MSU quarterback Chris Relf throws a pass during preseason practice. (Kim Murrell/SDN)
One day into the first game week of the 2010 season, thereâs already conflicting reports on the injury status of Mississippi State quarterback Chris Relf.
The head coach didnât 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.
âI gave the injury report and heâs not injured,â Mullen said.
The words from the playersâ locker room didnât exactly match the certainty of the Bulldogs second-year head coach.
Senior linebacker K.J. Wright admitted to the media shortly after Mullenâs 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.
âI just tell them (them being the fans who have already asked him about the situation before he spoke to the media Monday) heâs going to be ready to play and thatâs what weâre expecting him to do,â Wright said. âHeâs good. Heâs just got a little hurt finger but he should be out there on Saturday.â
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 Relfâs absence for the programâs fan day festivities being âa family issueâ.
âHe came to me and had a personal family deal and went home to be with his family,â Mullen said Monday. âJust yesterday I called him, I had to ask him something yesterday and he said âIâm right down the hall watching film today.â
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 Relfâs snaps last season.
âA lot of that is only one of our guys has limited experience at that position anyway with Chris,â Mullen said. âWeâve got to get the experience going at that position. Our guys have competed well.â
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 yearâs performances.
âHe has a very calm head,â MSU senior offensive tackle Derek Sherrod said. âAll of us do. Weâre just looking to go in ready for this very anticipated game with Memphis, and weâre all just going to enjoy it.â
Without even being pushed in that direction, Mullen used Relfâs 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.
âThe maturity level has completely changed for Chris this year,â Mullen said. âLast year heâd look at Tyson and see what he did but didnât 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, itâs now or never for you at the quarterback position.â
For Russell, the former Parade All-American recruit out of Meridian High School, itâs 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.
âComing out of high school I had people telling me âyou gotta do this, we never had a great quarterbackâ stuff like that but now itâs just about not worrying about what everybody else does,â Russell said back in March. âJust doing what I know I can do. Iâm surrounded with a good team and great coaches.â
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.
âWe sat back and evaluated the quarterbacks based on three things: decision making, being able to manage the offense, and productivity,â 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."
MSUâs 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.
âWeâve been talking,â Wright said. âHe said heâs ready for us so weâre going to see.â
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.
âWe need to establish some rhythm, some continuity within the game,â Porter said. âSo, 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.â
Mullen and Stricklin confident cow bell rule will work
Mississippi Stateâs 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.
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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 leagueâs athletic directors and university presidents voted to approve a temporary change to the policy on the artificial
âI think 36 years is a long time to be told that your tradition was insignificant,â Stricklin said. âI 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.â
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.
âI certainly hope that as the SEC continues looking at a lot of different things â keeping our players safe and other rules â that (the artificial noisemaker policy) isnât priority number one for the Southeastern Conference this year but who knows,â Mullen said.