Starting at 12:30, Mississippi State will host its on-campus media day for football. Dan Mullen is scheduled to lead things off, followed by coordinators and then players. Live-streaming video is available at HailState.com, and I’ll be running a live-thread here over the course of the day.
After interviews, practice is open to the media, so we’ll have reports from that later on, as well.
Time to get it started with the head man…
Today, as Mullen tells us, will be MSU’s first day with shoulder pads on. He likes it not necessarily so guys can hit, but because he thinks it’s actually more dangerous to have no pads at all on, like the first two practices.
Mullen said he’s not sure about outside hype, but says, “This team has extremely high expectation for themselves.”
Says his guys “know what they’ve put in” as far as offseason workouts, the experience they have with a lot of veterans, as well as talent and depth.
“I feel like we have a championship-caliber team.”
On the running backs, Mullen says every year is a committee to some degree, though usually “one guy steps out a little bit.” Came in response to a question asking of Josh Robinson would be the feature back.
“We’re gonna see who has the hot hand.”
He mentioned Nick Griffin finally being healthy, said he likes Ashton Shumpert as a power back and is particularly excited about what Brandon Holloway brings to the backfield with his speed.
“The program is built on playing great defense,” Mullen says in response to a question about up-tempo offenses. Again said he considers MSU a ball-control team.
“We’ve done some of that before,” he said, but doesn’t think that’s what his offense will be built on.
On Chris Jones: “I think he knows he has playmaking ability, but what we want form him is consistency. There’s a difference between being a playmaker and being a dominant player … He’s working at to get things done and has a lot of potential.”
Getting into the development of Dak Prescott, Mullen says he was “an average passer at-best when he got to campus,” but worked hard every day to become a talented passer. Says that’s what players have to do to improve. Proud of Prescott for the work he’s put in and effort he’s made.
“At the end of training camp, what would make me the happiest? That everyone is healthy,” Mullen says, “And that everyone has made great strides to be ready to get on the field on game day.”
Asked about the defense, Mullen pointed out that the defense finished the season by giving up three points to Ole Miss.
Going into a season, they don’t want to be good enough to just make a bowl game. They want to be good enough for more than a bowl game. They want to play for a conference championship and whatever comes after that.”
Mullen got into mentioning how tough the SEC is, talked about there being five SEC West teams in the Top 25.
“You can be good enough to win most other conferences, and not even finish in the top half of your own division.”
Mullen on the expanded Davis Wade Stadium: “I think our fans are gonna be wowed when they go in and see it.”
Getting back to the running backs, Mullen says of Nick Griffin: “I think this is the healthiest he’s been coming into a season.” Says he brings stability and leadership, knows the playbook inside and out.
On sophomore defensive end AJ Jefferson Mullen says, “AJ is certainly a very nifty player. He has very natural instincts of getting to the ball. I think sometimes those instincts make him seem quicker than maybe he even is. He’s great at being where he needs to be.”
Co-offensive coordinator and receivers coach Billy Gonzales is here and rocking a nice trimmed beard. Opens by saying how cohesive the offensive staff is. “An exceptional group of coaches.” Says they know how to work with each other.
MSU’s plan to win, according to Gonzales and coming from Mullen:
1. Play great defense. Includes field position, get some first downs on offense, etc.
2. Win the turnover battle. What does this mean for the offense? Don’t turn the ball over. Ball security, pass block, etc.
3. Redzone scoring. Gonzales says that’s where MSU needs to get better. “We’re gonna try to practice redzone more than any other team in the country.”
4. Special teams. Says MSU averaged 29 snaps per game on special teams last year. Need to have your best players on the field for that many plays. “In order to start at a position, you’ve got to be able to start on special teams.”
Gonzales says those four points were the first thing they talked with players about as a staff.
Interesting to hear Gonzales talk about his receivers. “I considered last year as a kind of get-your-feet-wet year.” Says no one had played extensively coming in.
Now, he considers his group to be very veteran and also likes the young guys who didn’t get to play last year.
Gonzales says his inside slot guy and the tight ends “are basically the same position” in terms of receiving. Says while there isn’t much experience behind Jameon Lewis in the slot, having a deep group of tight ends helps that.
Gonzales says he will stay on the sideline this year. “I like being able to look my players in the eyes.” Expects John Hevesy to remain in the coaches box upstairs.
Offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator John Hevesy up to the podium now.
“It’s not really football until we have pads on,” he says. Hasn’t been able to glean much the last couple days without them. But he likes how well his guys know the playbook and how comfortable they seem.
Hevesy is talking about recruiting linemen now. Says some guys are told how greta they are all the time, they have the size, the build, the attention from media. Says he’d rather have someone who may not get as much hype, but “loves to work. They’ll be in the weight room every day, they’ll be in the classroom every day … Everybody loves Saturdays in the SEC. Who loves 5:30 in the morning in the weight room in February?”
“You’ve gotta do your homework.”
Hevesy just brought up his name and Mullen did too – Justin Senior. Both coaches mentioned him in the mix for right tackle. Also said junior guard Justin Malone could kick out there. Damien Robinson one of the veterans in the competition.
Hevesy says he’s learned over the years that he needs players on offensive line to be read for a season: two centers, three guards and three tackles. He’s hopeful he will have that.
Defensive coordinator Geoff Collins at the podium now. Starts off by saying how close the coaching staff is.
“We genuinely like each other.”
Says he was standing behind the media making fun of Hevesy while he spoke to the crowd.
Collins says the big thing they do as a defense is install as a unit. They don’t teach ornery one thing, linemen another. Every one learns everything together. Makes for a more cohesive defense, know what everyone is doing.
Collins is heaping praise on Benardrick McKinney. Loves his measurables and ability. “I’m lucky I get to coach him.”
Says what makes him great is how good a teammate he is. Says B-Mac cares about making his teammates better, wants the defense and team to be as good as possible, regardless of the affect on himself.
“I think Chris Jones has a world of potential … There’s a lot of external expectations. Internally, he has to manage those and improve his fundamentals every day, improve his technique every day, become a better teammate. I think he’s doing that.”
“If he can continue that, he can be a great defensive player,”
on Jones at end or tackle: “Regardless of where you’re lined up, you’re playing the same technique and playing at a high level.”
Collins says there were times last year where Preston Smith was at nose guard and Jones was at end, then the next play Jones was at nose and Smith on the end. Says DL coach David Turner does a great job with the line.
One of Collins’ favorite things about the team: the two best leaders are two of the best players at two of the most important positions – Dak Prescott at QB and Benardrick McKinney at middle linebacker.
Asked why he has so much energy: “I just love what I do. I love being around the players. They keep me young.”
Young, indeed, as he at one point said the coaches “run around dappin’ each other up.”
Collins says they have a turnover drill called “The Nickoe Drill” after Nickoe Whitley. It involves ripping the ball out of people’s hands.
Apparently junior corner Will Redmond has had a big offseason. Collins says he stays after workouts every day for 20-30 minutes on his own doing ladder drills. Has received a lot of praise from his teammates.