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One day into the first game week of the 2010 season, there‚Äôs already conflicting reports on the injury status of Mississippi State quarterback Chris Relf.
The head coach didn‚Äôt put his junior signal caller on his prepared injury report, shot down perceived rumors that he was injured and said Relf would play Saturday night when MSU hosts Memphis for a 6 p.m. contest
at Davis-Wade Stadium.
‚ÄúI gave the injury report and he‚Äôs not injured,‚ÄĚ Mullen said.
The words from the players‚Äô locker room didn‚Äôt exactly match the certainty of the Bulldogs second-year head coach.
Senior linebacker K.J. Wright admitted to the media shortly after Mullen‚Äôs press conference that he had been already asked by fans on campus about Relf more than once before Monday afternoon. Wright said the junior quarterback has suffered an injury to his finger but
similarly to his coach was confident the junior would play Saturday.
‚ÄúI just tell them (them being the fans who have already asked him about the situation before he spoke to the media Monday) he‚Äôs going to be ready to play and that‚Äôs what we‚Äôre expecting him to do,‚ÄĚ Wright said. ‚ÄúHe‚Äôs good. He‚Äôs just got a little hurt finger but he should be out there on Saturday.‚ÄĚ
Neither quarterback was made available to the media Monday but according to the coaching staff both Relf and Russell will practice with the first-team this week.
Mullen did reconfirm Monday what MSU officials told the media this past weekend about Relf‚Äôs absence for the program‚Äôs fan day festivities being ‚Äúa family issue‚ÄĚ.
‚ÄúHe came to me and had a personal family deal and went home to be with his family,‚ÄĚ Mullen said Monday. ‚ÄúJust yesterday I called him, I had to ask him something yesterday and he said ‚ÄėI‚Äôm right down the hall watching film today.‚ÄĚ
Mullen said both Relf and redshirt freshman Tyler Russell will get snaps in the Saturday contest against the Tigers with the coaching staff giving the more effective player the majority of playing time as
the game goes along. This is a situation similar to how Mullen handled then-senior Tyson Lee and Relf‚Äôs snaps last season.
‚ÄúA lot of that is only one of our guys has limited experience at that position anyway with Chris,‚ÄĚ Mullen said. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôve got to get the experience going at that position. Our guys have competed well.‚ÄĚ
Relf, who only completed 22 passes in 2009, has won over the confidence of the five guys in front of him with a more veteran demeanor in the huddle that was acquired with game experience from last year‚Äôs performances.
‚ÄúHe has a very calm head,‚ÄĚ MSU senior offensive tackle Derek Sherrod said. ‚ÄúAll of us do. We‚Äôre just looking to go in ready for this very anticipated game with Memphis, and we‚Äôre all just going to enjoy it.‚ÄĚ
Without even being pushed in that direction, Mullen used Relf‚Äôs performance in the Egg Bowl against Ole Miss as a measuring stick to track the mental and physical progress of his junior signal caller this offseason.
‚ÄúThe maturity level has completely changed for Chris this year,‚ÄĚ Mullen said. ‚ÄúLast year he‚Äôd look at Tyson and see what he did but didn‚Äôt really understand the commitment level it took. After the success in the last game of the season last year, really the pressure comes on you, it‚Äôs now or never for you at the quarterback position.‚ÄĚ
For Russell, the former Parade All-American recruit out of Meridian High School, it‚Äôs been more of a learning transition after redshirting his first year last year and adjusting to the speed of college football in the Southeastern Conference.
‚ÄúComing out of high school I had people telling me ‚Äėyou gotta do this, we never had a great quarterback‚Äô stuff like that but now it‚Äôs just about not worrying about what everybody else does,‚ÄĚ Russell said back in March. ‚ÄúJust doing what I know I can do. I‚Äôm surrounded with a good team and great coaches.‚ÄĚ
Memphis names its starting quarterback
Larry Porter has picked the quarterback that will lead his offense into Starkville Saturday for the first game of his head-coaching career.
During a media luncheon Monday, Porter announced sophomore Cannon Smith will start at quarterback when the Tigers open the 2010 season.
Before starring at Olive Branch High School in Hattiesburg, the Memphis native was one of the nation's top prep school quarterbacks in 2007 while at Hargrave Military Academy.
‚ÄúWe sat back and evaluated the quarterbacks based on three things: decision making, being able to manage the offense, and productivity,‚ÄĚ Porter said.
Smith went on to sign with Miami and played in the 2008 season opener against Charleston Southern. In that game, he completed a pass for two yards and had a two-yard rush. In fall 2009, Smith returned home and transferred to Memphis, where he had to sit out a year due to NCAA
"He's athletic, has a strong arm, been exposed to major college football," Porter said. "I think his leadership ability has grown over the course of the last eight months, so it was all those things that we saw starting to grow and come to life in his play."
MSU‚Äôs K.J. Wright remembered playing with Smith in high school at Olive Branch and said that the two had been trash talking via Facebook this past weekend.
‚ÄúWe‚Äôve been talking,‚ÄĚ Wright said. ‚ÄúHe said he‚Äôs ready for us so we‚Äôre going to see.‚ÄĚ
Smith, who is the son of FedEx founder/CEO Larry Smith, worked consistently with the No. 1 offense in the spring and remained in the role during fall camp.
Unlike his head coaching counterpart in maroon, Porter dismissed the idea of finding a situation to play backup quarterback Ryan Williams and is trying to find consistency by focusing on practice reps for one
player this week.
‚ÄúWe need to establish some rhythm, some continuity within the game,‚ÄĚ Porter said. ‚ÄúSo, I'd like for a guy to get settled and manage the offense. If the situation presents itself to where I think we need a different pace, we'll definitely play Ryan, but that's not our plan.‚ÄĚ
Mullen and Stricklin confident cow bell rule will work
Mississippi State‚Äôs athletic director and head football coach are parallel in their thinking the cow bell legislation written in the conference by-laws for the 2010 season can be managed and the financial violations punishment will not be necessary.
Scott Stricklin, who will be watching his first football game this Saturday at Davis-Wade Stadium with the title of athletic director, said the Bulldogs season opener will be an historic day for the institution.
For the first time in 36 years, Mississippi State fans will be allowed to walk through Davis-Wade Stadium with a cowbell.
On the final day of Southeastern Conference spring meetings in Destin, Fla., the league‚Äôs athletic directors and university presidents voted to approve a temporary change to the policy on the artificial
‚ÄúI think 36 years is a long time to be told that your tradition was insignificant,‚ÄĚ Stricklin said. ‚ÄúI think the opportunity for our fans to have them accepted and part of our gameday experience and going to make them work really hard to make sure we can keep going forward.‚ÄĚ
However, the conference office did this month also add on fine structure if and when the artificial noisemaker policy is broken. In an athletic directors meeting in Orlando, the group decided on a fine structure for violations of the rules on illegal stadium sounds with
$5,000 for the first offense, $25,000 for the second and $50,000 for the third and beyond.
Mullen joked when asked about it Monday that he had hopes the officials in the Birmingham office had higher priorities than monitoring illegal cowbell ringing every Saturday.
‚ÄúI certainly hope that as the SEC continues looking at a lot of different things ‚Äď keeping our players safe and other rules ‚Äď that (the artificial noisemaker policy) isn‚Äôt priority number one for the Southeastern Conference this year but who knows,‚ÄĚ Mullen said.