Not that football practices would ever be described as “easy,” but today’s split-squad sessions are the closest the Mississippi State players will get to a breather as the team hits The Farm in full pads tomorrow after moving into the hotel tonight.
Over the next couple weeks, Dan Mullen and his coaching staff will be installing the offense and defense for their team, but the head coach said today’s divided practice sessions are a good opportunity to work on specifics. Specific people, that is.
“It allows you to break it down and really get to the individual,” Mullen said. “Today was a lot of individual work. A lot of individual attention on doing things the right way.”
With so much attention on the individual, I asked Mullen if any particular players stood out or had impressive plays. It turns out, his thoughts are elsewhere.
“My focus is always on going hard,” Mullen said. “If a guy jumps up and makes a catch, I hope they do that, because we recruited them to do that, but I don’t even pay attention. If a guy makes a spectatcular catch over here, I’m not even paying attention to that. I’m making sure we have 10 other guys on defense running to the ball.”
These last few practices, it seems, have been about making sure everyone, both individuals and full units, understands the basics. If everyone understands what is expected of them and what to do in practice, Mullen said, then the teaching is much easier and streamlined.
Of course, one group has not had much of an opportunity to receive a wealth of instruction and 1-on-1 time with their position coach: special teams.
Mullen, the coach of the third unit of the team, has several new kickers to choose from, of the kickoff, field goal and punting varieties. The test for kickers, according to Mullen, is not what they do on the side field by themselves. Anyone can make a kick by themselves against only the air, Mullen said.
The true measure of a kicker’s dependability and skill will come when they finally go against their teammates in live-action drills, according to the head coach.
Those game-like situations are likely to begin tomorrow when the team dresses out in full gear for the first time.
The best news on that front, Mullen said, may come in the form of kickoffs, which have been moved up five yards from the previous spot, just as MSU welcomes in a freshman with a big leg.
“It’s a huge deal,” Mullen said. “We finally get a guy, Devon Bell, we think can kick it out of the endzone, and now they move it up.”
The head coach also delved into the makeup of his receivers a bit in his meeting with the media Monday afternoon.
One of the unique things about the group, he said, is that with so many experienced players, there isn’t always one obvious leader. Sometimes it’s all of them.
“At different times it’s different guys,” Mullen said. “I think [senior] Chris Smith does a good job in trying to do that. He’s a guy that’ll stand up and get in people’s faces a little bit if he needs to.”
The most well-known senior is, of course, Chad Bumphis. He had big freshman and sophomore seasons, but his numbers dipped a bit in his junior campaign last year. Now, Mullen said Bumphis comes to him regularly asking what he can do to get better and how he can help the team.
“Chad’s very conscientious as a guy that wants to play his best football his senior year,” Mullen said. “He and I have talked several times and it’s really important for him to do that this season.”
We’ll have more on the receivers and more from Mullen in the coming days as the Dawgs head to The Farm. Tomorrow afternoon, in fact, is MSU’s on campus media day, so be expecting plenty of updates both here and on Twitter.
Follow along at @mstatefb, @bobcarskadon, @KyleNiblett and @joestate for up-to-the second updates, or at least the occasional nugget. We’ll have a full recap here on the HailState Beat shortly afterwards.