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Depth, determination: Bulldogs believe numbers narrows gap in tough SEC

August 7, 2012

Coach Dan Mullen discusses the state of the Bulldogs at Tuesday's media day. (Photo by Michael Wardlaw, SDN)

Football season inches closer and closer with each passing day.

Fans long to know who will be the break out player, or the game changer in just a few short weeks.
The Mississippi State Bulldogs held their annual football media day and offered a glimpse into the program.

MSU football coach Dan Mullen took to the podium preaching consistency, depth and determination would narrow the gap between the Bulldogs and the powers of the Southeastern Conference’s Western Division.

“If you look, we had a guy drafted first round and Alabama had four over the past couple of years," Mullen said. "We had two years where we had a first-rounder then middle-round guys. As you keep looking a few years ago, that means when we had Fletcher Cox, we had good depth. Not that he was a backup very much, but he is a guy that went first round and at one point was coming off the bench for us. I don't know where they are (LSU, Alabama, etc.), but they are looking at multiple, multiple first-rounders.”

Special teams improved

Coaches are quick to explain special teams are vital to the success of any team.

MSU is no different.

Mullen explained Tuesday that his Bulldogs were in a position to have a special teams unit he was comfortable with.  

“When I think about depth across the team, the one place I see it the most is special teams,” said Mullen. “That is a great area where I judge depth because you are looking for guys who can play special teams at the speeds you need to in the SEC.

“As we are filling out the special teams depth chart, there are a lot of names filling up all the spots and so I think that helps an awful lot across the board.”

Strength in numbers

Mississippi State is searching for a few answers along the offensive line.

Tobias Smith appears to be healthy, but there are several new faces being plugged into the rotation this season.

While there is youth in the group, Mullen sees the depth as a tremendous positive for the future.

“We brought in a lot this year on purpose," Mullen said. "I don't know how many will contribute this season, but we have more linemen at camp this year than I've ever had as a coach.

"If you combine 22 offensive linemen and 19 defensive linemen at camp, that's more than I've ever had anywhere as a coach and that's fantastic. How many are going to contribute? I don't know, but as we're building depth to the future, there is an awful lot of guys getting reps."

Smith ready for season

Smith, the senior guard from Columbus, has been encouraged by his progress physically and believes he's ready to play this season.

“I’m 114 percent right now,” Smith said.

Smith has been sidelined much of his career with a variety of injuries. In fact, he spent 10 games sidelined with an injury in 2011. Now, after extensive rehab, Smith is in full swing during practice.

“I get out there and knock it around,” said Smith. “There is some precautionary stuff, but I get out there with the guys for the most part.”

While staying healthy is a priority for Smith during his final season with MSU, it isn’t something he spends time thinking about.

“If I was thinking about that, then I wouldn’t be thinking about my assignment fully and that leaves the door open for somebody to get hurt," Smith said. "I’m not going to do that.”

Prescott, early and often

Mississippi State likes the top two quarterbacks on the depth chart.

Tyler Russell is the unquestioned leader of the football team, while Dak Prescott is the athletic youngster whom his teammates see as a playmaker.

However, when you consider the fact that Russell is the only QB on the roster who has seen live action, State fans can expect to see Prescott early and often this season.

"We have to get them both on the field," Mullen said. "You look last year and we had two quarterbacks that played eight games due to the desperateness to get them both on the field early was not as high. Maybe it is now.

"We only have one quarterback on the roster that's taken a snap, Tyler Russell, so we can be a play away in practice where we could not have a quarterback so we need to have other guys ready not just now in development but as the season goes on. Early in games in meaningful situations, we have got to put Dak Prescott on the field so he can understand how to play and what it is like to be out there in the spotlight on a game day."

The Bulldogs continue their fall camp this week on MSU’s South Farm as they march forward to the season opener with Jackson State on Sept. 1.

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