March 19, 2014 9:57:30 AM
STARKVILLE -- It took Mississippi State football coach Dan Mullen a few minutes to remember the frustrations of a lack of depth at quarterback last spring.
"Who did we even have out there last year besides Tyler Russell?" Mullen asked Tuesday after MSU's first spring practice of the 2014 season.
A year ago, Mullen and the Bulldogs only had Russell, a senior, and a pair of walk-ons to run the offense. Graduate assistant coaches were forced to throw passes to wide receivers in drills to limit Russell's throws in the 15 workouts.
"It's good to have a couple guys out there," Mullen said.
On Tuesday, MSU had three scholarship quarterbacks -- junior Dak Prescott, sophomore Damian Williams, and freshman Nick Fitzgerald -- participating in individual and team drills in the team's first action since a 44-7 victory against Rice in the 2013 Liberty Bowl on Dec. 31, 2013.
"We're installing pretty quickly," Mullen said about the offensive scheme. "I guess what you go home and feel better about is guys know what's going on out there and there's not that much confusion."
Mullen said Prescott "wasn't 100 percent healthy" for the session and will be protected Friday when MSU has its first practice in pads, but he said just having him on the field providing leadership was a benefit for a veteran offense.
"The older guys picked up where we left off and the younger guys are trying to figure out what is going on because it all happens kind of fast for them," Mullen said. "It's hard to really tell without any pads but, energy, effort, and the excitement was all really good."
Williams, who played in four games and started the Egg Bowl game against Ole Miss last year, took some first-team reps.
The practice also was the first for new quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson, who rejoins the coach who recruited him to play at Utah. Mullen, 41, said seeing Johnson on the practice field made him "feel old."
"It's not the first time he's been yelled at by me in a practice," Mullen said.
MSU assistant coaches John Hevesy and Billy Gonzales also remember coaching Johnson at Utah. That familiarity can help breed chemistry on a staff that will help devise a game plan and will have Mullen call the plays.
"Having Brian as a player allows all of us on this staff to know who he is as a coach, as a person, and as a teacher," said Hevesy, MSU's co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach.
Johnson, the winningest quarterback in Utah history and former Utes offensive coordinator, inherits a quarterback class led by Prescott, who had 23 touchdowns as a sophomore.
"Brian does a good job," Mullen said. "He understands the game and is a very smart coach. He's played the position and has played in big games and has made things happen. He was always a very fundamentally sound guy and always had to use his fundamentals to have a lot of success."
Instead of an unknown walk-on running the third-team unit, Fitzgerald, a former three-star prospect from Georgia, handled that job. Fitzgerald graduated high school early to be eligible for the practices leading up to MSU's bowl game and spring workouts.
"I think Nick (Fitzgerald) has been great," Mullen said. "That's the benefit of being here and to be able to go through spring ball. With him being here before the bowl game, he's at least been at a practice. He was kind of holding on before the bowl game, but now it's getting installed, so he's learning it for the first time, and he'll pick it up pretty quickly."
MSU will work out at 4:30 p.m. today before its first workout in pads at 3:15 p.m. Friday. Both practices will be open to the public at the Seal Complex.
n MSU 2, Memphis 1: At Memphis, Tenn., A key stolen base from junior Julia Echols and a critical fielding error by the Tigers helped the Bulldogs earn a victory Tuesday evening.
With two outs in the top of the seventh inning and the score tied 1-1, Echols walked, stole second, and scored what proved to be the winning run on an error.
With the victory, MSU improves to 22-8. The team is off to the third-best 30-game start by an MSU club, just one win behind the 2006 and 2000 squads' program-best 23-7 mark.
Senior Allison Owen (11-6), the fourth of four MSU pitchers, retired all five batters she faced for the win.
n Ramey named SEC Player of Week: At Birmingham, Ala., After turning in two top-five cards last week, senior Chad Ramey earned Southeastern Conference Player of the Week honors.
Ramey has earned SEC Player of the Week honors twice in his career. The first time came last season after the Fulton native won the 2013 Tiger Invitational. At this year's event Ramey finished second.
"Chad has had a great year and deserves a lot credit, " MSU coach Clay Homan said. " Week in and week out he puts himself in contention to win. He is a great teammate and leads by example."
Ramey turned in 9-under-par 207 in Opelika and a 3-under-par 213 in Tallahassee to finish last week's spring break trip. After the runner-up finish at the Tiger Invitational and Saturday's tie for third, Ramey now has 16 Top-10 cards as a Bulldog.
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.