Mississippi State's players report to campus today with the thought of fall football on their minds.
On Thursday, the Bulldogs begin their month long training session gearing up for the 2012 football season. There are question that remain to be answered, but MSU head coach Dan Mullen feels he has the players to get the job done this fall.
“We have some experience, guys that have been in the program for a while, guys that have great leadership, guys that throughout the spring have had a great sense of urgency about them in everything they do,” said Mullen during Southeastern Conference Media Days.
With 13 returning starters and 54 returning lettermen Mullen is right, experience is with the Bulldogs.
Nowhere is it seen more readily than in the secondary.
“On the defensive side of the ball, you have John Banks, Corey Broomfield, Nickoe Whitley, three starters returning in the secondary from last year's team," Mullen said. "There's some experience back there."
Banks enters the season on virtually every watch list available to a defensive back while Broomfield and Whitley have combined to play in 60 games at MSU.
“In the Southeastern Conference, if you're going to win, you have to have great defense, play great defense, and have talent there,” Mullen said. “Hopefully, our young guys that are going to be stepping into new roles are ready to do that and perform at the level we need them to compete for a championship.”
Last season State was second only to Alabama in red zone defense, holding opponents to just 73.9 percent scoring. This season Mullen plans on keeping the overall style intact, but be a bit more aggressive.
“We were kind of a bend but not break defense," said Mullen, whose defense surrendered just 19.7 points per game last season. "If you look total defense, statistically we weren't great. Scoring defense we were very good last year. I don't want to give up any more points. In fact, I'd like to give up a lot less points this year in doing that. I'd like some focus to find ways to get off the field faster, not run as many snaps on the defensive side of the ball, and create plays to get off the field quicker.”
On the offensive side, the Bulldogs look to answer questions in the offensive line early on during camp. There is a nice mix of youth and veteran leadership, but the exact roles have yet to be defined.
Fortunately for MSU, it does have veteran leadership within the offense in the form of junior quarterback Tyler Russell and an experience receiving core.
“That's the one position when I got hired a couple years ago, we recruited a bunch of guys that had to come in and play right away,” Mullen said of his receivers. “The good thing about it, these guys are now seniors. They're been playing for four years. There's a great deal of experience. There's confidence on the field. The guys know what to do. They know the system. They know the environments they're going to play in. They know the talent level that's in this league so there's no shock at that position.”
As for Russell, he’s been patiently waiting his turn to take the wheel, leaving Mullen seeking productivity from his starting quarterback.
“I expect him to have a huge year,” Mullen said. “He's played in almost every stadium in the league so the stage won't be too big. He started games so he knows how to handle being a starter. He has four or five wide receivers with him. He knows the system and is comfortable in the system.
“I think there's a great deal of trust between him and our coaching staff that he knows we're going to turn the keys over to him, put it on his shoulders, let him go, give him control of the offense, have a lot of input in decision-making, give him a lot of freedom in play-calling at the line of scrimmage, and to put a lot on him that way that there is that trust in him.”
State will hold their first practice session Thursday afternoon and will host their only open scrimmage of the fall on Saturday with a split practice. The morning session will get underway around 9 a.m. and the evening session will start at 7 p.m. Both sessions will be open to the public and will be held on the practice fields behind the Shira Complex.