It’s been a busy day for Dan Mullen and his Bulldogs, with their first practice on the farm this morning, followed by the on campus media day in the afternoon. Even now, they are in meetings and getting ready for tomorrow’s two-a-day practices.
Over the course of an hour in the Bryan Athletic building today, I caught up with around a dozen players and coaches, including Mullen himself who opened the festivities. We’ll have tons of coverage from those chats here on the blog and on HailState.com, but to whet your appetite we’ve got some good highlights ready now.
Two of the main themes in Mullen’s time at the podium were recruiting and depth, though the two certainly tie together as good recruiting leads to good depth. Asked if Mississippi State was getting its depth to the level of teams like LSU and Alabama, as he has said before is his goal, Mullen said he isn’t there yet, but he’s not far off.
“We’re getting there. I still think we’re getting closer.” Mullen said. “When the twos come on the field, you don’t see as significant of a drop off as you’ve maybe seen in the past.”
Mullen said it does make things tougher to have lost Fletcher Cox, who left early for the NFL, but the head coach is naturally happy that one of his players could become a first-round pick.
On the recruiting end of it, Mullen said he has been proud of his staff for both locating and developing what others may call under-the-radar prospects, though he doesn’t see them as such.
“We have our own Dandy Dozen list. We have our own five stars,” Mullen said, making the point that he doesn’t go by what Rivals, Scout or 24/7 say. “We’re doing our own evaluation on our kids.”
Mullen also looked back on his first recruiting class, many of whom are now seniors, and said it’s a group that turned out pretty well. Now, MSU needs those elders to produce.
“You look at successful teams, I think seniors play their best,” Mullen said. “We need the entire class to have their best season if we’re gonna have a successful year.”
Of course, there is a junior in the group who arrived in 2009 who Mullen needs to be good, too. That man is quarterback Tyler Russell, who Mullen has been impressed with thus far.
“Tyler is much, much better than he was last year at this point,” Mullen said.
Mullen said it would be easy for Russell to take his foot off the gas a bit since he knows he’s the starter, but that he’s actually worked even harder than last year when he was competing with Chris Relf for the job.
Although, much of Russell’s success may have to do with his offensive line. Sophomore Damien Robinson, in a battle for the starting job at right tackle, said he believes this year’s line will be better than last year’s edition that struggled through injuries. Senior guard Tobias Smith, who is returning form injury, echoed Robinson’s thoughts, saying the overall depth is better, despite losing three players to the NFL.
One of the new guys expected to help is junior college transfer Charles Siddoway, in the battle at right tackle, who Robinson said he has been helping get adjusted to MSU and learn the playbook.
Offensive line coach John Hevesy said Smith is of great importance to the line, both on the field and off. One of the things they would miss the most about Smith, Hevesy said, would be “his smile in the locker room.”
Another note from Hevesy: he mentioned Archie Muniz as one of the big players in the competition for the left and right tackle spots. Muniz sat out the spring with an injury, but he as a big frame and plenty of natural ability.
I also had a few chats with defensive coaches and players, talking to several of them about senior cornerback Darius Slay, who could be a starter on opening day. We’ll have a lot more on him in the coming days, but he got some high praise from his teammates.
One big nugget came from senior corner Johnthan Banks. I asked him about Mullen’s comment recently saying fellow senior Corey Broomfield could be playing some safety, and how that would allow Slay to play corner and have those three join junior Nickoe Whitley to make up the defensive backfield.
Said Banks, “That’s pretty much how it’s gonna be.”
It sounds like we can expect to see Broomfield at safety more times than not. Safeties coach Tony Hughes said that’s something he’s pretty excited about, raving about Broomfield being a smart, hard-nosed player.
Defensive backs coach Melvin Smith, in addition to discussing his three seniors, talked a bit about the young corners ready to step in after the old men graduate this year. He said sophomore Jamerson Love is “one of the best special teams players” in the SEC, and he compared the long-armed redshirt freshman Taveze Calhoun to Banks in terms of size and ability to play multiple positions.
We also got some explanation from defensive coordinator Chris Wilson on what will be happening with defensive end Denico Autry. The speedy junior college transfer said Saturday he sees himself as a specialist, a third-down rusher. Mullen said Sunday he wants Autry to become an every-down player.
What does Wilson think?
“I expect Denico Autry to never leave the field.”
That should answer the question.
As I said, we’ll have a ton more coming both here and on HailState.com over the next several days, including some more in-depth stories on a couple of exciting players trying to work their way onto the field this fall.