Saturday Afternoon Practice Report/Notebook

Dan Mullen

It's really a simple thing, this business of banging bodies at practice. As Dan Mullen sees things, pulling on padding ought to punch every competitive button on a ballplayer. "If it doesn't, then you don't like football!"

Safe to say that a whole bunch of Bulldogs showed their head coach Saturday they do, indeed, like football. Whether it was the morning session featuring first-teamers against each other along with freshman and fourth-line guys; or the afternoon practice combining second- and third-groups, there was plenty knocking of headgear.

"There was some popping going on there," acknowledged Mullen. "That's good."

A good show at times, too, for those observing the last public practice of this preseason. Often as not the competitive drills looked a lot more like a scrimmage than just practice, belying that the Dogs were in only partial pads instead of full gear. But even without an audience things were going to get intense Saturday. The first day in pads surely played a part; but so did the way Mississippi State structured day-three. "This is our biggest installation day of training camp," Mullen said.

"The (first) two days we did one installation, the same one. They got out there and got used to it, then we threw a lot on them today to see how much they can handle."

Evidently both sides of the ball could handle a good bit, especially—and naturally—the first team which took their turn early in the day. #1 QB Chris Relf dominated the morning session whether in 7-on-7 or 11-on-11. Just as would be expected from the first-team offense, of course, though they were also executing against the #1 defensive team. That made Relf's work even stronger (see morning report).

Session two wasn't shabby either. Not with third QB Dylan Favre completing 14 of his 15 pass attempts in 11-on-11 situations; or #2 QB Tyler Russell going 9-of-15 himself. If Russell seemed somewhat off in comparison, he'd put in an effective Friday evening performance already.

"Chris had a good day this morning, which is what you want to see. Tyler had a great practice last night, we'll see how this one went," said Mullen. Though, he added, "To me it's all about consistency. I don't need them to have a big day and then a bad day, I want them to be just really steady at the quarterback position."

The red-jerseyed quarterbacks also had the easiest Saturdays, in terms of hitting as they could be chased but not knocked around. Much. Everyone else had to keep the helmet buckled tight, particularly receivers hauling in those throws. S Nickoe Whitley reminded both WR Sam Williams and TE AllenTolbert of this fact by planting each after a catch.

The pass rush wasn't intense for another reason, as afternoon heat took a toll. The early practice pace was even slowed somewhat compared to the morning in unit drills and those periods shortened. Not that the morning crew complained; the afternoon squad had put in a weight workout while they were practicing and had to do their on-field stuff already tired. In fact a lot of the varsity Dogs, who did their own weights session after lunch, were watching the start of afternoon practice from a safe and sympathetic distance. Though "I'd like to be out there," commented Relf, looking fresh enough to do so.

He'd have liked to be throwing to young targets such as Jameon Lewis and Brandon Hill who had outstanding afternoons. The offense(s) were short a couple of players though. TB LaDarius Perkins went down in just the second period, a victim it turned out of illness leading to dehydration. TE Malcolm Johnson didn't report at all, having cramped-up Friday morning after his own illness. Neither is expected to be out long.

Hill, one of two tight ends available, made up for M.Johnson's absence to run a lot more routes than usual and catch lots of throws around and underneath coverage. It went a bit harder for lone remaining TB Robert Elliott as he had to double the workload with the #2 team. But the senior wasn't complaining and bore up well under the conditions.

Other than shortening the preceding drills, the practice plan was identical to the morning. Which meant the best came last with the 11-man competitions, each team taking six snaps before rotating. And unlike the morning session, there were no cases of a team having to run gassers for getting on or off the field late for their turns.

As the numbers showed Favre was on his game in full-team settings this day. He began with ten straight completions in three series before finally missing, leaving one too high for WR Chris Smith. While most of his catches in this stretch came on short patterns or trademark scrambles, Favre was able to pick apart the #3 defense. Admittedly, that group was very shy on good rushers as the tackles were walk-ons Dewayne Cherrington and Winston Chapman, with ends Allen Tucker and Corvell Harrison-Gay. The hurry-up offense exhausted the defensive front quickly and the linebackers were busy chasing people before Favre's throws arrived.

Russell was working against a better caliber of defense including some veterans with redshirts ready to play. Better pressure and coverage were definite factors in his completion rate, but at times Russell made up for it by showing his improved running skills. If not the best run of the afternoon, #3 FB William Shumpert's 15-yard gainer in 11-man play was the loudest as he slammed into #2 CB Marvin Bure.

