STARKVILLE – It’s only the first week of preseason camp, but it’s never too early to start dissecting the quarterback situation.
During Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen’s preseason media day press conference on Friday, the first question he fielded was about his QBs. Senior Tyson Lee is the incumbent, but redshirt sophomore Chris Relf has made great strides, and freshman Tyler Russell will be in the mix on talent alone.
But it’s Lee’s job to lose. He’s done nothing to hurt his standing in Mullen’s eyes, but he doesn’t exactly have a lock on the job, either.
“I think Tyson, I think my expectations of him are probably very high,” Mullen said. “Tyson hasn’t done anything to blow me away, but he certainly hasn’t done anything to disappoint me.”
Lee, who passed for 1,519 yards, seven touchdowns and five interceptions in eight starts last year, concurred.
“Been a few good things, but I haven’t done enough,” he said. “The first day was probably a better day, and since then it’s been all right, but not as good as I would like it to be.”
The quarterback talk actually began months ago when Russell signed, but it’s heated up with the improvement of Relf, who this time last year was being called out by then-coach Sylvester Croom for his inconsistency and not living up to his potential.
During Friday’s practice, the first in full pads, Relf looked strong. The 6-foot-3, 235-pounder twice took licks while diving into the end zone during red zone drills.
He’s proving that his solid spring game performance was no fluke.
“He must’ve worked hard this summer, because he looks like a different quarterback a lot out there than he did in the spring,” Mullen said. “And I thought he was the one I’d be most worried about that didn’t put the time in over the summer of being on top of the offense, being able to understand things, learn on his own, take the extra time on his own.”
Mullen said it’s too soon to analyze Russell, and it might be that Lee and Relf split duties this fall.
“I love playing two quarterbacks,” Mullen said. “You look back over the last eight, nine years, I’ve had no problem running them by play, running them by series, just playing one, playing two, one quarterback gets two to three series a game – none of that bothers me.
“I’ve never been caught in the idea that quarterbacks are treated differently than every other position on the field.”
The battle will continue today, when MSU begins two-a-days. The practices are closed to the public and the media.
RB Elliott at full speed
– Sophomore running back Robert Elliott, an Okolona native who missed most of last year after tearing his ACL and MCL, said he’s felt good the first week of camp.
“I feel like I’ve got all my speed back. I’m cutting real good,” he said. “The only thing I want to do now is just get me a few more moves when I’m lined up one-on-one against a safety or cornerback or linebacker, I need to get back used to making people miss.”
Elliott was limited to non-contact drills in the spring, so he’s a bit behind as far as learning his place in the offense. In Mullen’s version of the spread, Elliott will be lining up all over the field.
And he likes it.
“The main thing that I really like about this offense is everything is wide open,” Elliott said. “Coach Mullen puts you in a position to make plays and puts the best people out on the field.”
– The first few preseason practices in August in Mississippi usually equals lots of cramping. But through five sessions, no Bulldogs have gone down with cramps or succumbed to the heat.
The players credit strength and conditioning coach Matt Balis and his rigorous offseason workout program. Any cramping up or passing out happened during those taxing workouts.
“I’ve never witnessed that,” receiver Leon Berry said of the cramp-less practices, “but the workouts we’ve been through, there ain’t no way you can cramp up. If you cramp up, that means you didn’t work.”
Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal