MSU Media Day: Dan Mullen

Mississippi State reported back to campus on Monday, which was also the Bulldogs’ on-campus media Day. Head coach Dan Mullen met with the media to talk about his team heading into fall camp.

Opening Statement
“What an exciting time of year. I know just not here, but everywhere around the country, especially here in the southeast. It is an exciting time for the coaches, the players, the fans, the student body and the alumni because everybody gets so excited about football season and getting ready to kick things off. I know everybody in this building cannot wait to get out there on the field. As players, you put in so much work, a lot of work before you get to play the first game again. They go through conditioning in the winter, spring ball, conditioning all summer and training, trying to get bigger, faster, stronger and get their body in shape and ready to go. If you work hard for 12 opportunities you might get rewarded for a couple more after that. We are really excited to get things going again and get back out there on the field. I know as coaches, one of the biggest things is to see who took strides this summer since we haven’t been on the field with a ball since mid-April. Here we are 30-something days away from kickoff, and since mid-April we haven’t seen anybody with a ball in their hands or doing any football stuff. Its exciting for us to get back on the field.”

On The even QB race
“I haven’t seen them do anything since spring throwing the ball. I think it is going to be something. I don’t think there will be anybody that is happier knowing who the quarterback is going to be than me. I will be thrilled to find out who our starting QB is. I think it is one of those things where you see who has made the improvements over the summer to be the most consistent performer to help us win football games. The biggest thing for us is who can make the play every single snap and consistently perform at a very high level, not look at the spectacular plays they can make but can they make the average plays. I think this summer had a lot to do with who is that going to be. I don’t know who has put the work in this summer to be that consistent performer. I know that they have talents, but who is the consistent performer. I’d love to make the decision as soon as it defines itself. It might be week one or week two, but it might be game week or in October. I don’t know until someone separates themselves and is clearly ahead of everybody else.”

On Brandon Holloway’s versatility…
“I think one of the things that helps him is his versatility, and that will help him in his future playing football beyond Mississippi State. This spring we had some injuries at the receiver position, and we saw him shift out to the receiver position and be very functional out there. I think it makes it very hard to defend. The guy is a fifth-year senior who understands the offense and can actually play multiple positions. When we get the ball in his hands he is a very productive player. We can move him around and get a great player the football a lot of different ways, and that can be a very difficult for defenses to match up with.”

On seeing the new coaching staff work with the players…
“I know as coaches we get fired up. you get really excited about seeing the guys on the field. I like our defensive staff and how they have worked together. We have an excellent group of guys that are learning to work together, continuing to grow and continuing to improve as individual coaches. I know they can’t wait to get back out there and start coaching again. This is what you love. I don’t want to say this is why you coach, but boy it’s fun to be out there on the field. We have a couple days of summer school left, but then we have that 10-day window where there is no school which allows our players to just be able to worry about football. You’re teaching the game and you’re not into a game plan mode and in the crunch of an individual game week. It’s just 24/7 football. It’s awesome.”

Adjusting to the new defensive scheme…
“ I think one of the things we’re always going to look at is making sure as coaches we put guys in the best position to make plays. One of the things you have to be is very multiple in every phrase of your team and within the scheme because the scheme has to fit the players. Over time during recruiting you can do different things, and that’s everyone, including the NFL where you can draft players to fit a scheme. But the players always trump the scheme in whatever you’re doing. If you look at us offensively, we’ve huddled and we’ve gone no huddle. We’ve been at the top of the league in rushing, near the top of the league in passing, near the top of the league in time of possession and last in time of possession. It always fits the players, and defensively, we’ve always been able to do that. If we have great cover corners, we’ll play man. If we don’t have guys that can lock it down, we’ll play more zone. We’re going to be that way being in a 3-4. We played a lot of 3-4 last year, so these guys are comfortable with it. We’re also going to play a lot of 4-3 and make sure we are putting the right guys on the field and make sure they make the best plays.

On game-planning without a starting QB…
“That’s why you love to find out who the guy is going to be because you always want to build around the strength of the quarterback as we are installing. We are not installing anything specific to a quarterback even though in game week you tighten the package and adjust things towards the strength of the quarterback. One of the things you look for is that versatility, and all four of our quarterbacks give you that flexibility. All four of them can throw and run. There isn’t a guy that isn’t a good runner so we’re not limiting you. None of the skill sets of any of the four quarterbacks is going to limit what we do. We have to figure out who the guy is and then we can build on it. There is no limitation, but we have to go off of what he does the best to be successful.”

On having a four-way QB race…
“I’ve had three, but I’m trying to think if I’ve had four. I’ve had two and that is very nerve-wrecking. They don’t just wear the special jersey, but they have a bubble around them when they go out. Brian Johnson did a great job, and I let him take control of making sure were doing equal evaluations on everybody. He spends a lot of time during pre-practice making sure who gets what reps in what rotation. In training camp, we’ve gone four deep getting reps with the ones, twos, threes, and fours. I have it set for three deep. Each quarterback is going to get reps with the ones, twos and threes. Part of it is going to be by day. Depending on how you perform the previous day, you might get more reps with a certain group, but I also what to see who can move each group. If you can only execute with the ones that is a positive, but why? Is that because you are with the ones and the other players around you are executing, or are you making it happen?. That’s the benefit of seeing everyone go with each different group out there on the field. Their leadership, playmaking, management and constancy all come out because they have to execute not just with the one offense, but with the two and three offenses. Until the end of camp or when we define it, everyone is going to get 25 percent of the reps so we can make the best evolution possible.”

On figuring out defensive starters…
“We kind of have a good feeling. It’s like I said the players trump the scheme, so we’re not going to put things in schematically that our guys will not be able to execute at a very high level. That’s the coach’s job to look at your personnel and know what guys can do well. We’re going to put them in a position to succeed.

On getting the QBs in rhythm…
“That’s why I think Brian (Johnson) did a great job. The one thing I did after spring ball is sat down with each of the four quarterbacks and asked each of the four, ‘Do you think that anyone hands down earned the starting quarterback job?’ All of them said no. I asked them ‘Do you think you were given a fair opportunity win the quarterback battle?’ Everyone of them said yes. I don’t know if they were trying to appease me with their answer, but those were closed door, one-on-one meetings and I said ‘Hey, this is your chance to explain to me how I’m going to change things going forward into fall camp to give you more of a opportunity.’ They all felt like they had a great equal opportunity. So moving forward, I think they already know that if they make a great play it doesn’t mean they have won the job, and if they make a bad play that means they didn’t lose the job. It means over the course of training camp that they have to consistently perform. Hopefully it defines who our guy is. There are times during the spring ball I thought ‘This guy is starting to separate and define himself.’ The next day someone else would have a great day and I thought ‘Well, ok, it’s not as defined as I thought it was.’ They all agree with that assessment of what happened. I’m excited to see who has put the work in to be consistent.”

On Keith Mixon…
“You look at (Keith) Mixon and he is a guy that certainly is electric when you get the ball in his hands. He was a high school running back, unlike the other two who played a little bit more receiver. He goes into that category of a guy that we have had some success learning how to be a wide receiver, not just a great play maker. He is a guy whose receiver skills have improved as he has developed. I just can’t wait to put the ball in his hands and let him go. When you put the ball in his hands he’s an exciting player.”

I have covered Mississippi State in some capacity since 2004 and joined the Daily Journal staff in 2013. I enjoy short walks on the beach, performing concerts in my car and watching professional wrestling.

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