Early thoughts and observations from MSU training camp

Several months ago, I started running. I also stopped very quickly on that first occasion, if I’m being honest.

I’ve never been much for distance running of any kind, but I had decided to get in shape and make myself able to jog more than a minute without wheezing.

dan-mullenjpg-912f17e85e31cc69_largeIt was awful. Sweating, struggling to breathe, sore every day.

But, slowly, day by day and week by week, it got better.

I still can’t run far (or fast), but now I can look back at where I was and see that I’ve improved, even if I’m still a couple Ks short of a 5K in one go.

I wouldn’t call it hard work in my case, but work of some kind does pay off.

That’s the message Dan Mullen wants his team to get, both underclassmen and veterans, as fall camp has begun.

“They wanna go play the game, they want to kick it off,” Mullen said, “But they’ve gotta enjoy that entire process, enjoy that feeling of improving just a little bit from one day to the next, from one rep to the next. A lot of people love the reward, but what you gotta do is love the work that leads to that reward. That’s what we’re trying to stress.”

The games are what football is all about, after all. But as much as Mullen’s Bulldogs may want to play now, how much happier will they be in nearly a month, knowing how much better they are than when camp began.

Enjoy that process, Mullen says, make a conscious effort to improve yourself every day, and the rewards will not be difficult to find.

Early Observations

In the interest of honesty, it’s hard (and somewhat foolish) to try and take too much about individual players from the three days of practice Mississippi State has had so far. Not only are they the first organized team activities since April, but by letter of NCAA regulations, they haven’t even worn full pads yet.

A lot of receivers have dropped passes. A lot of receivers have made great catches. A lot of times, it’s been the same receiver. It’s early and the practice rust is just beginning to be knocked off.

But, some things we can see which don’t necessarily have depth chart ramifications are particularly interesting.

Deshea Townsend in his NFL playing days

Deshea Townsend in his NFL playing days

I keep finding myself to new corners coach Deshea Townsend during positional drills. “DeSwag” Townsend, as a few call him, never stops talking, like a true corner. He’s very active with the players, always teaching, always moving and always making something happen.

He’s fun to watch, for sure, but it’s also a big change from the spring when he seemed a bit quiet and reserved.

We asked him about it, and the reply made plenty of sense. When practice began so many months ago, he barely knew any of his players, and certainly hadn’t had time to develop much of relationship with them.

Now, Townsend says, he’s gotten to know his players, has learned what type of instruction they need, what gets a response and how to push their buttons. His fellow coaches have gone from co-workers to people and friends he knows and trusts and his players have the same relationship with him.

In a word, Townsend is comfortable, and that’s a very, very good thing for MSU.

On a player note, an intangible but very important thing to look for begins in the spring and really takes hold in the fall; leadership.

Only vaguely definable and something you feel, hear and see all at the same time, the leaders matter, and with so many seniors graduated from last year’s team, the 2013 squad is need of veterans to take on those role.

Early indications are that has happened with a few guys. Tyler Russell is an obvious one and LaDarius Perkins, who spoke a bit about the importance of it, is another who has made a conscious effort to be a strong leader.

One particularly interesting guy to me is Nickoe Whitley who, as odd as it sounds, is finally a senior. He’s generally been a quiet guy, one to keep more to himself, lay low and get his work done. Through the spring and summer, however, Whitley has emerged from his cocoon as a headstrong, go-to veteran for his defense and the entire team.

Both Perkins and Russell singled him out and offered praise for his leadership, both as an encourager and an example setter, particularly for the young pups behind him.

Beginning tomorrow, these observations will become a bit more football specific, as MSU will hold its last open practice, but its first in full pads. Real, live hitting and tackling. Football as Heaven intended it.

Although, beginning Monday, training camp will feel like more of a southern locale from those pearly gates when the Bulldogs move to ‘The Farm’ for two-a-days in the unrelenting heat.

Make sure you visit HailState.com/fallcamp for our training camp central, where we’ve got (within reason) everything you could want or imagine in football coverage.

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