Football Staff, Players Preview Year at Media Day

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Photo Courtesy of hailstate.com

STARKVILLE, Miss. – Mississippi State football held its annual media day on Saturday afternoon as coaches and players previewed the upcoming season at the Leo Seal Jr. Football Complex.

The squad then went through its first practice in shells (helmets and shoulder pads) later in the afternoon. The Bulldogs will practice twice Sunday in shells and then go through their first full pads practice Monday.

Watch archived video of media day, view the photo gallery and read HailStateBEAT on a recap of Saturday’s events.

Head Coach Dan Mullen Quotes

Opening Statement …
It’s great to see everybody back. We’re excited. I think we’re in day four since we reported to training camp. We’re fired up, ready to get on the field, ready to get to work and do what we need to do to be successful. For us getting back on the field is a lot of fun. I like getting out there. We’ll get to put some pads on this afternoon for the first time, so we really get to start playing football this afternoon.

“I know the first couple of days without pads you pray nobody gets hurt. It’s designed, for safety reasons, not having pads the first couple of days. For me, it’s the two most dangerous days because you don’t have the pads. Fortunately, we didn’t have problems with that the first two days. We’ll get ready and start playing some football this afternoon.”  

On building toward expectations for season
“I don’t know if you’re building or not. I just know this team. They look at each other and all the work they’ve put in and the experience they have. The team has extremely high expectations. I don’t think we concern ourselves with outside expectations because I don’t how anybody could have any expectations when they haven’t been working out with us and seen the guys training during the summer and doing all the work they’ve put in.

“Our guys know what they put in what they expect of themselves. I love it. We embrace those expectations within our program. I’m just proud. I think our guys have worked hard. I’m proud they feel we have a championship-caliber team.”

On running backs …
“Every year it’s a committee type thing. Josh [Robinson] had a lot of yards last year. When Vick Ballard was here, [LaDarius] Perkins had a lot as well. Usually, one steps out a little ahead of everybody else, but at the end of the day we like to look at the rotations and the reps that guys have.

“We want it to be comparable, and with the depth we have with Nick Griffin being healthy, Brandon Holloway also gives you a different dynamic with a speed back there. [Ashton] Shumpert is the power back. Josh is the other back. I think there are a lot of different weapons. I think we can roll those guys through and see who has a hot hand.”

On using Damian Williams and freshmen at quarterback …
“Damian [Williams] for sure [will play]. The freshmen, it’s still really early and they’re getting used to being here. Elijah [Staley] is two days into a playbook. We will have to see how he picks it up. Nick [Fitzgerald] had the spring so he has an advantage at this point.

“I always do that [use a rotation]. During training camp last year, nobody thought Damian would start the Egg Bowl. He started and got a win as a starter. Our jobs are to make sure we get guys ready for those situations. We try to do that through the course of the season and throughout the whole season. You never know when some huge moment is going to come on us and we need to make a play.”

On Aeris Williams …
“He hasn’t put the pads on yet. Once he puts the pads on we’ll see if know which way to go and if he can do it. We know he is a talented player being Mississippi’s Mr. Football last year. We have to see how he picks things up and what he does with the pads on at this level.”

On adopting an up-tempo offense …
“We’ve done it a little bit in the past. It depends a lot on the team you have and what you’ve been able to do. Last year, you look at the success we had with ball control. We played great defense and have a lot of defensive guys back. In the end, the program is based on playing great defense. We want to continually put ourselves in a position to do that and play great defense.

“We’ll see how things play out. There are times when you have to do that. You do a lot of reps with the two-minute offense. There are teams, when it really started getting rolling that way, that feel really comfortable in the two-minute offense and just go run it all the time. For us, we like to control the tempo of the game.”

On wide receivers …
“Coming into last year we were really worried, but you have to look at the experience. When you go 80 plays in a game, we want guys running and playing as fast as they can. After rep 80, nobody is as fresh. Where you want to get to is where everybody is running about 40 reps during the course of a game. To do that, you have to have the depth at the receiver position. You do feel good about guys coming back.

“When you look and all your starters are back, and all your back ups are back, you feel pretty good. You put yourself in a position where the back ups want to get out there. There is a lot of experience getting out there playing in games. It’s one of those positions where you have to be two deep. You have to be able to stay fresh through out the year.”

On Chris Jones …
“He’s still a young guy, but he does provide some leadership up front. He’s a guy who made plays last year. He has play-making ability. There is a big difference between being a playmaker and being a dominant player. We want him to be that dominant player. He’s doing it every play. He’s not just making a play every once in a while. Offenses have to pay attention to him. I think he has that potential. He’s working at it with his technique and his fundamentals.”

