August 6, 2011 10:05:00 PM
STARKVILLE -- A lot of players worry and fret about the added weight and heat shoulder pads provide in the grueling heat of a Southeastern Conference football practice.
Mississippi State sophomore safety Nickoe Whitley admitted he looks forward to that point of preseason practice because in his words, "that''s when it becomes playing football."
MSU competed in another split-squad session of practice Saturday, but added the element of hitting above the waist with partial pads.
Whitley, who forced a fumble of a University of Georgia running back at the goal line last year at Davis Wade Stadium, gave big hits to seemingly unprepared receivers Sam Williams and Michael Carr over the middle during the 11-on-11 activities at the end of the two-hour workout.
"I''m perfectly fine being here in pads, so we''re not running wind sprints anymore," Whitley said. "A lot of people think we''re young out here, but I liked the way everybody got after it today and went hard."
MSU third-year coach Dan Mullen agreed the addition of shoulder pads allowed coaches to evaluate line play on both sides of the football.
"If it doesn''t (go up) then you just don''t like football," Mullen said when asked about the intensity rising Saturday. "Anytime you can put pads on and bump into people a little bit more, then that''s football.
When you split the team out like that, it''s hard to hide. It weeds out the imposters pretty quick."
Saturday practices were the final workouts that will be open to the public before the 105-man team heads to the South Farm to complete preseason work.
Mullen and the coaching staff implemented what offensive coordinator Les Koenning called an "overload day," meaning players were given as much of the playbook in a short amount of time. The move was specifically designed to see how the young players reacted.
"It''s still such a teaching mode that we''re in," Mullen said. "There''s a lot of guys that are thinking and not playing, so that''s hard to evaluate. That continues for about a week, two weeks and even three weeks for some guys until it sets in."
Senior quarterback Chris Relf was efficient in the passing game, hitting Ricco Sanders on a go-route for a touchdown and connecting with senior tight end Marcus Green down the middle for another score.
"It''s all going to be about consistency," Mullen said. "I just want to be really steady at quarterback. Chris has been around for a while, been in our system for a while and played a lot of football, so you expect it."
Illness issues for Perkins and Johnson
The afternoon practice saw two key offensive players suffer illnesses.
Sophomore tailback LaDarius Perkins and redshirt freshman Malcolm Johnson were absent for most or all of their workout in the hottest part of the day.
Perkins, who had 1,110 all-purpose yards and six touchdowns last season, left practice less than 15 minutes into it with what MSU officials said were flu-like symptoms and dehydration.
After completing a positional drill, Perkins dropped to a knee and was immediately taken off the field in a golf cart. He didn''t return.
Johnson, a three-star prospect by Rivals.com who redshirted last season, didn''t practice in early the morning or afternoon due to what MSU spokespeople said was an undisclosed illness. Johnson experienced bouts of cramping Friday in morning workouts and needed to be helped off the field.
Mullen declined comment on either player''s situation, citing a team policy restricting public statements about player injuries.