Confidence abounds as Mississippi State opens camp
Expectations have risen dramatically for Mississippi State’s
football program in coach Dan Mullen’s third season and that’s a
welcome change for a program that recently suffered through a long,
Mullen led the Bulldogs to the practice field for their first
preseason workout on Thursday night, one season after finishing
with a 9-4 record and a dominant 52-14 victory over Michigan in the
Much of that team has returned, including quarterback Chris Relf
and running back Vick Ballard. The duo was among the biggest
surprises in the Southeastern Conference last season. Relf threw
for 1,789 yards and 13 touchdowns, and Ballard ran for 986 yards
and a school-record 19 touchdowns.
”There are a lot of guys who know what they’re doing,” Mullen
said. ”There are different expectations on the field.”
Relf’s confidence was obvious during the first practice, with
most of his passes on the mark. Unlike past seasons, when he was in
the middle of a quarterback battle, the 6-foot-4, 245-pound senior
should have the position all to himself. Mullen said the change in
Relf’s maturity is obvious.
”Now, in a quick passing moment I can tell him something and he
gets it immediately,” Mullen said. ”That’s the thing with older
guys, they know exactly what you’re talking about at all
The most uncertainty for the Bulldogs’ offense is along the
line, especially at left tackle, where Blaine Clausell and James
Carmon are the leading candidates. Clausell is a 6-foot-7,
295-pound redshirt freshman while Carmon is a 6-foot-7, 320-pound
senior who moved from the defensive line to the offensive line
during the offseason.
The Bulldogs got a break from the sweltering 100-degree heat
when heavy thunderstorms rolled through eastern Mississippi. The 2
1/2-hour practice only suffered a momentary hitch, moving inside to
the team’s practice facility.
Senior Quentin Saulsberry, who moved from guard to center in the
offseason, said he could sense the difference in attitude.
”It was a good, productive day,” Saulsberry said. ”Showing
the young guys what to do, when to do it and how to do it at the
right intensity level. The attitude was better than ever. I see
more guys flying to the ball.”
The defense returns seven starters and appears especially deep
on the defensive line and in the secondary. But the Bulldogs are
trying to replace all three starting linebackers, including Chris
White and K.J. Wright, who ranked first and second on the team in
Mullen hopes senior Brandon Maye can provide some help. The
6-foot-2, 235-pounder transferred from Clemson under the NCAA rule
that allows a player to transfer without sitting out a season if
he’s completed his undergraduate degree but wants to attend
graduate school elsewhere.
Several linebackers rotated among the starting group on
Thursday, including Cameron Lawrence, Matthew Wells, Ferlando
Bohanna, Brandon Wilson and Chris Hughes. Maye played mostly with
the third team.
Mullen said the depth chart would be fluid for the first several
practices as he worked to get all players the same amount of
repetitions. The Bulldogs have a slightly earlier season opener
than most schools, travelling to face Memphis for a Thursday night
game on Sept. 1.
”We want to have the best 11 guys on the field at the same
time,” Mullen said. ”That can affect a lot of different things.
If two guys battling at one position are better than a third guy
somewhere, we need to tweak some things.”