On Dak Prescott …
“A lot of guys will do something really well and they just focus on that. The great players look at where they need improvement and focus on that. Dak is one of those guys. He has that will power. Fourth-and-one is built for Dak Prescott. That is his favorite time of the game, when he gets to will himself to win a game for you.

“Beyond that, he’s constantly working on being a student of the game, being really football sharp and trying to take that to the next level. He wants to understand why we do things, why we’re attacking a defense a certain way and all of those types of things are huge.

“Dak was an average passer when he showed up here. Now he is a pretty good passer, but he wants to be a great passer.  When you have that drive and work ethic, it allows you to do that and accomplish more.

“I think some people are wired different. He’s a winner. In his mind, he wakes up every morning wanting to be the best that he can be and doesn’t look for a short cut or any other way other than through hard work. That is how people become successful, he just happens to be playing quarterback.”

On Justin Senior …
“You need to have depth at that position. You need three and you like to have four at tackle. You like to have that whole offensive line at two deep. Justin is a guy who has his weight up where he needs to be. He has done everything we asked over the summer to get himself ready. He’s been here awhile. He was a guy who graduated high school and came early as an early enrollee and that always give you a little advantage over the other guys because you get those reps in the spring. He knows the system and has himself physically where he needs to be. We expect him to be competing for that job.”

On staff changes during the offseason …
“John [Hevesey] and I have been together straight through for 14 years. I knew him before I knew my wife. We’ve been coaching together even before I met my wife. Billy [Gonzales] and I were together for all but four years of those 14 years.

“I think the familiarity with each other, especially on the offensive side of the ball with Greg Knox, who has been here with us since the beginning, is huge. Scott Sallach has been here since the beginning. Brian [Johnson] knows all of us. I think it’s an easy transition. The great thing is everybody knows what we want to get done and what we need to get done. It is a pretty easy adjustment for those guys to take the reins.”

On desired results from training camp …
“What would make me the happiest is that everybody is healthy. We stayed healthy through training camp and we made great strides across the board at every position. We come out of training camp with a lot of guys who are desperate to get on the field and make plays on game day.”

On defense …
“They have the potential to be great. I think we finished the season on a real high note playing some great defense. The defense only gave up three points in the Egg Bowl and gave up 17 to Arkansas the game before that only because of overtime. When you look at that, when you finish a season playing like that and you look and all of those guys coming back, that’s what makes you happy.

“One of the things we want to be able to do is not see a fall off. When we go ones-on-ones, I expect to see some really high-quality football. When go twos-on-twos now, I don’t want to see a drop off at all. The level of play and talent on the field shouldn’t drop off.”

On making a bowl game …
“At the Liberty Bowl, we had a great time up there. We were very fortunate to go to the Liberty Bowl. They put on a great show for us. Coming into a season, [the team] doesn’t want to be good enough to just make it to a bowl game. They want to go compete for conference championships. That’s obviously the team we want to have. 

“We’ve tried to build that here as a program. It’s a tough challenge. Someone put a poll on my desk that said there were five teams in the SEC West that were in the top 20 in the country. No other conference has five teams in the top 20, and we have five in our division. That is always a tough challenge. In our conference, you may have a great team. That doesn’t mean you’re going to win [the conference]. That’s the challenge we love. We are going to go out and find a way to win.”

On the special teams unit …
“We have a lot of confidence, we had a lot of confidence with our kickers last year. We can only judge it off practice. At placekicking, there is still a lot of inexperience. With Devon Bell we’re focusing on punts and kickoffs. He’s played in games and in pressure situations. The other guys, all of them, are extremely inexperience at the placekicking position. We’ll see how it all plays out in training camp.

“Unfortunately, there is nothing we can do to simulate the pressure you are going to feel on a Saturday in the stadium. You can try as hard as you want to simulate it, but there is no simulation for it. We’ll see how they perform during training camp and then in the season. I don’t know if we’ll have starter week one, because that’s our first opportunity to put some of those other guys in where they are playing live in a stadium.”

On playing in an expanded Davis Wade Stadium …
“I’m going to be really excited when it’s full. That’s all I care about. When we fill the stadium with fans and they stay for the whole game and give us that home-field advantage. That’s is really important for us. Our guys have gotten to go over there and see the expansion. We are going to have a scrimmage in the stadium before then. It’s obviously spectacular and our fans are going to be wowed when they get in there and see it. We’ve done a pretty good job of having home-field advantage the last couple of years. Hopefully this only increases that.”

