By JOEL COLEMAN
For the eighth year, Dan Mullen arrived to Mississippi State’s campus on Monday to begin a football season as the school’s head coach. Much has changed for the Bulldogs over the course of Mullen’s tenure, but one thing remains the same – it’s an adrenaline rush to get back on the gridiron.
“What an exciting time of year, not just here, but everywhere in the country,” Mullen said at MSU’s on-campus media day. “It’s such an exciting time of year for the coaches, the players, the fans, the student body and the alumni. Everybody gets so excited about football season and getting ready to kick things off. I know everyone here can’t wait to get out there on the field.”
Mississippi State’s roster reported for camp on Monday. The squad will go through its first official practice Tuesday afternoon. The Bulldogs will practice in full pads for the first time on Saturday, the same day the team begins its annual training at the location dubbed ‘The Farm’ near MSU’s veterinary school.
For the next month, MSU will prepare with its sights set on its Sept. 3 opener against South Alabama.
“The players put in so much work,” Mullen said. “There’s a lot of work before we get to play a game again. They’ve been through an offseason with conditioning in the winter, spring ball, then conditioning in the summer trying to get bigger, faster and stronger and get their bodies in shape to get ready to go. Then they come in and put the work in at training camp for 12 opportunities. If you work hard in those 12 opportunities, you might be rewarded with a couple more after that.”
There are plenty of storylines to follow over the course of camp. Which quarterback steps up to fill the shoes vacated by Dak Prescott? How will the Bulldog defense look under the guidance of a totally new defensive coaching staff?
Those questions and more begin to be answered over the course of the next few weeks as players fight for starting positions and future playing time.
“As coaches, one of the biggest things is to see who took strides this summer,” Mullen said. “We haven’t been out there to watch anybody do anything with a ball since mid-April. Since mid-April, we haven’t seen anyone with a ball in their hand or doing anything with the football so it’s exciting for us to get back out there on the field and see who has improved.”
Quarterback battle begins
The battle to find Prescott’s replacement can heat up now that camp is starting. Damian Williams, Nick Fitzgerald, Elijah Staley and Nick Tiano are all vying to be MSU’s next starting quarterback. As of now, Mullen says each of those guys will have an equal chance to be State’s new signal caller.
“I don’t think anyone would be happier to find out who our quarterback is going to be than me,” Mullen said. “I’d be thrilled. I think it’s going to be one of those things where we see who made the improvements over the summer to be the most consistent performer to help us win football games.”
Simmons ready for football
Since freshman Jeffery Simmons’ legal troubles have been settled after being captured on video hitting a woman during an altercation back in March, Mullen says his new defensive end is simply ready to play football.
Simmons pleaded no contest to simple assault and was found guilty of malicious mischief last week and was ordered to pay a total of $475 in fines and $836 in restitution.
Now though, it’s all about the gridiron for the former Noxubee County standout, who will be suspended for MSU’s season opener.
“All the scrutiny and pressure that he’s been under, he’s going to go strap on that helmet for two or two and half hours every day and some days a little longer and just go out there and play ball,” Mullen said. “That’s probably a pretty good release.”
Ross and Gray health updates
After offseason surgeries to a pair of his best wide receivers, Mullen said Donald Gray is back healthy but MSU will still be cautious with Fred Ross in camp.
“Donald is back 100 percent,” Mullen said. “Fred is still going to be on a very tight rep count during training camp. I might have him on a tighter rep count than the athletic training staff. Our deal with Fred is making sure he is ready to play game one.
“His training camp is going to be very, very limited making sure that he’s ready to get to the season 100 percent healthy. Talking to trainers, we expect him to be at 100 percent healthy maybe two weeks before kickoff.”
Peters back to defense
With Ross and Gray injured during spring practices, safety Jamal Peters spent time working at receiver. Mullen said Monday that experiment is now over and that Peters is back to the defensive side of the ball full time.
“We’ve had meetings and he’s going to go back to defense now,” Mullen said. “A lot of that had to do with the (late) signing of (receivers Reginald Todd and Osirus Mitchell). We sat down and part of the decision was (based on) what direction we want him to go in the future.
“For him, we decided he’s going to go defense.”
All but one signee reports
Mullen noted that “everyone reported to camp (Monday)” in regards to his 2016 signing class. One player that inked with the Bulldogs will however not be with MSU this year.
Nero Nelson, who also signed with Copiah-Lincoln Community College, is not listed on MSU’s 105-man preseason camp roster.
Nelson, rated a three-star athlete by 247 Sports’ composite rating, is expected to play for Co-Lin this fall.
Mullen discusses new rules
As of Monday, the NCAA now allows head coaches to retweet recruits on Twitter in addition to other new guidelines for social media usage.
Mullen said Monday that the new rules won’t impact him all that much.
“It makes me a lot less nervous scanning through Twitter,” Mullen said. “When I scroll through Twitter, if I accidentally hit a button, at least I didn’t create a violation.”
Mullen says for him, his social media tactics will pretty much remain as usual, with only a few minor modifications.
“If someone says something great about Mississippi State, I’d probably retweet them,” Mullen said. “If they said something great about another school, I doubt I’m going to retweet that. I don’t think it’s as big of a deal as some people make it out to be in the big picture.”