August 31, 2010 10:30:00 AM
David Miller -
STARKVILLE -- Shrouded in mystery Monday at Mississippi State football press conference was quarterback Chris Relf, who wasn''t present but was the hot topic ahead of the team''s season opener against the University of Memphis at 6 p.m. Saturday (ESPNU) at Davis Wade Stadium.
The junior quarterback missed the team''s fan day festivities Saturday due to what MSU coach Dan Mullen called "family" issues, though speculation about a hand injury was immediately addressed Monday. Mullen had just given a short injury report in his opening statement but didn''t mention Relf''s name among the four listed as doubtful or probable.
"I gave the injury report, and he''s not injured," Mullen said. "He came to me and had a personal family deal, and he went home with his family."
Although Relf is expected to play and to split time with redshirt freshman Tyler Russell, his suspected finger injury was confirmed by senior outside linebacker K.J. Wright, who said friends and classmates had asked him about the severity of the injury.
And while Wright acknowledged Relf suffered a finger injury, he didn''t divulge the extent of it.
"Chris, he''s good," Wright said. "He''s just got a little hurt finger, but he should be out there Saturday."
Mullen said Relf has been practicing with the team and will practice with the team this week, a schedule which included Monday''s afternoon session that was closed to the media.
But as no one in the MSU camp has revealed specifics about Relf''s injured finger, it''s unclear whether the injury is to his throwing hand and whether his ability to grip the ball has been affected.
The more questions that arise from Relf''s suspected finger injury, just as many questions spawn from how it could affect playcalling and the rotation at quarterback.
Like Relf, Russell wasn''t one of the players made available to the media.
Mullen said Relf''s availability against a new-look Memphis team will be crucial because the Bulldogs have just one quarterback with significant, yet limited game experience.
"I have a pretty good idea of what I think it''s going to be," Mullen said. "In the first game, we''ll play more than one quarterback. A lot of that is one of our guys has limited experience at that position anyway with Chris, so we''ve got to get the experience going at that position. Our guys have competed well. Plan on seeing more than one quarterback Saturday."
Mullen hasn''t named a starter at quarterback, a trend that is reflected in the team''s two-deep depth chart released Monday. Quarterback was one of six positions with "or" separating two players, which was common in last year''s depth chart.
Though there hasn''t been a distinction between who''ll start and who''ll come off the bench, Mullen has been impressed with Relf''s dedication to become a thorough college quarterback.
" Just yesterday, I called and asked him something and he said, ''I''m right down the hall, I''m in the office watching film,'' " Mullen said of Relf. "The mental preparation for him and the maturity level for Chris has completely changed this year. I think last year, he''d look at Tyson, see what he did, but didn''t really understand the level it took. I think after having a successful last game of the season last year, really the pressure coming on him is it''s now or never for you at the quarterback position."
Limited preparation tools for MSU
The University of Memphis is more than two hours away and features players from MSU''s recruiting landscape, but getting a read on the Tigers hasn''t been easy.
First-year head coach Larry Porter will bring a team that went 2-9 last season to Starkville on Saturday. The matchup will be the seventh consecutive season his program has opened the season against a Southeastern Conference team. That''s about all MSU coaches and players know about what Porter and coordinators Jay Hopson and Eric Price will dial up for the game.
Mullen said he and his staff have looked at film from Michigan and Southern Miss, where Hopson served as linebackers coach and defensive coordinator, respectively. He said the team has looked at "everything and nothing" in scouting the Tigers, as the MSU coaches don''t know how Memphis players will perform in new schemes.
"One of the things you really have to do is focus on yourself a lot," Mullen said. "A lot of our stuff is focused on our execution and our fundamentals as we''re getting ready to practice. You''re looking at stuff from Michigan, Southern Miss, and whatever you can get your hands on. Whether it be offense, defense, or special teams -- everybody''s a couple of years removed from being in a coordinator position on their staff. We''ve had to kind of pick and choose and look at different things, get an idea for what we think they''re going to do."
Memphis players with MSU connections
The big news to come out of Memphis'' camp Monday was former Olive Branch High School quarterback Cannon Smith was named the team''s starter.
Smith, a former Miami (Fla.) quarterback, played with Wright at Olive Branch. But Smith is just one of several players with ties to MSU and/or its players.
Former MSU linebacker Jamon Hughes led the Tigers in tackles last season, and former MSU receiver Delmon Robinson is listed as a backup on the depth chart.