On Nick Griffin …
“He’s done an amazing job dealing with [injuries]. He’s a great young man. He has great grades, and is a great leader within our program. I think a lot of guys look and respect that. A lot of guys look and see his career may not have gone the way he may have wanted it to go, but he has still had a tremendous amount of success. Through his work ethic, his academics, his leadership he is a great role model for other people.

“In life, maybe it’s not always going to go the way you want it to, but if you’re willing to work hard you can be successful. I think he really epitomizes that in our program. This is the healthiest he’s been coming into a season in a long time. He’s experienced, he’s played in games and he knows the system inside and out. He brings a lot of stability, especially to a position where there is not a returning starter. He can keep all the younger guys going in the right direction.”

On the SEC returning to a defense-first league …
“We’ll see how the season plays out. I think a lot of it is the styles of teams. There are some teams whose style is to try to score as many points as possible, no matter how many they give up. Then there are other teams who say, ‘we are going to play defense’ and play that aspect of the game. Within both realms, you’re going to have a lot of different ranges of scores and games this year.”

On being competitive in the SEC West …
“You have constituency of winning and getting great players, then developing those great players. I think we’ve done a great job recruiting. We get some star players who were great in high school. We look at players and see who they can be, like Benardrick McKinney and Dak Prescott. Neither was highly recruited coming out of high school. They had certain traits that allowed them to be successful in our program. Those guys come in, they believe in what you do, you build and develop them. Then you have the opportunity to go and compete for a championship. “

On increasing long plays within the passing game …
“Those aren’t high percentage plays, so they are always going to be inconsistent. If you hit 50 percent of them, you are probably pretty darn happy. It’s always going to be a little inconsistent. I think the fact that you have guys with experience back and a quarterback with experience back helps. The key is when you have those opportunities you have to take advantage of them. Hopefully we’ll be able to do that. We have several guys who bring different things to the table. De’Runnya [Wilson] brings size. We have other guys who bring speed. It’s that combination that will make you a deep threat down the field.”

On implementing an early signing period …
“Recruiting is nonstop. You have to be recruiting, getting guys into your program. I’m a proponent of the early signing day. I don’t know why you need to change recruiting. I bet almost every school in the country has over 50 percent of the guys who lthey’re going to sign this year committed.

“When they do the early signing day, I think they need to let all these guys who have committed go and sign right now. At that point, the commitment, on both ends, is pretty locked in. If you do that, the word commitment will change in definition within the recruiting circle as it is now without having to change signing day.”   

Co-Offensive Coordinator Billy Gonzales Quotes

Opening Statement…
“First and foremost I want to start off and say how excited our offensive coaching staff is to get back around our football players. As coaches, we love to get around our players, to be around them and to help teach them fundamentals. You take a look at our staff and they’re all great teachers. They communicate exceptionally well with their players. We have an exceptional group of coaches who do a great job of teaching.

“Whenever you get a group of players you're trying to develop, you have to have a coaching staff that knows how to work with each other. It’s kind of a neat deal, coach [John] Hevesy, coach [Brian] Johnson and I, we all kind of have that bond. We were all together at Utah at one point in time, and coach [Greg] Knox has been in this conference for a long time, close to 20 years.

“Our strength staff did a great job. Their job is to get those guys ready so we can get going during the fall camp, and they came back in great shape. We’re extremely excited to get going and get moving forward.

“One of the first things we did as an offensive staff was get together, pull our players in and not talk about schemes during our first meeting. We didn’t talk about blocks or releases or drops. We talked about coach [Dan] Mullen’s plan to win. We express that to our players, the importance of following the plan to win. Obviously, one is to play great defense. For us, how does that translate on the offensive side? Well, we’ve got to get two first downs. We told our team, in order for us to play great defense and to help our defense out, we’ve got to be able to control the ball.  We’ve got to be able to win the battle of field position by being able to get two first downs and prolonging our offensive drives. 

“Two, we’ve got to be able to win the turnover battle. How do we win the turnover battle?  Offensively, it starts up front on the offensive line. We’ve got to make sure we do a great job on the first level of pass protection. We’ve got to be fundamentally sound and understand our checks. Whether we are going to slide the line one way, or redirect it the other, or if we’re going side adjust in our pass game. Wide receivers have to be able to understand how to pass protect. How we help out on the offensive side is we’ve got to be strong to the ball. We have to make sure that if we’re side adjusting, are there any hot routes? Are there any built in routes that we need to adjust for split situations?

“The first two areas of success are to play great defense and to win the turnover battle. Third is the red zone scoring. We have to get better in this area. We want to put a high level of increased practice time into this area. I think there is always room to improve at that level. We’re going try to practice red zone more than any other team in the country, and I think if we do that we’ll see the results.

