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2013 Liberty Bowl practice report #1 - Positional changes highlight early bowl prep




Matt Stevens


STARKVILLE -- Slight changes are afoot at Mississippi State football bowl practice. 


As typical to bowl preparations, the Bulldogs coaching staff are switching specific players to different positions as they began preparations for the 2013 Liberty Bowl against Conference USA champion Rice (10-3) on New Year's Eve (3 p.m., ESPN).  


Mullen even admitted Saturday to doing some tinkering with positional changes for youthful players including moving former Starkville High School star Gabe Myles to wide receiver. MSU also has temporarily moved Dee Arrington from safety to linebacker and BJ Hammond from wide receiver to tight end. 


"That is just to see how some guys handle it and if they fit in and it picks up naturally," Mullen said. "You've kinda seen what guys do at other positions before. So it was good to see and Dee is now up to 230 (pounds) and he's still not at 100 percent, though. So he is just trying to work himself back in.."  




Here's some of the other items that were noticeable in practice up during the first two open practices this weekend: 




- Players in the injury pit was offensive tackle Charles Siddoway (back), defensive tackle PJ Jones, running back Nick Griffin, linebacker Ferlando Bohanna and offensive guard Justin Malone and tight end Brandon Hill. 




- One of the more interesting elements to early bowl practice is 18-year old quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, who last week was completing his final exams in high school at Richmond Hill, Ga. 


"When we told him of the opportunity, his eyes got really wide and said 'oh, that sounds neat'," Mullen said. "Then I said you're going to be the No. 2 quarterback and that's when the eyes got really wide open. But you know what, what an unbelievable opportunity for him to come out here and get a couple of reps. 


Fitzgerald is being watched intensively by not only offensive coordinator Les Koenning but also by sophomore quarterback Dak Prescott. Despite only being on campus for three years, Prescott has taken over leadership roles. He and Mullen know that after the injuries that occurred in the 2013 season, getting Fitzgerald prepared mentally and physically to take snaps against Southeastern Conference is essential.  


Fitzgerald, who was a three-star recruit, showcased big arm strength and the ability to maneuver around in the pocket at what appears to be a true 6-foot-5 frame.  


After The Dispatch MSU Sports Blog spoke with the MSU coaching staff, they are obviously excited to get Fitzgerald on campus early but wanted to see his skills in a new offensive system. His high school coaches ran the run-first Wing-T offense and Mullen used the name "Alex Smith" to describe what he sees in the development of Fitzgerald moving forward. The current quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs, who was the No. 1 overall selection  




- Former Starkville High School star Gabe Myles looks much more comfortable as a receiver running forward than trying to backpedal as a cornerback in fall camp. Myles had a really impressive diving catch near the sidelines thrown by Fitzgerald in 7-on-7 drills.  


"We love everything about him," MSU defensive coordinator Geoff Collins said. "He's Gabey Football." 




- The MSU coaches are trying to get the second-string offensive line to develop quickly by having them face a defensive line that features a much more slimmer and energized Nick James along with freshman Chris Jones.  


"We're all trying to benefit each other on every play because that's really the purpose of practice when you think about it," Jones said. "I'm certainly trying to get better and if what I'm doing is lifting the offense's game then wouldn't that make us a better team? Sure it would." 




- James, who is redshirting the entire 2013 season due to physical and academic concerns for the defensive tackle from Long Beach, looks 20 pounds thinner and much more confident in his ability to last for longer than 2-3 plays in a sequence.  


"How about Nick James being able to only go two or three plays earlier this season and then being done but look at him now," Collins said. "He went through a 60-play scrimmage situation and was physically fine afterwards tonight." 




- De'Runnya Wilson was back at practice Sunday after dealing with a personal issue back home in Birmingham. He was immediately a target for Fitzgerald on downfield throws in 7-on-7 drills.  




- The switch to linebacker for Dee Arrington was not a major change as he's been moved up to the second level of defense already this season when MSU has wanted to go to a faster package to defend the pass or when they believe a run is coming toward the sideline corner.  


"We're using this time to see what guys can do at different positions but it doesn't mean it's a permanent move," Collins said.  




- Dak Prescott was more active in individual drills Sunday than Saturday but he's taking over the role of a advisor for both freshman Damian Williams and Fitzgerald in this early week of practice. Despite only being on campus for three years, Prescott has taken over leadership roles. He and Mullen know that after the injuries that occurred in the 2013 season, getting Fitzgerald prepared mentally and physically to take snaps against Southeastern Conference is essential.  


"It wasn't too much fun to watch practice but it was and is important to help teach those younger guys today at practice," Prescott said. "My job today was to motivate my guys to have a great practice so that's what I tried to do the best I could, just like if I was on the field playing." 


After all the injury concerns, especially with his quarterback position, Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen joked Thursday that Dak Prescott is "healthy today" but he continues to worry about him doing anything for the rest of the month.  


"We've got some time, a lot of practice between now and (the Liberty Bowl) and with how this year has gone...we've got to watch him walking to class taking final exams with all those curbs around campus," Mullen said. 




All of the Dispatch MSU Sports Blog readers: feel free to follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/matthewcstevens for up-to-date Mississippi State coverage.



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