August 5, 2011 10:26:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- It was a large day of firsts for the Mississippi State football program.
Whether it was a first look in a maroon and white jersey or a first time getting significant playing time with the first string, MSU coach Dan Mullen had a lot to watch in the Bulldogs'' opening day of practice for the 2011 season.
After the players worked out for nearly three hours in helmets (storms in the Starkville area forced the team to go inside to the Palmeiro Center), Mullen admitted the start of his third year saw a lot more older players easily adjusting to the quick tempo on both sides of the football.
"You see a bigger separation between the older guys and the newer
guys," Mullen said. "The younger guys kind of are saying, ''Wow, so this is college football in the SEC,'' while the older guys are used to what we expect and how we conduct a full practice."
The first step for the 17 seniors on MSU''s 105-man preseason roster is learning the names of the freshmen and walk-ons.
"I know most of their names, but sometimes yeah I''ll have to say, ''Young guy come here,'' " senior center Quentin Saulsberry said. "Part of my job is showing the young guys what to do and how to do it every day. We tell them look at that senior and the way he gets his job done."
Junior college transfer Darius Slay displayed his playmaking ability in the defensive backfield. The three-star cornerback from Itawamba Community College intercepted third-string quarterback Dylan Favre, including one that was returned for a touchdown.
Slay, a first-team All-State selection by the Mississippi Association of Junior College Coaches, is looking to get instant playing time as a nickel corner behind returning starters Corey Broomfield and Jonathan Banks.
"(Darius'') clock is obviously shorter than everybody else''s, so we need
to accelerate his transition to his level a bit faster," Mullen said.
Freshman cornerback Taveze Clahoun, a three-star athlete from Morton High School, matched Slay later in the practice with a diving interception of Favre.
In his first practice on campus, transfer linebacker Brandon Maye adjusted to running the 11-on-11 drills with the third-team defense after starting the past two years at Clemson University. He plans to work his way up the depth chart with his new team.
"His attitude has been great about everything," Saulsberry said. "He always says to us, ''Guys whether I''m on the first, second or third team, I''ll make sure to give whatever it takes.'' "
MSU will split the roster into two groups for separate practices today. A majority of the seniors and freshmen will begin practice at 9 a.m. The rest of the roster will practice at 7 p.m.
MSU ranked in preseason coaches'' poll
For the first time in 10 years, MSU is ranked in a preseason college football poll.
The Bulldogs, who opened practice Thursday night, are 20th in the USA Today Coaches poll.
The last time the Bulldogs were ranked in the opening week poll was 2001, when they finished 3-8.
The University of Oklahoma received 42 of the 59 first-place votes in the poll to grab the top spot in the rankings, which count for one third of the Bowl Championship Series formula.
Eight teams from the Southeastern Conference -- the most from any league in the country -- were ranked led by the University of Alabama (No. 2), LSU (No. 4), South Carolina (No. 12), Arkansas (No. 14), defending national champion Auburn (No. 19), Georgia (No. 23), and Florida (No. 24).
Auburn''s ranking is the lowest for a defending national champion since USA Today began administering the coaches'' poll in 1991.
TCU, which finished second in last year''s final poll, is 15th.
MSU is coming off a 9-4 season that ended with the school''s first New Year''s Day bowl victory since 1941, a 52-14 victory against Michigan in the 2011 Gator Bowl.
The Associated Press preseason poll will be released Aug. 20.
Cook to be permanently redshirted
The football career of Kendric Cook at MSU has apparently ended.
The tight end has accepted a permanent redshirt role and will spend the 2011 season as a student assistant.
Cook suffered a nerve injury in his neck and was held out of spring practice. Mullen said Cook was sent to a specialist so coaches could determine the future of the 6-foot-3, 250-pound receiver.
"During spring ball there was a chance, but with a narrowing of the spinal column, that''s not something you want to mess with," Mullen said. "It was a great decision for him."
Under NCAA rules, Cook is allowed to remain on scholarship as a
permanent medical redshirt and won''t count toward MSU''s allotted 85 scholarship players.
Cook, an Attalla, Ala., native, played 29 games at MSU, including a start in the 2011 Gator Bowl. He caught two passes for 25 yards.
The student assistant role is similar to the path former MSU offensive lineman D.J. Looney took last season before becoming a full-time assistant on the Bulldogs'' coaching staff this year.
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