“We have to make sure we win the special teams’ battle. That’s the fourth part of the plan. How does that correlate with our football team? We averaged 29 snaps per game on special teams last year. If you correlate being able to put your best players offensively, defensively and special teams on the field to get the production that you want, you're going to have percentage chances go up.

“We’ve told our players to understand that if you’re a starter on offense at a skill position, you’ve got to be a starter on special teams. We’ve talked about those four areas in the plan to win. Before we did anything else, before we started installing a blitz package or formations, what do we want to get across in two-a-days with our players right now?

“We want our players to be able to work extremely hard. They have to understand these are two-a-days and they can’t get bored with the fundamental part. The fundamentals are where you’re going to come back and you’re going to win the fourth quarter. If we can be excellent right now with our players in teaching those fundamentals, and we’ve got a veteran group of players right now, that would be great.

“The first couple of practices out there have been night and day difference from last year. You have a group of guys who have been around the program and they understand what coach [Dan] Mullen wants. They understand the speed, the tempo and being able to run from one point to another and executing at a high level of intensity. 

“The great thing about that is that we have some young freshmen who came in with this new recruiting class on campus. The only thing they are ever going to learn right now is what the upperclassmen are doing. What’s Dillon Day doing? If I’m a young offensive lineman and I see Dillon Day running from drill to drill and working at a high level of intensity, that’s what I am going to learn. If I’m a young wide receiver, if I’m Jamoral [Graham] or Jesse Jackson and all of the sudden I see Robert Johnson or Jameon Lewis practicing at a high level, that’s what I am learning to do.

“So right now we’re on that process. I’m extremely excited about our group of guys coming back right now. They’re working extremely hard and if they continue to progress and we can stay injury free, we’ve got a chance to be pretty good on the offensive side of the ball.”

On Gabe Myles moving to the offensive side of the ball…
“He’s a great worker. He has a great work ethic. He also has great speed and is quick. He’s a guy who played quarterback in high school so he understands the concepts of the offense and what we’re trying to do. He’s picked up the game pretty fast right now. He’s an explosive guy. He’s one of those guys who you want to recruit. 

“Coach Mullen has done a great job in the recruiting process of getting some guys who, if you toss them the ball, they have the ability to make you miss. Gabe has that make-you-miss ability as well. All in all, an extremely smart football player with great work ethic.”

On the play calling dynamic this season…
“I think it will be kind of like we did last year to be honest with you. You know, it’s part of being the co-offensive coordinator. I’m going to stay down on the field and communicate with my players. I’ve always been on the field. I love being able to look into my players’ eyes and get a chance to see what they are doing and see how they are reacting. 

“As far as I know, coach Hevesy will still be upstairs, kind of like we did in the past. And coach Mullen will still be the guy that is going to be calling the plays. You look back at the transition and the growth, and what we’ve done as a staff and there are no egos on our offensive staff. There are no egos on the entire staff. And that’s a great thing.

“When you have no egos on a staff, everybody understands what his role is. Part of being the co-offensive coordinator is that I’m in charge of the pass game and my goals and responsibilities are to make sure that pass game is completely aligned. Whether that it is run action or drop back to fit against the opponent we are getting ready to play, I have to get it aligned.

“Coach Mullen, in my opinion, is one of the best play callers around. He has been calling plays for almost 10 years now. He has won two national championships doing it, and he’s one of the winningest coaches in the history of Mississippi State University football at this point in time. So, if it’s not broke don't fix it. I think as a team and as a staff we’re all on the same page.”

Co-Offensive Coordinator John Hevesy Quotes

Opening Statement
“We’re getting ready for the season. Along the offensive line, we have only been out here for two days, but we’ve had great competition. There are a lot of guys here who have stepped up and obviously that means we have had a great summer learning techniques and fundamentals. That is what it is all about.

“The younger guys are learning the plays and fundamentals, but these two days haven't shown much since we have not put pads on. We’ll do that tonight and we will learn more about them. Right now, I’m just looking at the guys who played last year. The younger guys who are coming up, both redshirt freshmen, true freshmen and one junior college transfer, have impressed me the first two days of practice just with what they have done and carried over from spring. But, until we put pads on today, it doesn't mean much to me. It’s not really football until we have pads on.”

On looking at a prospect and how he projects him …
“I’ve learned a lot over the years of recruiting and there’s always the media perception of what kids are. First thing I want to find out is who they are. You have the film of a kid so you can see his athletic ability is.

“Next, you want to find out his toughness. I want to find out if the kid wants to be great. What do they want? There are a lot of kids around America people have been telling they are great, whether it is the media or their family or their friends, whoever. Then you get a kid who is 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds who wants to be great. He is going to be in the weight room everyday and in the classroom everyday. He will strive to be great at everything he does. And when you find that kid, like Jamaal [Clayborn], who had a different upbringing, going through the history of what he was, and how he did what he had to do to get himself to J.A. [Jackson Academy] academically, you see a kid who pushes himself for success.

“When you see that in a kid, like Dillon Day, you want to recruit him. When I met with him and his family and coach, I learned he loved football. He loved everything about it. And when you see those kids who love football, they love to work and they love the weight room. Everyone loves Saturday afternoons in the SEC. There isn’t a person who doesn’t. But how many of them love February 23 at 5 a.m.? That is when you’re going to find out the guys who want to be great. 

“That isn’t what you get from the high school coach, so I always go find the guidance counselor. I go ask someone else who doesn’t have a direct line to the kid, who will have something to get out of the kid. So, we ask the guidance counselor. We will say ‘Hey, how is Dillon Day?’ and if they flinch you know something is wrong. If the smile and say ‘Wow, great personality’ you know you got a great character trait.

“The things we ask them to do and the things we do with them need great character and great work ethic. You have those kids who want to be successful. That to me is what is important. What everyone says of a kid I’ll look at every once in a while, but you have to do your homework. We are investing in these kids for success.”

On losing two starters, but still having experience…
“The big thing with losing Justin [Malone] last year in the first game and having Ben [Beckwith] forced into that role was we had two kids, that when you looked at them, you see one. When you look at Gabe [Myles], what the kids see when they are around him is work ethic. He’s another example of how you work to be successful.

“We aren’t replacing Charles [Siddoway] in the tackle situation. The great thing is Justin [Senior] played in an SEC game last year, [Damien] Robinson played in a few games last year, Justin Malone played tackle and Cole Carter had a great offseason. You see those kids, like Rufus Warren that move from tight end to tackle. There are four or five bodies that are in use.

“Between now and August 30, who is going to take that job? We’d be fortunate to have two or three of them, but that’s the fight, the competition. Having competition in my room, I tell them, is great. It makes you show up everyday to practice. Because if you don’t, one day you are sitting in that front row as a starter and the next practice you may be sitting in the second row as a back up. It’s just competition.”

On Jocquell Johnson …
“It’s hard for me to tell because he did have a labrum surgery in December. We did not ask him top do much, so we have only seen two days of him and that is without pads. But in the first two practices, he has done some good things. To me, I’m looking forward to going out there tonight and seeing what they do with the shoulder pads and helmets on. What does he do then? We will see more. He’s going to be one of those kids, who in a sense, is a true freshman. I haven’t seen what he can do. So, really the next 25 days is a big thing for them. How far do they want to go?”

On when the starters will be determined ...
“Game day. Right now we run with four deep, with four bodies. To me over the years, I know I need eight ready. Ultimately I have two centers, three guards and three tackles. To me, to prepare for a game, in this league or anywhere, is to get nine, 10, 11, 12, or 13 ready. Having 13 kids knowing exactly what to do is hard, especially for the offensive line.

“The right guard and that center need to work together. They need to get a feel of what the right guard and center need to do. In combinations, and with all the ones we have, that is huge for them to work together. Last year in the first game, even though Ben [Beckwith] had a lot of reps, Justin Malone got the last two weeks in before the first game. Those reps and, at the time, Charles [Siddoway] and Dillon [Day] made the decision for us in the third quarter. There was a little bit of a skip there for a second, but that is what is hard about getting 13 guys to keep rotating. 

“The offensive line needs to get a feel for who is playing with you and how they do things, such as how they get into double teams, how they communicate and how fast they are. That is why to me, that third guy is a rotator. If I’m fortunate enough to have nine, 10, 11 or 12, I’ll be the happiest man in the world.”

On how close he is to having 10 offensive linemen ready at any time …
“I’ll be able to tell you in about three weeks. Right now, with only two days of practice and no pads, I’d love to say I had 10, 11 or 12. But, the guys who have played, like Justin [Malone], Jamaal [Clayborn], Ben [Beckwith], Dillon [Day], Blaine [Clausell], I feel like I have them. Everyone else has to catch up to them.

“I tell those guys, ‘You set the bar. We are not lowering the bar, they have to get to you.’ We aren’t giving in, because we have to have an eighth guy. If I have seven who can play, then someone will have to double or triple up somewhere. Ben is one of those guys who can really play as a left guard, right guard, or center. Archie Muniz has done a great job at backup center. But, Ben is the guy that stood out, so he has to have snaps.

“Who are the guys you trust to play? We take a test every Friday and I ask them, ‘Who do you trust to play in a game?’ During a game, I’m on the sideline. They have to go out there on fourth-and-one on the road somewhere and trust the guy next to them. So I have to ask them, ‘Do you trust them? Who do you trust to play in that game?’ And they have to answer the question.

“If they don’t trust the guy, then I’m going to take note of that. I need to have a feel of what they are saying. They tell me, ‘Coach, he didn’t do this and isn’t doing this.’ I have to trust them, because they are going to war out there. And they don’t want you to send them out there and them not trust their guy. They need to trust who is out there.”

On Justin Malone’s position …
“He’s going to be at right guard after being at left last season. He’s done a great job running the course and he’s done a great job in the offseason in the training room. He’s done a great job returning from last season’s surgery and getting into shape and staying in shape. He’s 330 pounds and 6-foot-7. He’s a big kid. He’s in shape and has done a good job this summer keeping his weight down, even when he couldn’t run after his surgery. We will see how we does. Fortunately for them, it has been 75 degrees every day we have practiced. But, today when we put pads on, it’ll be 95-100 degrees. We will see how he does in the next couple of days.”

Defensive Coordinator Geoff Collins Quotes

Opening Statement
“I saw Christian Holmes walking in the building and promised I’d give him a shout out. Christian is having a phenomenal camp so far. I’m excited about him going forward this season, his senior year. He’s a great kid, a great leader and has really worked hard with [strength and conditioning coach] Rick Court this offseason. 

“I’m excited to be up here, excited to start this preseason camp. One of the biggest things that has me excited is how close this team is. On offense, defense, special teams and everybody from the linemen, to the linebackers, to the defensive backs. We’re a very close team. And I think if you look, you’ve seen us over the summer at costume parties, being around each other and being together.

“We genuinely like each other as a coaching staff. Now, when we get out on the practice field, we compete. We get after it. Kids see that. Afterwards, we’re dapping each other up and getting excited for each other. I think the kids feed off that, and how close we are as a coaching staff blends in to the team. We have 20 of the 22 who played in the [2013 AutoZone] Liberty Bowl back on defense. That’s a lot of good players. Then we have Jay Hughes coming back; he didn’t play last year. We’re excited about some of the young kids who redshirted last year. Just real excited, having fun with this group of guys as a coach. Some of the freshmen have really stepped up and done some good things in the two practices that we have had.”

On the installation philosophies of the defense ...

“The big thing we do on defense around here is install as a unit. Everything we do is as a unit. And it’s not just corners running this, or safeties running that, but we all learn the defense together. I told them going in, we are going to install fast. We might have seven blitzes going in today and four new coverages. I’m teaching that to the older guys as well.

“Benardrick [McKinney] has been here three years. I’m going to coach at his level, and then it’s their job to bring the younger guys along. That’s a nice thing to have. I put up eight boxes of adjustments that we have to know; I’ll do it in thirty seconds. 

“They look at me like, ‘Coach, I know,’ and then they go out and execute and do a great job. Then they teach the younger kids the little nuances of the defense in their words. And I think that’s been very good for us.”

On Benardrick McKinney ...
“We’ll I’m biased because I get to coach Benardrick [McKinney] every day. I’ve coached him every single day since he’s been here, and I can’t say enough about him. He’s 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds. He runs a 4.5-second 40-yard dash, jumps 41 inches, and he is a better person than he is athlete. All he cares about is being a great teammate, getting other people around him to play better. He doesn't care about stats. He doesn’t care about accolades. All he cares about is being a great teammate. And I’m lucky that I get to coach him.”

On working hard each day ...
“Lot of potential. The big thing is getting better every day. And we talk about that all the time. We learned a lot last year as we went through [the season]. One of the biggest things we talk about is: circumstances, scoreboard or opponent, nothing matters when we’re playing defense. We can be as good as we want to be. We just have to go out there and execute and perform on a daily basis and get better.

“There are two things you can always improve on defensively: tackling and pursuit. Every day we are talking about relentlessly pursuing the football and tackling. If we do that and get better throughout the season, at the end of it, I think that we’re going to have a pretty good year.”

 On Chris Jones ...
“I think Chris [Jones] has a world of potential. You know every single day he comes out there with [defensive line] coach [David] Turner and tries to get better.  I think the thing about Chris is that there are a lot of external expectations. Internally though, he has to manage those and go out to improve his fundamentals every day, improve his technique every day, and become a great teammate, in the mold of Benardrick McKinney, Preston Smith, and Kaleb Eulls. 

“I think he’s doing that. Block out external expectations, focus on what you can control each and every day, and then let God-given potential develop. And I think that’s his mindset, and if he can continue that, he’ll be a special player.” 

On movement along the defensive line ...
“Here’s the thing with coach [David] Turner. I think Coach Turner does a phenomenal job, one of the best defensive line coaches I’ve ever been around. He believes a three-technique is the same as a five technique is the same as a nine-technique is the same as a shade. And that two eyes is the same as a four-eyes is the same as a six-eyes. Regardless of where you’re lined up, you’re playing that technique.

“There are certain situations in which Chris [Jones] will be a three-technique (a defensive tackle); there are other times that he’s going to be a nine-technique (a defensive end), but you’re playing the same technique and playing at a high level. 

“Preston Smith last year, and I don’t know if any of you know this, played nose guard. He played nose guard and Chris played end. Then the next snap, Chris is playing nose guard and Preston is playing end. So we’ll move all the guys around.”

On Benardrick McKinney’s leadership ... 
“I think the big thing about him is that he did try to embrace it [being a leader] last year. The big thing is being a sophomore is a lot different than being a redshirt junior. He has a lot of street cred with the team. He’s so selfless. He has to get everybody on the defense lined up. He takes great pride in that. 

“If Kaleb Eulls is lined up and able to play fast and execute, Benardrick takes a lot of pride in that. Every single day he develops that and works on that. I’m not sure you guys get to see it out at practice, but just around the team, you can see what a leader he is.

“I heard Brian Johnson, who’s a phenomenal addition to the coaching staff by the way, great guy, do a speaking engagement. He was talking about Dak. Who Dak is as a person, who Dak is as a leader and what a great character kid Dak is. I agree 1,000 percent with every word Johnson said, but as he was saying that in my mind I’m thinking, ‘If you had just put Benardrick McKinney in that same sentence, you could’ve said the exact same thing. 

“That’s huge when you have two players at key positions of leadership on your team, who are two of the best players, two of the hardest workers, two of the biggest leaders. That speaks volumes for what Coach Mullen and this staff have done developing these kids.”

On rushing the quarterback ...
“Priority is always on pass rush. We want to do that, but the biggest priority for us is stopping the run. We are going to stop the run. That’s the basis of each week’s game plan. We want to stop the run. We do want to increase our sack total; I know coach [David] Turner has put emphasis on it. The kids have put a big emphasis on it, but we don’t want to ignore stopping the run. That is a priority for us to get that number up.”

On the two-deep chart ...
“One of the big things is, and I’m sure that you’ve all heard about this, everybody talks about having the two-deep. Who’s the starter? Who’s the backup? Who’s the starter? Who’s the backup? We don’t have that.

“We talk about being above the line. If you’re above the line, you are going to play on Saturdays for us. That’s just a line on the board of who’s going to play, and we’re going to rotate them in. We call them the 1-A’s and the 1-B’s. 

“We will rotate them in based on how you perform that week in practice. Practice to us is everything. Improve tackling, improve pursuit angles, work hard and then your reps will increase. We want to play eight-10 defensive linemen every game and just roll them through. Hopefully they’ll be fresh and able to execute at a high level.”

On being able to coach college football ...
“I just love what I do. I really do. I love being a college football coach. I love being around the players and getting to have fun with them. They keep me young. I just really truly love what I do. I love impacting young men’s lives. I am helping them become better on the field and off the field. Every day we go out there, we get to compete. I get to wear shorts and tennis shoes and run around like a wild man. Who wouldn’t love that?” 

On Cedric Jiles ...
“Cedric [Jiles] has had a great offseason. We played him early last year; played him young as a redshirt freshman. We lost Jonthan Banks; we lost Darius Slay. There were lots of question marks on how we were going to be at cornerback. We just did the same things we did with those guys, rotated them through.

“Right now we think we have five cornerbacks who can play in this league. We’re trying to find the sixth, but we definitely know we have five. Cedric is one of those five. He is a hard worker and relentless competitor. I’m excited he’s on our team.”

On turnover circuits ...
“What we do on defense are a lot of circuits. We do turnover circuits. We do five-zone circuits and blitz circuits. Today, we’ll do a turnover circuit. We have four different turnover stations. I have the pleasure of having the ‘Nickoe Drill.’ We have a drill that’s actually called the ‘Nickoe Whitley Drill.’ It is teaching them how to rip a ball out of somebody’s hands.

“There are a lot of things you can call it: club, crunch, rip, whatever, but we call it the ‘Nickoe Drill.’ All of the kids, they’ve seen what Nickoe did by basically winning two games for us in a season at the end of the contests. When we get to the ‘Nickoe Drill,’ they want to do that; they want to replicate that.”

On who could surprise in the secondary ...
“Will [Redmond] played that nickel back position for us all last season and did a really good job for us. Taveze Calhoun, Jamerson [Love], who everybody knows about, are tremendous players. If you ask those players, they would say Will Redmond.

