STARKVILLE – This is surely a positive sign for Mississippi State football:
On the first day of preseason camp Monday, the Bulldogs handled the heat just fine and didn’t look like a team that hadn’t practiced together in three-and-a-half months.
Coach Dan Mullen led his team through a two-and-half-hour session in 90-plus-degree heat, and when it wrapped up at 6 p.m., many a sweaty face had a smile on it.
“I thought we started back where we left off, the tempo was pretty good for the most part, and I think the intensity on both sides of the ball was high today,” senior quarterback Tyson Lee said.
As the Bulldogs try to master Mullen’s spread option offense and his attacking defense, such a start was critical. There are practices every day this week, and then two-a-days begin Saturday.
Mullen preaches a gospel of high intensity and non-stop effort, and he liked what he saw Monday.
“They’re not going to maintain it, obviously, for two hours of practice at high, high intensity,” he said. “But you know, the drills we needed it – the seven-on-seven, when you get to some one-on-one stuff, and the team stuff at the end – I was pretty excited with the intensity.”
It certainly helped that some players left out of action in the spring due to injury were back at near full speed, most notably running back Robert Elliott, receiver Brandon McRae and running back Arnil Stallworth.
It was the end of a long day for Mullen and his staff. They ran the freshmen through their own practice at 5:30 a.m., with a handful of returning players taking part to help field full units.
The early start made MSU the first Division I-A team to hit the field this August.
Lee was there to watch the freshmen and is excited about guys like quarterback Tyler Russell joining the varsity today.
“I was really impressed, from Tyler to the receivers to the running backs,” Lee said. “And once we can start gelling together, I think we’ll produce something really, really nice.”
Lee adds zip
– During his extensive offseason work with receivers and running backs, Lee, the returning starter, added some zip to his throws. McRae, who led MSU in receiving last year, said Lee’s throws are “harder and faster.”
Lee’s been working on a quicker release, which will serve him well in Mullen’s offense.
“I wouldn’t say I tweaked it too much. Maybe coming over the top a little more,” Lee said. “I think the biggest thing is a quicker release.”
The 5-foot-10 Lee also credits his extra power to strength coach Matt Balis’ offseason program. Lee now weighs 201 pounds, up from 184 in January. That should help him as he battles Russell and sophomore Chris Relf, who are both bigger, for the starting job.
“He doesn’t have a whole lot he needs to fix with (the motion),” said Mullen. “That consistent accuracy is going to be the key.”
Dixon still himself
– Senior tailback Anthony Dixon is facing an Aug. 17 court date for a DUI he received last month, and he isn’t running with the first team. But you wouldn’t know it by his on-field demeanor.
The eternally upbeat Dixon looked great physically – he’s dropped about 20 pounds this offseason – and had a solid practice. He even interacted a bit with fans in attendance, waving the ball at them after one of his runs.
“He’s a great upbeat guy on the field and brings a great attitude to the team and to the table,” running backs coach Greg Knox said. “He’s working hard.”
Knox thought his whole group looked strong Monday, including Elliott, an Okolona native who tore up his knee last season and still isn’t quite 100 percent.
“He was out there for Day 1 running around, moving, good speed, cutting,” Knox said. “I’m looking forward to seeing him in a live scrimmage in pads.”
Click view slide show link above for photos from practice by The Associated Press.
Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal