December 14, 2010 8:29:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- While Mississippi State''s football team goes through its first week of bowl preparation, the future of the program is getting a good audition for the spring.
The veterans have given way to redshirt freshmen and reserves who didn''t receive the number of repetitions needed to move through the playbook.
Since Friday, the likes of first-year quarterback Dylan Favre, freshman tackle Damien Robinson, and linebacker Ferlando Bohanna have received extra doses of MSU''s base offense and defense.
While the demeanor of the team''s starters and key reserves might be jovial -- classes ended Friday as the team prepares for its game against the University of Michigan on Jan. 1 in the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla. -- the week of refreshing is crucial in preparing for the spring, defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said.
The first-year MSU coordinator described bowl practice as a "limbo" between seasons.
"You have to go beat whoever we have to play next September with who we have now. I think they realize that," Diaz said. "I think when the seniors stand on the side, the younger guys look around and finally realize it''s their time. They can''t defer to a K.J. (Wright), a Chris (White) or a (Pernell) McPhee anymore."
Diaz admits it''s difficult not to tinker with the flow of young players going through the base of the playbook. Considering the team will get to its game plan for Michigan once Thursday''s scrimmage at Davis Wade Stadium is complete, scheming ways in practice to stop quarterback Denard Robinson hasn''t been a priority.
"Every now and then we''ll throw something in there, but we''ll play Michigan well if we play our defense well," Diaz said. "This is the best way to stop anybody from playing because these are the fundamentals of our defense, and whipping blocks and beating a better tackling team, and just knowing the ins and outs of our base stuff.
"When we just do our things well, we''ve played pretty good."
Diaz noted the progression of freshman defensive end Kaleb Eulls and freshmen linebackers Bohanna and Chris Hughes, but said coaches must temper their optimism when talking about freshmen making an impact next season.
"When you start thinking about something positive, a bunch of negatives start popping in your mind too," Diaz said.
On Monday, the Bulldogs continued live contact and worked live kickoffs into the practice mix. The team continued to let its younger players run first- and second-team offense and defensive drives.
"I think all of them are starting to work and get better," MSU coach Dan Mullen said. "You really want to see how guys handle things (and) get used to doing it because a lot of these guys have been on the scout team for a long team, so that haven''t had reps of running our plays on offense and defense. It''s good to see them do that."
Cox and Boyd to see role increase
The thought of game-planning for an opponent without linebackers Wright and White is daunting for Diaz.
"I go and look at them every now and then just to make myself feel better," Diaz joked Monday.
The seniors are NFL prospects and have given the Bulldogs one of the best one-two second-level punches in the country, but next season the team can''t expect the same level of production from the two players who replace them in the starting lineup.
Take away defensive end McPhee from that equation, and a greater burden will be levied upon juniors-to-be Josh Boyd and Fletcher Cox.
The defensive tackles are second-year starters and have benefited from playing as freshmen, but they''ll have to take a big step toward being dominant players next season with the loss of Wright, McPhee, and White.
Diaz said the pair "played well for freshmen" when he evaluated their performance when he arrived in Starkville. He said they''ve had solid sophomore seasons, but can''t afford to have a setback between spring and next fall.
"Next year they have to be our absolute best players because now all of our experience is on the inside and not on the edge," Diaz said. "Without a McPhee there, they can''t even be good now. They have to be great for us to be a good defense in 2011."