“He’s had a tremendous offseason with [strength and conditioning] coach [Rick] Court. Will is a tremendous talent. Rick should post the ladder drill videos that he does. They say Will stays out there twenty to thirty minutes after every workout on his own doing different ladder drills and footwork drills. So we’re excited to see him this season and how he’s progressed.”

Player Quotes

15 Dak Prescott Jr. QB

On handling expectations …
“It’s probably the most frequent question asked by all of the media. Everyone is going to have expectations, good or bad. In this facility that you are in, we have our own expectations. That’s all we’re worried about is reaching and making sure everybody is reaching their individual expectations. Those will carry over into the team goals, which are basically [our] expectations. So we just have to get better. Everybody just wants to get better each and every day.”

On the level he considers himself on as a passer …
“I think [head] coach [Dan] Mullen is right in that I came in as an average passer and a good runner; that is one of the key points I have wanted to work on all throughout my college career. I think I have gotten better each and every year. He is the coach, and he said it just right.”

On what he has learned from first-year quarterback coach Brian Johnson on protecting himself as a running quarterback …
“Being smart and realizing I am a passer. I have to protect myself and my shoulders to be able to pass the ball. I can’t just be a down-nosed nasty runner. [It’s] about being smart, knowing when to get out of bounds and when to get down. Durability is more important than ability. Coach [Brian] Johnson speaks on that. So I just try to follow that.” 

On Benardrick McKinney and his leadership role with Benardrick …
“The younger guys are going to watch us. They’re going to watch everything we do from getting ready to go to practice, off-time in between practices, the things we do and the way we carry ourselves. Benardrick [McKinney] and I know people are going to watch us. So it’s about doing the right things to keep going, keeping people motivated and having the right attitude. And, the young guys will follow.

“Benardrick is a great leader, great player. Seeing him on the other side of the ball, I know he has the defense going with juice points, and it’s hard for me not to get this offense going. We just feed off each other.”

 

50 Benardrick McKinney Jr. LB

On expectations for this season …
“It’s Mississippi State football. We play with relentless effort and know the expectations are very high. We come out to practice every day ready to play hard and fly to the ball. The defense and offense are getting after it [the ball]. Dak [Prescott] will be leading the offense, and our expectations are going to be very high.”

On team aspirations this season …
“We are aspiring to go to Atlanta [Georgia]. During the offseason and summer we have been working very hard and striving to be the best. Dak [Prescott] is leading the offense. Guys like Beniquez [Brown] and I are trying to lead the defense to be what we are supposed to be in order to compete at a high level.”

On how he describes his play as a linebacker …
“I’m very energized, and I play with a lot of juice. I try to play with passion and be a great leader on the field while flying to the ball and trying to make everyone around me better.”

 

60 – Jamaal Clayborn – So. – OL

On his feelings after the first few practices …
“I’m just excited to be back into the swing of things. It’s time to get down to business. I’m really looking forward to getting into pads and seeing how physical we are. We have a very physical team, and I’m looking forward to practice today.”

On defensive coordinator Geoff Collins …
“Coach [Geoff] Collins is a very enthusiastic coach. He loves when guys are ready to practice. He has a great, great defensive scheme. It’s good to be able to go up against one of the best defensive coordinators in the country, day in and day out.”

On how the defensive line prepares him to play the guard position better …
“We have one of the best defensive line corps in the country. They’re all physical, big and have great athletic ability.  Practicing against those guys is a great opportunity to get better every day.”

On the toughest defensive lineman to block in practice …
“All of them are pretty good and about the same, but Chris [Jones] is definitely one of the biggest challenges.”

4 – Jameon Lewis – Sr. – WR

On quarterback Dak Prescott …
“Dak [Prescott] has a great ability to get better at the small things. I watch him and learn about work ethic from him. This summer, he and I worked one-on-one a lot. He is always the first one on the field and the last one to leave. He makes sure every receiver is off the field before he leaves [practice]. He is always ready to get in extra work.”

On team aspirations this season …
“This is the team. It’s the road to Atlanta [Georgia], and it started two days ago. Atlanta [Georgia] is our goal, and we are on a steady grind towards it.” 

On when he knew expectations for this season would be so high …
“I really noticed expectations for this season during last season. I looked at who all we had on offense and defense coming back. Most people originally thought I was going to leave. I wasn’t going to leave because I knew this could be the year.

“We know who we have. This is my fifth year here, and it is the best team thus far on offense and defense. We’re loaded with so many weapons who can do so many different things. We’re going to keep [opponents] on their toes. I’m very excited and can’t wait for kickoff at our first game.”


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