"I think we've done a really good job up to this point of improving each day," said Mullen following the 16th practice session of August. And, the last time the Bulldogs will be working at the Farm facility. When the team resumes their preseason regimen on Thursday it will be back on the north campus practice fields. Mullen hopes by then, and following a day-off for initial school obligations, it will be a sharper squad going about business than he saw this afternoon.
"We did a little bit more live stuff, going against each other," the coach reported. "And when that happened I think we got sloppy. Execution suffered on both sides of the ball." Which means nobody came out a winner Tuesday. Whether or not State's coaching staff regarded anyone as losers, well, that will require evening evaluation. But from now on Mullen and aides will be grading such things in a more intense context, such as the shift in practice emphasis just now underway.
"It was a lot of game situation stuff," Mullen said. "We're done with all of our installations, we're working specifics. We've got to get ready to play a game mentality so we did a lot of game situations."
The Bulldogs don't kick off—or receive—against Memphis for a few more weeks, and his assistants are still establishing their own lineups and rotations by positions. Yet here half-way through camp the head coach can't help but be thinking of the real thing already. Mullen jokes, sort-of, about "every aspect!" of the 2010 keeping him awake late.
"Because I have pretty high expectations for us. So if I see one thing that doesn't look right it keeps me up at nights. But I love our effort. That's one thing that I've always wanted to preach, that we're going to have that team that always tries hard. And I think this is going to be another team that is going to give great effort. I just want to see us be a great execution team as well."
One area where Mississippi State has executed very well in Mullen's first two seasons is getting expected freshmen enrolled. Tuesday saw the rookie class of 2010 completed formally when freshman receiver Michael Carr finally got full clearance. He had already been practicing under temporary certification, but would have had to step away after today without full blessing by the clearinghouse.
Carr had to miss summer workouts with the cleared-squad and it showed on the first day of August camp when he went down in the muggy morning conditions. But Mullen likes how the West Point product has gotten up to college speed. "He's picked it up. I mean he's still going to be behind everybody else a little but he's improved. And I think he did work on his own, to the point where it wasn't a huge shock. But he's doing OK."
Getting all the expected enrollees cleared is pretty big, too. "That's huge for us, that's two years in a row everybody that we've had a mathematical chance to get eligible has gotten eligible. That's a great credit to Rockey Felker, and Bracky Brett and Steve Smith in our compliance office, as well as our coaches. And the kids have really worked. That's what you want."
Carr beating the deadline means the 105-man roster was all cleared for action in time to be joined Thursday by the remaining players on the maximum 120-team. That includes two receivers recovering from surgeries. Walk-on Sam Williams tore a knee ligament in spring drills; true frosh Malcolm Johnson had June foot surgery. Placekicker Baker Swedenburg (foot) also resumes his place on the full roster for the rest of preseason.
As to what he foresees these next 15 folks to bring to the gameplan, Mullen is not going to burden them with high expectations just yet. For that matter, "I don't know if many of the freshmen are going to play out of our scholarship guys. It's just hard for the young guys. But when we get the program going the way we want and get all that competition it should be tougher for them to play." It is a very different story with the second-fall freshmen.
These pups, such as S Nickoe Whitley, LB Deonte Skinner, DE Johnathan McKenzie, WR Ricco Sanders, and others are supposed to be ready to get in the game. Now.
"We can only redshirt them once," as Mullen said. "So we need those guys to make huge steps this time of year to be contributors on the field. Maybe not starters, but contributors."
Mullen will be leaving town Wednesday morning for a quick trip to ESPN's studios in Connecticut and on-air appearance. But he will be flying back immediately and show up for the ‘Drill' activities on campus as Mississippi State's new school year opens. The Bulldogs resume practices around 4:00 Thursday, and have a closed evening scrimmage Friday at Scott Field.