August 4, 2009 11:18:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- It was in with the old and the new Monday at Mississippi State as the football team opened preseason practice with two sessions.
The freshmen and newcomers worked out for an hour and a half in the morning, while the varsity team members spent nearly three hours in the afternoon brushing up on what they learned in the spring.
MSU coach Dan Mullen said the freshman came a long way for the first time out, while the veterans seemed to pick up where they left off.
"We didn''t want to lose a lot from spring," Mullen said. "(The players) maybe (didn''t) have the exact execution, but (they had) at least the knowledge and understanding of what they are doing between the offensive and defensive schemes. I thought they came out and did a pretty good job of grasping what was happening on the field."
The newcomers had a few veterans mixed in during the early practice to balance the offense and defense. One of those was wide receiver Arceto Clark, who was back on the field after his suspension for a petty larceny charge in March.
Mullen separated the newcomers from the rest of the varsity because he knew there are some things those players have to learn.
"We taught (the freshmen) how to put on the shoes, get taped, and get out there and practice," Mullen said. "(The veterans) already knew how to do that."
Most of the veterans worked focused on technique and fundamentals.
Quarterbacks and running backs went through agility and ball-protection drills.
Running backs coach Greg Knox shouted the importance of technique to his unit and said that''s what the game is all about.
"Everybody has size and speed, but it''s about technique and fundamentals," Knox said. "The better technician is going to win, so we want to be technique-sound."
The running backs were involved in short passing drills and took pitches in the option.
Senior tailback Christian Ducre said it''s important to understand all aspects of the game plan.
"It''s good because we''re going to have to run it in the game," Ducre said. (The running backs) are going to be big in the passing game.
"It''s rough, but we''ve just got to get back into the flow. We picked it up pretty good. We just put in some of the basic plays, so it wasn''t that difficult today, but as we get rolling we''re going to click on all cylinders."
Knox was glad to see the running backs return in good physical condition. He said the offseason summer conditioning under strength coach Matt Balis seems to have done the trick.
"It''s a fine looking group of young men, and their bodies have really changed," Knox said.
Ducre called offseason conditioning "by far the hardest I''ve been through in high school and college," and that Balis and his staff did a "great job."
Ducre used the offseason conditioning to recover from a shoulder injury that he said 100 percent.
Sophomore tailback Robert Elliott said his knee is fine, and all he wore in practice was a knee pad.
Senior Arnil Stallworth, who sprained a medial collateral ligament last season against Kentucky, wore a brace but didn''t experience any noticeable problems.
Stallworth has tried to bring the intensity of conditioning to the practice field.
"It felt pretty good, and it was my first time cutting in a while," Stallworth said. "I''m trying to get back into the flow of things. As far as running straight ahead, it felt fine."
Senior tailback Anthony Dixon, who was excused from practice early for an appointment on campus, was close to the weight (235 pounds) Knox wants.
"I''d like to maybe knock off two or three more pounds, but that''s going to take care of itself during fall camp," Knox said. "I think he''s in good shape and looks good."
Senior quarterback Tyson Lee, of Columbus, noticed a difference in the running backs.
On a day when the heat index eclipsed 100 degrees, Lee said it was important to be prepared for the conditions.
"You saw today if you weren''t in shape, it''s going to be a tough day," Lee said.
Mullen said the goal was to schedule the first practice around the gametime of the season opener against Jackson State (2:30 p.m.).
Today''s practice, again open to the public, will begin at 6:15 p.m.
"We''re going to mix up practice at different times," Mullen said. "Sometimes we''ll get it at the hot times, get adjusted to the heat, and other times give them a chance to cool off."
1. Season opener at Columbus Speedway a success LOCAL SPORTS
2. Tennessee routs No. 3 Mississippi State COLLEGE SPORTS
3. Tennessee's win against MSU flips script LOCAL COLUMNS
5. Starkville Academy boys fall in state title game HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS