Here, finally, are my answers to your questions. The only one I failed to get addressed was the one about how Dan Mullen felt about the Penn State/Joe Paterno situation. My apologies. But here are the rest of them.
By the way, this is the last you’ll hear from me for several days. We leave for a week’s vacation Saturday morning, so except for some random Twitter posts, I’ll be radio silent. Try not to miss me too much.
Q: What would it take for State’s season to be a success in Mullen’s eyes? What would have to happen for it to be a failure? I know the normal response is win the Western Division, so if we don’t do that, what would be acceptable?
A: Mullen’s not one to get into win totals, and like you said, his goal is winning the West. Here’s a thought he had the other day on where MSU stacks up against the rest of the West: “When you look, the great thing I guess in our program, the SEC West, we’re not far off from there, which means we’re not far off from the national title.”
Q: Who are the vocal leaders of MSU’s offense and defense? How important is their role in a successful season?
A: The two guys we’ve heard from the most this summer are quarterback Tyler Russell and cornerback Johnthan Banks. They have very willingly stepped into more visible leadership roles and are vocal guys.
“Me and Tyler have done a really good job in getting our guys together and getting the team together as one,” Banks said. He later added, “Like I told y’all once before, I feel like I’m one of the captains on the team. I’m one of the oldest guys on the team, I’ve been through it all. These guys are going to follow what I do.”
Russell is obviously a huge piece, and if he can be the consistent passer most of us think he’s capable of being, MSU could have a great season. As for being a leader, he said, “I’m in the weightroom grinding out, everybody knows I’m going to go hard. For that, I believe my teammates really want to play for me.”
Q: How important is it to keep the coaching staff intact? Do you think that an established chemistry will help this season?
A: It’s sorta unusual to not have some turnover, so that can only be beneficial. “That’s great, because ever since I’ve been here, I’ve had a different defensive coordinator,” Banks said. “This year, I’m having coach (Chris) Wilson for the third season, second season as the defensive coordinator. I don’t have to learn a new defense, I don’t have to learn a new position. I can just go out, play hard.”
Q: With so much talent at cornerback and so much uncertainty on the offensive line, what are the goals for each position group?
A: I’m afraid I didn’t get an answer on that regarding the cornerbacks, but I did ask left guard Gabe Jackson about the O-line: “We always talk about we have to grade out as a champion, and we’re trying to get more and more games that all five of us grade out champions. Nine times out of 10 if we grade out as champions, eight or nine times together, then we’re going to win the game.”
Q: MSU doesn’t have a long list of prolific passers in its history. Does that make Russell lick his chops thinking about how he could break so many records if he lives up to expectations?
A: When I asked Russell about making a mark in the record book, he kind of sidestepped the subject: “Definitely, I wanted to come to Mississippi State and help turn the program around with the guys. We were in coach Mullen’s first recruiting class, so we’re all hungry and ready to go, and we’re ready for the season.”
Q: Does the SEC West monkey (only beating Ole Miss) motivate MSU any more for those games than others?
A: Russell: “I think everybody knows we play hard, we’re not going to give up. But I don’t think a lot of people give us respect to be in the SEC and be that caliber team that can go win an SEC championship. And we can. We know we can. We’ve been in some games we should’ve won, and if you win those games, that’s what it’s going to take to get there.”
Q: How was this offseason compared to others the players have experienced?
A: I have written about this recently, and in tomorrow’s Journal will be a story about how Banks expects a tougher August camp. Players have said this offseason seems different, with Banks saying that “this is the hardest-working team I’ve ever been around.”
Q: What players other than themselves are the Bulldogs excited to see play in a game and why?
A: I asked Russell who he liked to watch, and he mentioned several SEC quarterbacks: Tennessee’s Tyler Bray, Alabama’s A.J. McCarron, Georgia’s Aaron Murray and Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson.
“I watch all of them,” Russell said. “I see the things they do good, I see the things the commentary says they’re not doing so good. I critique myself, too, and I try to imitate them or do the things that they do good, and try not to do the things that they might do bad.”