After a little over four hours of constant interviews, pictures, autographs and smiling, the Mississippi State portion of SEC Media Days has finally come to a close. Dan Mullen, Johnthan Banks, Tyler Russell and Gabe Jackson are on their way back to Starkville, of whom the latter three will return to find afternoon workouts in the Mississippi sun waiting on them after their hectic mornings.
We’ve got wrap-up videos with all three talking about their experience today, as well as several blogs and stories, coming up here on the HailState Beat and at HailState.com
For now, let’s jump into some of the highlights of the day, as well as a few pictures I snapped while trailing the guys throughout the morning.
Mullen fielded just about every question you could think to ask over the course of the day, but the gist of the questioning came down to two things: making a move in the SEC West and Russell taking over the offense. Mullen said he “couldn’t be more pleased with Tyler’s development” in one of the media rooms, describing what Tyler faced when he got to campus with outside expectations of him being the savior as a true freshman. Now, it’s Russell’s turn at the helm.
“It’s gonna be on Tyler’s shoulders to lead us and hopefully get us to an SEC Championship,” Mullen said.
That SEC Championship was a topic of conversation, as well. Mullen caused some ripples in the main media room when he said “We’re not that far off from a national title.” Mullen’s reasoning is that MSU has played down to the wire with teams like Alabama and LSU, so he feels like his team is close to breaking through in the west. If you win the west, Mullen said, you’re probably playing for the national title. And he’s right.
The fourth-year head coach also dove into his past a bit, comparing his current quarterback to a former pupil of his, Alex Smith. Smith, as you likely know, was Mullen’s quarterback at Utah and went on to become the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft. We wrote about the comparison last week, and it’s certainly an interesting one. As Mullen said, both Smith and Russell can be called “a pure, dropback passer.”
Mullen also made it a point to brag on his residence of Starkville, calling it “one of the best college towns in the country,” even if others don’t realize it.
One of the funnier moments of the day – and there were several – came right after Mullen finished up in the main room and the players came in do to interviews. As Mullen stepped off the stage, Gabe Jackson grabbed a microphone at the back of room and said, “Coach, I’ve got a question for you. Who’s your favorite player?”
Mullen laughed and yelled back at him, “Jon Banks!”
While his coach jokingly passed him over, Jackson spent as much time as he could telling anyone who would listen that MSU’s offensive line shouldn’t be overlooked, and that he and his teammates are more than prepared to block for Russell and the rest of the offense, particularly with right guard Tobias Smith getting healthy.
Jackson also said it’s been strange to him to be the veteran and the leader of the offensive line after just finishing his sophomore season, but it’s a role he’s embracing. Like Banks and Russell, Jackson said he knows Mullen brought him to Birmingham because he wants him to be a leader and he doesn’t plan on letting his coach down.
As for Banks, he spent more time deflecting questions about LSU cornerback Tyrann Matthieu (the Honey Badger) than he did answering actual questions, and credit to the senior corner for not taking the bait.
“I know it’s gonna be all over twitter,” Banks said wisely.
However, while he held back the heat for the Honey Badger, Banks pulled no punches when talking about Ole Miss. Not only did he say that MSU should’ve beaten the Rebels “by a lot more than we did,” he guaranteed a win in this year’s rivalry game.
“We’re gonna win the Egg Bowl for the fourth year in a row,” Banks told the media at the Wynfrey Hotel.
Banks even had something to say about Hugh Freeze when asked about the man who replaced Houston Nutt for Ole Miss.
“We ain’t really worried about that new coach. He’s not gonna get out there and play a snap.”
Banks also had some high praise for Russell, saying, “If Tyler has the year he can have, he’ll be in the same boat as me,” having to make a decision on whether to return to school or enter the NFL Draft.
Asked about his side of the ball, Banks said, “We’re gonna be one of the best defenses in the country.” As soon as Banks finished his proclamation, thunder boomed in the background, leaving the room in silence. I may have been the only one who noticed, but it was entertaining either way. And, as it turns out, we were under a tornado watch at the time.
Now for a few team notes before we get into some pictures.
- Mullen said tight end Malcolm Johnson, who suffered an undisclosed non-football injury, will be out for an extended period of time, but he does expect to have the versatile tight end back this season.
- When asked about replacing Vick Ballard at running back, Mullen compared the situation to 2010 when he had to replace Anthony Dixon, saying that at first it was a committee and then Ballard became the main guy. Mullen said he could envision something similar happening this year, and he knows it will definitely be a committee approach early on.
- If you had any concerns that Russell wouldn’t be the main quarterback and it could become a two-man system, Mullen soothed those fears this morning. He said redshirt freshman Dak Prescott will see some action, but that it will be Russell’s team to lead and Prescott’s appearances will be a means of getting him game experience, much like Russell’s outings in the 2010 season.