Beginning today at 11:30 and running through early afternoon, Mississippi State football will be hosting its on-campus Media Day. Festivities begin with Dan Mullen at 11:30 and will continue with defensive coordinator Manny Diaz and co-offensive coordinators Billy Gonzales and John Hevesy, followed by select players.
We’ll post live updates here throughout the interviews.
“We’re excited,” he says. “This is one of the best times of the year, training camp.”
MSU is through five practices now, so Mullen says guys are getting back into the swing of things.
As far as camp goes, Mullen says today through all of next week is the only football-only time they have based on the academic schedule at MSU.
On Dak Prescott, Mullen says, “We need him to have the best year of his career. I think he’s really driven and is pushing himself to do that.”
Mullen breaking down the positions, says the receiver depth is deceiving because technically there’s only one “returning starter” but a solid six or seven guys who have played a bunch and have good stats, even if they’re not actually returning starters.
On kicking, Mullen says “we feel pretty good about the special teams game.” Mentioned that Logan Cooke and Devon Bell have both kicked field goals, done kickoffs and done punts. They’ve got experience and maturity.
Defensively, Mullen says “the secondary is a little bit deeper than we thought it would be.”
“Defensive line is where, to me, we probably have to see the most guys step up.”
Mentioned how many players and snaps they lost from last year. Said they need younger players to step so “we can rotate guys on the line like we want to.”
That’s the end of his opening statement, Mullen is now taking questions from reporters.
Asked if there is a linebacker with a similar skill set to the departed Matt Wells, Mullen says sophomore JT Gray is the closest, calling him one of the fastest guys on the team regardless of position. Gray was Freshman All-SEC last year. Overall, however, Mullen said trying to box someone in as a Matt Wells replacement is unwise.
At tight end, Mullen said Gus Walley “is ready to step in and do the same things” that Malcolm Johnson did at the position for the last few years. Added that the competition is for who else will be in the mix for the No. 2 spot to get snaps.
Asked about Rufus Warren’s switch from tight end, Mullen jokes, “hey go eat another burger at lunch and a biscuit at breakfast and go play left tackle.”
Said it was easy for Warren to put on the necessary weight to play left tackle, after it had been a struggle for him to stay around 270 pounds at tight end.
Mullen puts the odds at 50-50 that junior QB Damian Williams could redshirt this year. Said it’s hard to predict, don’t know what’ll happen.
More on the returning starters, Mullen says, “I look at Will Redmond as a returning starter for us. He might not have played the first play every game, but he played the last play in a lot of games. There’s something to that.”
Went on to say there’s a difference between Redmond and, say, right guard Devon Desper who started one game, but didn’t play extensively otherwise. Mullen thinks the biggest thing to look at is career snaps, rather than career starts.
Mullen talking offensive line depth now, saying the recruiting efforts have paid off to where now someone like JUCO transfer tackle Martinas Rankin can come along and develop at his own pace. “We’re not forced to put him into positions he’s not ready for right now.”
Mullen speaking now on Kendrick Market, said you can clearly see the difference in the secondary from the spring when he was hurt to now when he’s out there and directing the defensive backs. Considers that extremely valuable to have a veteran guy who intelligent and respected to guide a young group of players at safety.
On the subject of running back, Mullen was asked what he’s looking for as someone to become a starter. He said, obviously, they all can run the ball. That’s what they were recruited for. But he wants to see them do everything else well.
For example, Mullen said, let’s say MSU runs 80 plays in a game with an even number of running and passing plays. Of the 40 runs, say that Dak gets 10 of them. So that’s 50 plays per game, at least, that the running back isn’t carrying the ball. How will they do on those 50 plays? That’s how someone can separate from the rest of the pack.
Now co-offensive coordinator receivers coach Billy Gonzales is here. Opening statement talking about how excited he is to be back. Said he’s been impressed with freshmen, many of whom have already put on 10-15 pounds.
Of note, said the energy has been great in practice. “We want to build that toughness and have that energy.”
Gonzales reminds reporters that MSU led the SEC in plus-plays of 20 yards or more, and he wants that to continue. He says the goal they discuss in the meeting room is to have five big plays per game.
Gonzales says he talked to De’Runnya Wilson some this spring (as well as others) about being draft-eligible after this season. He told them the most important thing they can do is work on their fundamentals.
Gonzales says Wilson told him, “Coach, I just want to win. I want to get better and develop. I came here to get an education and play football.”
Gonzales says the depth he has this year at MSU is better and more than he’s had anywhere he’s ever been. Impressive, given Gonzales’ history.
Gonzales saying one of the keys to the offense is having two receivers who defenses have to worry about. Said that Fred Ross and De’Runnya Wilson complement each other very well when asked about those two, added that he’s got a host of options at the third spot. Said it makes his job much easier.
Time now for co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach John Hevesy.
First question is about center Jamaal Clayborn, who switched over for guard at the end of last year. Said he had told Clayborn he’d be the guy in 2015.
“He’s done a greta job leading the other guys and being that guy,” Hevesy said. “Through camp so far, he’s done a great job. Still has a lot to learn.”
As for left tackle Rufus Warren, Hevesy says the transition form tight end to tackle wasn’t too hard. He thinks the bigger transition is going from a part-time guy to a full-time starter.
“He’s learning now, it’s every play, every little detail, every thing he has to be great at.”
Funny story on Hevesy and Warren. Hevesy says four years ago he told Warren, “If you keep eating, you’re going to end up in my meeting room. He kept eating. Now he’s in my room.”
Interesting thoughts from Hevesy on the development of offensive linemen. “Ultimately, your future is based on your past.”
He said the reason guys last year were good is because they learned from people like Derek Sherrod and JC Brignone and Gabe Jackson and Tobias Smith. Said this year’s group has to be good by learning from the people before them and that next year’s group and future players will be the same way. Good or bad, he says, you have to learn from the past. Nice outlook for offensive linemen, as well as life.
And now defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Manny Diaz is here.
“Toughness is always going to be the foundation of our defense.”
Says, “One of the most encouraging things to this point has been the development of the team [from the spring] … Our football IQ is much, much higher.”
On the freshmen on defense, Diaz says “every one of those guys has done something to stand out and showed us something good on tape.”
Diaz says the way you can tell players are developing is heightened confidence. “You can either get beaten before the snap or after the snap … Our guys are not getting beaten before the snap.”
At linebacker, Diaz says he’s “very impressed with the number of guys that can contribute.” Said Benqiuez Brown has picked up where he left off and says the game has really slowed down for him. Mentioned Richie Brown and Zach Jackson having good approaches, as well.
Diaz says the competition for the starting spots will go up until day one, then says it will continue through the end of the season. Says the best players on day one may not be the best players by the end of the day.
As far as who plays, Diaz says he’s looking for the best six linebackers regardless. Said he’s going to take the best ones, regardless of specific linebacker position. “If we’ve got too many SAMs, someone will have to learn WILL.”
Comparing to his last time at MSU in 2010, Diaz says the linebacker group is “certainly deeper now.”
Speaking on this season, Diaz says they have to be a better defense, “and we were really good last year, so that’s going to be hard. But we have to do it.”
He said it’s a tremendous advantage to go up against Dak Prescott in practice every day.