbacks. This included running plays begun both under-center and out of the shotgun, though more often the latter. Option runs dominated the play selection, particularly in split-back sets with the first pair of Robert Elliott and Vick Ballard and the second tandem of LaDarius Perkins and Montrell Conner.
Though, the rotation had to be revised in the first hour when redshirt Conner game away from a routine handoff gimping. Conner tried later to take part in some 7-on-7 from a flanked-out position but little else. Mullen is not concerned the frosh will miss much time. “They said he’ll be fine, he kind of tweaked there and it started tightening-up and he couldn’t get himself going again.”
The three other halfbacks still did their jobs well in seven-man team. And when the action changed fields and went full team-on-team, they still showed up well carrying the ball or running routes. Both Elliott and Ballard had some tough catches in traffic, whether as the designated receiver or more often as the ‘hot’ man underneath. Ballard showed other toughness as he gave S Charles Mitchell the worst of it in a collision as the running back was going in from the five-yard line. Perkins had an impressive moment as in twos-vs.-twos in goal line work he squirmed out of an arm tackle inside the five yard line and got in.
“They ran the ball hard today,” Mullen said of his backs. “There’s still not a lot of experience there right now and they’re still learning what’s going on. To be a good running back you have to be a great pass protector, and we have a ways to go there. But I like how we’re running the ball, they’re trying to be physical.
Even QB Relf got in on the running fun, as in one of the ‘make or run’ plays at the one yard line he kept himself on an option-right, dragged out of LB Brandon Wilson’s arm tackle and scored. In the second teams’ chance to score or run, QB Tyler Russell chose not to keep but threw. His pass was tipped by S Wade Bonner but TE Brandon Henderson stayed with the play and came down with the carom for the touchdown.
Thus the entire defense had to do 300 extra yards of running after practice while the offense left early…all but the four quarterbacks and their coach Les Koenning. The passers had to run extra for some turnovers. Relf got careless throwing to a sideline receiver and S Johnathan Banks had it read all the way for an easy pick. Russell had his own gaffe when he dropped a snap, recovered and went into a pile standing straight-up; easy pickings for Carmon to strip the ball away and start a return that went about as far as his 6-7 height.
Regular pass-catchers not ignored though, and in red zone work WR Chad Bumphis rose to the forefront. Twice he was the target for Relf for touchdowns, one of them a stop-and-go that left his safety frozen in place. The other was just a case of Relf threading the needle in traffic to find Bumphis at the goal line. Russell and the second offense had to cope with a couple of blitzes and while he was sacked once the #2 quarterback also foiled the defense twice with smart completions underneath.
The special goal line defense, featuring an extra lineman, also has developed a good feel for when the offense is about to try one of the many reverses. The first offense tried it on consecutive plays from the 25 going in with a gain of three on a flanker reverse; and a loss of four on a option-sweep-reverse.
Placekicking with Brauchle and DePasquale was the last area of special teams addressed Thursday, but far from the only one. Earlier there were periods devoted to fielding kickoffs and punts, of punt protection, and several minutes testing both the downfield coverage and blocking by individuals in kickoff return. Practically every Dog not a lineman or passer is getting a look for possible duty here. It might seem odd that in spring-two Mullen is investing so much practice time on kicking and covering instead of installing more offense.
But as he’s also often said, he is the special teams coach too. “Spring is a time you can get a lot of individual work done. Especially in the special teams. During the season you get crunched for time and don’t get to do all the individual work you need to get done, so it’s a great to get a little extra work here in spring.”
For the first time this camp the Bulldogs have consecutive practice days…a three-fer actually as they will be back at work Friday and Saturday. “We’ll be partial pads tomorrow,” Mullen said, “and full-pads for our scrimmage Saturday.”
SIDE LINES: Combatants Carmon and Jackson weren’t the only Bulldogs penalized with extra running after their incident. Defensive team captains LB K.J. Wright and DE Pernell McPhee had to do a series of full gassers themselves for the sins of a teammate, apparently because Carmon did not snap to his five-and-stops out of a stance as Jackson did. And that did not include the full-defensive team’s added gassers. S Zach Smith must be feeling just fine this spring. In a full-team period after WR Chad Bumphis pulled in a short throw between the hashes and turned upfield, Smith put him down hard and showed no ill effects…CB Corey Broomfield was held out of Thursday’s contact drills to protect a shoulder still healing from a winter procedure. Former WR-turned-corner Arceto Clark took Broomfield’s place at right cornerback for these periods… Redshirt Dennis Thames got more snaps as the second team safety today, taking some of veteran Wade Bonner’s turns.