Mullen has structured early practices to conclude with the most and best game-like period, the last chance drive. As with the morning, the offense had the ball shy of midfield with 50 seconds and two timeouts. Russell took his offense downfield steadily but ate up too much time in the process, leaving three seconds at the 15-yard line. The play got off but Russell's end zone throw for Williams was high and double-covered by CB Damein Anderson and S Jay Hughes anyway.

Favre did better, needing just four (completed) throws to score. He hit Hill and Lewis both over the middle, then Smith on the sideline to stop clock for first down inside the 20. Lewis again got open behind the middle linebacker and found an alley into the end zone with lots of remaining time.

Compared to the morning, "Not bad," was Mullen's initial afternoon grade. "A little sloppy at times. You get thinned-out quick here (with split rosters). I think tomorrow when you put everybody back together I'm hoping it is a little smoother."

"But it's still such a teaching mode that we're in right now. There are a lot of guys that are thinking and not playing, so that's still hard to evaluate. The older guys you can evaluate but we kind of know what they can do anyway."

Tomorrow the complete team moves from the regular practice fields to their special camp at the Farm, the single field at South Farm where the real work begins out of public view. Mullen and staff had a quick review of Saturday's video and an evening walk-through with the team to set them up for two-a-days.

Days when the padding and the contact alike are full, too. Which is the best part of training camp in Mullen's mind.

"Anytime you can put pads on and bump into people a little bit more, that's the game of football."

TALK IS CHEAP: During 7-on-7 work, OLB Jamie Jones walked up close to the line towards his designated receiver. "Me and you, Heavens?" he called to WR Brandon. "You're going to cry."

Heavens didn't make an audible reply. All he did was take four fast steps straight ahead, then cut hard to his left into the middle of the field for an easy catch from QB Tyler Russell. The catch would probably have gone all 65 yards too if not for a whistle.

That might have factored into Jones, as well as CB Jamerson Love, serving short stints as ‘running backs' during some defensive drills with a ball carrier smacking into tacklers.

HIT IT AGAIN: They don't really mind hearing the whistle signaling an end to practices. It's when the whistle halts a scrimmage play that Bulldog defenders get annoyed. "Oh, yeah," says linebacker Brandon Wilson. "Especially when they hit a big play on us, we want to get back on them. Then coach blows the whistle and that's the final say-so."

Oh, well. There's always the next play to keep the contact going for Wilson and squad here in preseason practices. Since it is still most of a month before they can lay into a real opponent, for now anyone in a maroon jersey is fair game…up to and at times even through the whistle.

"That's defense, we can't hold back," Wilson said. "It's relentless effort every day no matter what. If we're in full gear or in shells or just in shorts, that's what we have to do. And we're going to continue to do that no matter what."

Such thinking was the largest reason why Saturday's first pads-practicing of training camp was a pretty big, umm, hit for everyone. Not that there was true tackling per se…but things got really close at times. Also contributing was the hurry-up pace everyone operated at, offense and defense alike. That principle about ‘bodies in motion' certainly applied because things scarcely slowed with everyone ricocheting around.

Maybe in a real game Wilson & Co. wouldn't care for hurry-up. For the preseason moment, it's just fine with him to keep it moving.

"I think it's going to help us out a lot. Especially with the pace our offense is going it's going to get us prepared, help us be on our Ps and Qs and make all the checks. So when we get farther in fall camp we'll be able to continue to go further with it."

Meanwhile Wilson is playing his own game-within-a-game in camp, competing with Clemson transfer Brandon Maye for the middle linebacker job. So far the former walk-on has held on to the position he won, outright at that, in spring as the most impressive MSU linebacker of that camp. Maye is the #3 for now, more due to his mid-summer arrival and lack of experience here. Redshirt Ferlando Bohanna is number-two for now.

For the future? Don't get hung up on listings, Wilson cautioned.

"That's nothing. The depth chart is just something where we get all the reps situated. I'm still competing with Bohanna and B-Maye and Jamie Jones. So I have to continue to improve myself every single day or that spot will be gone." Thus the senior has to be good. Which Wilson has been, though he is quick to praise his competitor too.

"He's making a lot of plays. He's a great player obviously, from three years in the ACC. Coming here, that brings experience to us. I don't necessarily look at it like (competition), when he makes a play I go out and make a play and continue to push. That's the thing, he's pushing me and I'm pushing him."

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