Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen joined the rest of the league’s head coaches on the SEC coaches’ teleconference to talk about the Bulldogs’ spring practices.
Here is a transcript of Mullen’s time on the call…
Mullen: “We had a great spring. I’m excited about this upcoming season. We have a bunch of veteran players back but also a lot of new faces after a lot of guys moved on to go to the NFL. Obviously, I can’t wait to get them all back on campus. This is the sad time of the year when they’re all at home getting a little break. I can’t wait to get them back on campus this summer and working out and getting us ready to go moving forward towards the season.”
What do you think about the balance within the SEC West?
Mullen: “It certainly makes it an enormous challenge for us. When you play at that level, you’re playing against the top teams in the country week in and week out.
“But that’s what I love about the challenge of the league. That’s what it’s all about and that’s why guys want to come play in the SEC West because they’ve got the best competition every single week.”
Does it make it harder for the SEC West champion to be a powerhouse in the playoff?
Mullen: “What it does is allows teams to be prepared when they’re ready to go move on. If they get that opportunity to go on, teams from the SEC West are certainly prepared having played a lot of big games. You’re going to be ready for that challenge of the playoffs.”
Do you use hype videos to show recruits what it’s like at Mississippi State?
Mullen: “Yeah, you want to use every bit of technology available to you going into recruiting. You use all the videos and all they hype stuff, whatever you can do.”
Do you use video now instead of sending out the media guide?
Mullen: “You can. It’s just a great source in today’s world. That’s what kids use and they’re used to seeing. The opportunity for kids to see that is really important.”
Can you talk about the development of Justin Senior this spring and how important he’ll be to the offensive line?
Mullen: “It’s huge if you look at him as one of our few returning starters on the offensive line. It’s very, very important. He had a pretty solid spring for us to continue his improvement. You’re always trying to get better on that offensive line.
“He’s a kid that’s a lot like a lot of other kids in our program that wasn’t really recruited a whole lot out of high school. He really wasn’t recruited at all out of high school so he went to prep school. I don’t really think he was highly recruited out of prep school.
“But we saw a guy that we though had great potential and were really excited to get in our family. He’s really developed. He changed his body. He got big and lost some weight to lean up and gotten his size to where he’s a very athletic tackle.”
How is Senior as a leader?
Mullen: “He’s not really outspoken. He’s more of a take care of his own business guy. I think he’s a more lead by example type of person out there on the edge for us.”
What does it do for your program to have so many players taken in the NFL Draft and moving on to the next level? Can you compare it to the growth of the program?
Mullen: “It certainly helps an awful lot when you are going out there recruiting and young guys around the state of Mississippi are looking at schools and can say ‘I can go to Mississippi State and not only will have the opportunity to get my degree, play for a team that has been No. 1 in the country, play for championships and the ability to get developed to where I can go to the NFL’.
“It doesn’t matter if they’re a four-star, five-star or in our program a two or three-star. Those guys are still going to get the opportunities to go on to the NFL. That’s such a huge deal for us for young people around Mississippi to get to see that.”
How do you project lower recruited guys like Preston Smith and Benardrick McKinney?
Mullen: “At summer camps we do a great job recruiting and talking to their high school coach. We really dive in and look not just their athletic ablity but also what type of mindset they have and their character. I think a lot of people get caught up in just recruiting stars or all of the hype. We really dive into young men’s backgrounds and want to recruit guys with really high character that are going to have a great work ethic and come represent the program really well.
“When you get those guys that has a lot of potential with a lot of character and a great work ethic, there’s a great chance he’s going to reach his potential. As you project them, you can see what they’re going to become and understand they are going to be able to accomplish that.”
Talk about Josh Robinson’s upbringing and what led him to be in the NFL now.
Mullen: “I think that’s pretty special. Looking at Josh’s background, he wasn’t a very heavily recruited guy out of high school. We though he had a great deal of potential.
“He’s a guy that had an extremely hard upbringing coming out of high school and a really tough background. But when you met him, he had such a great, positive attitude. He always has a smile on his face and a great personality. Then you realize you’re going to put him in a family environment like our program and is going to be nurtured and be around people that are going to take care of him.
“You afford him the opportunity to get a degree and achieve things that maybe someone with his background normally wouldn’t. To see that, it’s really a special deal and you’re just happy to be a part of that.
“I think he’s going to continue to have success. He’s overcome an awful lot to get to where he is and he continues to succeed and impress. Now he gets to live his dream of going on to play in the NFL.”
What was your reaction when you found out Robinson lived in his car in high school and wouldn’t tell anyone?
Mullen: “A lot of these young people go through very different upbringings. As a coach, one thing that’s great is everybody is the same in the locker room. That’s what makes locker rooms so special. You’re all part of one family no matter what your upbringing was.
“The game of football allows people to overcome some unbelievable obstacles and gives them a foundation of success for the rest of their life.
“A guy like Josh, a lot of people would write him off in life. When you’re a part of him going off and being successful in life, that’s why we coach and do these things.”
What was it about Smith’s skill set that allowed him to be drafted as highly as he was?
Mullen: “One thing you always talk to kids about the draft is a need at that position and what people are looking for. A guy like Preston, the maturity he had between his junior and senior year and really exploded for us and NFL people.
“He really grew up during that time. I still don’t think he’s reached his potential and is going to have a big upside going forward. That light finally came on.
“Preston is another guy who wasn’t highly recruited out of high school but had a lot of length and was a very explosive player. We were looking at how he was going to develop throughout his career and that light really came on later in his career. He bought all in and really improved.
“I think the NFL people looked said this guy is a long, athletic and explosive player now that is still going to improve over the next couple of years. He still has some growing to do. I think that makes him a pretty valuable player at that level because he’s tall, explosive, can run, drop into coverage, rush the passer and set the edge. He has a wide range of skill sets.”