July 31, 2014 10:59:46 PM
STARKVILLE -- If Mississippi State football coach Dan Mullen feels any added excitement or pressure due to heightened expectations entering his sixth season at MSU, he didn't show it on Thursday night.
Calm and composed in the moments following MSU's first practice of the fall, Mullen took stock of one of three MSU practices before the Bulldogs can work out in pads for the first time on Monday.
"I'm pleased," said Mullen, who heads into the 2014 season with a 36-28 career record through five seasons. "It's good to get back to football. You look at the players, the energy, the excitement they hit the field with, it's great to be back."
The Bulldogs enter the new season with a Southeastern Conference-best 18 returning starters, and Mullen touched on that wealth of experience during his after-practice press conference.
"We've got a lot of leadership amongst the team," said Mullen. "We've got guys coming back who played for the first time last year, now they're veteran guys. They're setting the standard within their position group and on the team. A lot of the young guys coming in, they see how hard these veterans are working. They see the extra work, the extra time put in. That's easy to follow."
Mullen is trying to follow a strong finish to the 2013 season. The Bulldogs won their last three games to finish 7-6 a year ago, a stretch that included overtime victories over Arkansas and Ole Miss as well as a 44-7 Liberty Bowl win over Conference-USA champion Rice.
Players first reported for Mullen's sixth fall camp on Wednesday morning before the initial practice on Thursday, a workout that was conducted in unseasonably cool temperatures for late July. The Bulldogs will hold a practice that's open for media on Saturday, the only open practice of the fall, and will begin working out in full pads on Monday.
In the initial release of the USA Today Coaches' Poll, Mississippi State found itself just outside the Top 25, fourth among other receiving votes with 74. With junior quarterback Dak Prescott returning and expectations soaring heading into the season, Mullen anticipates a very competitive, very physical training camp.
"When you have all these guys with experience, the competition to get reps is huge," said Mullen. "Guys look around and see this competition, they begin thinking 'I've got to do more than that guy.' That competition is great."
MSU will open the season Aug. 30 with a home game against in-state rival Southern Miss.
Junior linebacker Ferlando Bohanna was at practice, but not dressed out. Instead, he worked as a student-assistant coach likely bound for a medical red shirt this season due to a lingering concussion injury from a season ago.
Mullen also announced the junior safety Dee Arrington would also seek a medical redshirt while defensive end Trent Simpson is set to transfer.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brandon Walker on Twitter @BWonStateBeat