With less than 40 days remaining until the kickoff of the college football season, Mississippi State officially began its countdown to Charleston Southern with the start of fall camp Tuesday.
Along with the first practice that took place in the early afternoon hours under overcast skies, coaches and players took part in the annual media day. Dan Mullen was especially excited about starting off his ninth season in Starkville with a new team.
“We have a young football team but we’ve got some guys that have been on the field playing and I’m excited to see the energy that we attack this training camp with,” Mullen said. “We’re going to go out there and make this a successful football team.”
MSU is starting practice before most teams around the country and will spread practices out over the next month. The veteran coach sat conferred with his head trainer and strength coach in an effort to keep his players healthy.
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MSU started practice Tuesday and will practice again Wednesday with helmets before taking a day off. They’ll return Friday for more practice but the goal in mind is to give recovery days for players and in accordance to new NCAA rules.
“It will be a big learning curve for us. There are concerns,” Mullen said. “There are days that players have a whole day off and you can’t even do a life skills meeting with them. I hope they’re well-behaved that day because we can’t be around them.”
New defensive attitude
Familiar faces will be on the fields this training camp with a lot of staff returning and players a year older. One new face to fall camp is defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, who took part in spring ball but is now gearing up for game day in over one month.
One thing that attracted Mullen to Grantham from the start was his fiery nature on the sidelines. When he got into the interview process with the former Georgia and Louisville coordinator, he realized just how much Grantham knew about the game.
“He’s extremely knowledgeable. I think he’s fit in to the staff but also is extremely professional,” Mullen said. “I think his professionalism has helped and merged really well. I’m excited to see our defense perform this season.”
Offense and defense alike is excited about the coming season and the practices come first. Mullen just wants to use the next month as an opportunity for the players to focus on themselves and doing their part.
“They’re in control of it. What they put into it, we’re going to get out of it this season,” Mullen said. “The effort they push themselves to develop, they’re in control of it. There are a lot of things we can’t control, but we can control ourselves. They’ve got to go do it on a daily basis. If we do that, it will be a successful season.”
OL taking shape
On the surface, this fall camp could help produce one of MSU’s best offensive lines under Mullen, but there are questions to be answered.
One of the question marks was the center position that has since been answered. Mullen and offensive line coach John Hevesy believe junior Elgton Jenkins can fit the bill of an SEC center. Though he hasn’t played the position in college to this point, he’s had experience at tackle and guard that prepares him for it.
“He’s a veteran guy and a pretty smart football player,” Mullen said of Jenkins. “He’s a guy that can get us the right calls and get us on the line in the right position. He has the athletic ability to be able to do it.”
With center settled and left tackle locked down with former Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College standout Martinas Rankin, MSU focuses on right tackle and one more guard spot. Left guard Deion Calhoun is one of MSU’s top returning blockers after a year as a starter and Hevesy is going to use him where he fits best.
The left side of the line has been stronger than the right which has caused the veteran line coach to move Calhoun to the other side to help bring along redshirt freshman Stewart Reese. The other guard spot will be between Darryl Williams and Michael Story, two sophomores.
“I talked to Deion about that a little bit just to help get a sense of where the younger guys are,” Hevesy said. “The biggest thing is the right tackle because it has the least amount of experience. To me, Deion has the most experience so that’s why he’s over there to help them get through with calls and communications.”
MSU is still awaiting clearance for offensive line signees Cordavien Suggs, Montravious Richardson and Josh Cooper as well as Colorado defensive tackle Noah Elliss.
Sources have suggested that Suggs and Elliss are the most likely to be cleared and Richardson also has a strong chance to make it in during training camp or early in the fall. Cooper is expected to go to junior college for two years as is Jackson, Georgia, defensive tackle Jaquavious Collins, who is already enrolled at Itawamba Community College.
MSU will once again have a strong South Mississippi connection. The 2017 Bulldogs roster includes lineman James Jackson (Pascagoula), kicker Brad Wall (Ocean Springs), cornerback Lashard Durr (Harrison Central) and receiver Austin Williams (Ocean Springs).