Mississippi State held its first practice in preparation for the Belk Bowl on Friday afternoon. Afterwards, head coach Dan Mullen shared his thoughts about the initial day, players who won’t play in the bowl, juniors applying for NFL Draft evaluations and staff changes.
Opening statement: “They’ve got to get a mindset back to being into football right now, not having played since Thanksgiving weekend. So it’s been a couple of weeks since guys have played. If you’re a scout team guy you really haven’t done anything probably longer than that. We’ve lifted but no football stuff.
“So I think today was really just to get back, the body, the mind, get yourself ready to go in football and get loosened-up. Take some time, make sure guys are healthy right now with the bodies as we transition. We’ll go pads tomorrow and get a little bit more football in.”
Do you ever worry with guys being off ten days? “As a coach? My worry is just guys having to strain their body that way. That’s why we just went helmets today. I know they’ve gotten four lifts in since we’ve played. But I’m always concerned with that, a big concern of guys trying to open it up and when they haven’t in a couple of weeks. So that’s why we went not as high-intense today, we’ve got a lot of recovery time. And I expect it to be a little more intense tomorrow, we’ll just go dog gear tomorrow but a little bit more pop going on and a little longer practice.”
How much of the early practice is evaluation for spring or preparing for the bowl? “I don’t know that it’s really evaluation going on. It’s a lot more development going on. Everything right now is for development for the future for the first couple of days out here.
“So no need to evaluate any. Just develop, develop, develop and see if we get guys ready for the future of the program.”
How has your approach to bowl preparation changed from year-one? “Well, my first year here we didn’t have bowl preparations. But every year since then we have, so the last six years have been that way! No, it’s all very similar. It really hasn’t changed beyond that even when I was an assistant, a coordinator, we all met and look at the different schedule.
“You really start backwards. You start on game day and work backwards into preparation of what you need to prepare for the game. And then you look at the extra things that you can do and then use that as development for the program.”
How do you work with Elijah Staley with the basketball team going forward? “Right now he’s got basketball. Hopefully he’s helping, or he’s played a little bit here and there. So he’s helping there, especially with us in the bowl prep. I know when we get to the bowl site, talking to Ben (Howland) I said I need him in Charlotte. So December 25-30 I need him, the rest of the time if you need him you’re more in-season than we are at that point.”
Does it affect him in the upcoming quarterback competition, is it too early? “No, the competition? It’s reps. And that’s it. Because reps are always a big deal, the more reps you get the better. And we’ve got a lot of young guys that need a lot of reps at the quarterback position.”
When do you find out about academics and bowl eligibility? “What day is today, probably Monday? I did not ask, they usually tell me what the grades have to be turned in by. Yesterday was the last final so grades have to have been turned in by today? I’ve been on the road recruiting. Usually Monday, Tuesday I find out all that stuff. I don’t expect any problems, but you never know.”
How much study have you done on North Carolina State? “Just a little bit. I know they’re an excellent football team. You catch some things during the season. They had a lead on Florida State early. A team that battled Clemson to the wire. So you know they’re an excellent football team, they can score points on offense, they can play good defense. Not tons, flying here and there recruiting just watching some game film as I can. But we haven’t had a chance to sit down, meet, and really get into the meat and potatoes of it yet.”
Have you met with juniors about NFL evaluations? “Oh yeah. We can turn five of them in. So I’ve met with a bunch of guys that if they want to do that. I don’t know if all of them have done that yet. But we’ll see. Usually we want to get them in as soon as possible so you can get them (evaluations) back as soon as possible and educate people on making good and bad decisions. You look at guys that have left early; some have made very good decisions to leave early, some have made some poor decisions to leave early. But we try to educate them so they can make the best decision.”
Which five have you submitted? “I haven’t checked with coach (Rockey) Felker. I think Jamaal Clayborn, Justin Senior, Beniquez (Brown) turned theirs in last I checked. I haven’t checked in a couple of days with coach Felker of the guys that have turned it in.”
(NOTE: No players’ paperwork has been sent in yet but Clayborn, Beniquez Brown, Chris Jones and De’Runnya Wilson have requested NFL Draft grades)
There are rumors about coach Tony Hughes and Jackson State. Do you anticipate any staff changes? “I don’t anticipate anything. But you never know what happens this time of year, with college football there’s always changes everywhere. So we’ll see if there are staff changes. I don’t plan on making many changes within our staff. If guys get other opportunities, then we’ll adjust or deal with it if that stuff happens down the road.”
Who has taken over from Rick Court to run the strength program? “Nick Savage right now is going to run it. That’s something else we’ll evaluate after the bowl game. We’ve got a really good coaching staff here with strength and conditioning. So Nick Savage is going to run the program right now through the bowl game. And we’ll evaluate at that point as we look at other candidates or potentially promote from within.”
Will the rest of the practices be in pads? “That you guys can come to? Yes! Yeah, we should just be helmet/shoulder pads the next two days; then full pads Monday and Tuesday.”
Ryan Brown was carting himself around? “Yeah, he’ll be out. He had a stress fracture in his foot, something he’d been dealing with most of the season, really limited practice time for the back-half of the season. Just for his future the best thing to do they said was do the surgery, put a screw in the foot. He’ll be out now for the bowl game.”
Gus Walley was not dressed out either? “Yeah, Gus with the concussion, same deal. I don’t expect him back to the bowl game. He’s has several of those, so we’ll see where he’s at for the long term future here.”
Is everyone else a game-time decision? “Do we have anybody else? You guys scour that more than I do. Not yet, but we’ve only had one practice so we’ll see who is sore after today’s practice. No, those are the only two that at this point compared to all the other ones.
“Winston Chapman came and said he’d really like to snap in the bowl game. There’s a possible he could come, as a senior his last game, that’s what he said to me obviously. I said wait a couple more weeks and if he gets the approval to do it we’ll probably put a big cast on each leg for PAT/field goals or something.”
What about Zach Jackson? “He’s graduated, he had an opportunity outside of football to go take. So he decided to move on and go do that. So he won’t be with us for the bowl game.”
Do you enjoy bowl practice? “I love bowl practice. A lot of teams are not practicing right now. My wife enjoys bowl practice too. Not that she doesn’t enjoy my time home with the family, but I think there can be too much of that, too.
“No, there’s nothing better. There’s no final exams, there’s no school going on. Right now we’re coaching and teaching football, not even worried about the gameplan just yet. It’s really coaching and developing guys and working technique and fundamentals. That there’s nothing like it, especially here.
“When you get to the bowl site it’s awesome because there is the whole bowl experience for the kids. You’re going to get to go into the NASCAR and get in a car at the speedway, that’s a pretty cool deal for our kids right here. I mean the opportunity to go to Charlotte and the awesome city that most guys have never been to. These kids get to experience something special there.
“We’ll start practicing and gameplanning here, getting serious at the end of the week. But right now there’s nothing like bowl practice, just teaching football and the kids practicing football. It’s a great time of year.
“It’s kind of like spring ball. Or the beginning of training camp. But the beginning of training camp it’s such a massive ordeal. It’s kind of like spring practice but there’s no school. It’s kind of like spring practice with how we practice; kind of like training camp that there’s no school. It’s awesome.”