August 1, 2013 8:53:06 PM
STARKVILLE - Mississippi State University coach Dan Mullen was simply looking for players to be energized, excited and passionate with their play Thursday in the first fall camp practice session of the 2013 season.
With 19 players having to go through their first-ever college football practice, MSU's fifth-year coach said he clearly wasn't looking for anywhere near flawless execution but Thursday's two-hour session was more about tempo and getting the newcomers used to practicing at that pace from today on.
"We don't have pads on or anything so a lot of teaching today," Mullen said. "It's about the old guys waking up and being fresh and the young guys bringing that energy, that juice."
Mullen laughed when asked if some of the freshmen in the 2013 signing class didn't have as many clueless looks or seem frustrated with what they were being asked to do Thursday on the practice field.
"No, they're all still pretty confused," Mullen said with a laugh today. "Maybe they're just getting lucky. With the newer receivers, they have a fifth-year senior quarterback so (Russell) knows they're going to need to play with him right away so this isn't practice one for them."
MSU spent the entire two-hour session in just helmets in what has been typical of Mullen's regime over the last five years of the first few practices in fall camp. Most of the newcomers worked in the third and fourth-string units to get them used to the speed of play as a group.
"It's a different speed today than anything you can prepare," Mullen said. "There are guys on this team that are having to get ready for something, whether it's a new starting role or special teams or just getting ready for the new level of practice. Everybody is getting ready for something today. Getting ready means so much for guys down the depth chart than it ever has in years past."
Here's a bullet point of noticeable items gleamed from Thursday's practice session:
- Mississippi State started with special team practicing and that meant senior tailback LaDarius Perkins, junior wide receiver Robert Johnson and sophomore tailback Derrick Milton were on kick return duty today. Remember, earlier in July Perkins informed the media that Mullen was going to allow him to take over punt return duties this fall with both Chad Bumphis and Johnthan Banks gone to graduation.
- Freshman defensive end Trent Simpson seemed physically full-go today with just a brace on his knee for precautionary reasons. The Oxford (Ala.) native suffered a severe knee injury in high school leaving his status this summer questionable for fall camp but the 230-pound lineman has physically made a remarkable recovery. He was working with five-star phenom Chris Jones on the fourth-string defensive line along with most true freshman Thursday. Simpson and Jones were joined on the inside by four-star prospects in sophomores Quay Evans and Nick James on the fourth-team unit.
- Damien Robinson was separated from the most of his teammates in the injury pit Thursday when MSU went to team drill segments. The junior from Olive Branch, who is expected to challenge Charles Siddoway for one of the starting offensive tackle positions, appeared to have a slight knee injury but was doing individual work throughout practice.
With just a large wrap on his injured right knee, Nick Griffin was full-go Thursday and working with the third-team offense in a incredibly deep tailback depth chart at MSU.
- In his first workout today since having offseason surgery on the big toe on his right foot, Dak Prescott took reps Thursday with the second-string offense and showed no physical signs of the foot bothering him any longer. The third-year sophomore did have two interceptions in team work Thursday but said after the practice he felt like it would be slow process for him to work back into regular reps with the offense.
- Deontae Skinner gave the training staff a scare when he needed attention after getting a bit overheated in team drills but the senior linebacker quickly got back to work and finished with the first-string unit alongside Benardrick McKinney and Matthew Wells.
- After being needed at running back in the spring for simply an emergency situation once both Nick Griffin and LaDarius Perkins, redshirt freshman Brandon Holloway was back at slot receiver Thursday. MSU also used Holloway as a tailback in the flat on pass plays as well as the Bulldogs offense would like use the 5-foot-8 speedster in numerous ways this season.
- In a interesting tidbit, MSU decided to use ground speakers to play music throughout the two-hour practice for the first time since Mullen accepted the head coaching job. Music selections ranged from Metallica to hip-hop to R&B, The Zac Brown Band, Cotton-eyed Joe and the Dropkick Murphy's.
- Former East Mississippi Community College star and West Point High School graduate Justin Cox was with the second-string unit at cornerback. Cox, who signed with MSU out of high school and junior college, had an interception of Prescott Thursday afternoon.
- On the first day without Banks and Darius Slay at cornerback, MSU used junior Jamerson Love and Cedric Jiles with the first-team unit today.
- The starting wide receivers with Tyler Russell on the first-team offense were Robert Johnson, Joe Morrow and Jameon Lewis. Mullen said the newcomers at receiver looked vastly less confused on the first day of fall camp after working this summer with their fifth-year senior signal caller.
- In an apparent effort to build depth beyond the four returning starters and the experienced part-time starter Justin Malone on MSU's offensive line, position coach John Hevesy mixed and matched his first and second-string units Thursday. One first-string unit saw All-Southeastern Conference guard Gabe Jackson with projected backup center Dylan Holley and Charles Siddoway today with Russell at quarterback.
Mississippi State will split the rosters up tomorrow for two practices at 7 a.m., and 6 p.m. Friday, which will again be open to the public.
All of the Dispatch MSU Sports Blog readers: feel free to follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/matthewcstevens for up-to-date Mississippi State coverage.
3. Columbus tree lighting to have new look, locale ENTERTAINMENT