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August 6, 2011

Practice through Koenning's eyes

Day three of fall camp for Mississippi State football started out as both the hottest one and the most heated one. As the first-teamers and freshmen took the practice field at 8:30 this morning, not a cloud was in the sky and the air was thick with humidity.

It was also the first practice in pads. Well, half pads. The Bulldogs came out wearing helmets and shoulder pads, meaning it was a near full-contact practice.

The combination of the heat and players hitting each other for the first time led to MSU's most intense session of the three-day young fall camp.

"Well, it should," offensive coordinator Les Koenning said. "It should. I mean, this is not volleyball or tennis. This is football. It's a contact sport."

The day started off, after stretching, with 1-on-1 "bullring" drills, involving players of (mostly) similar stature rushing at each other and trying to put the other on the ground.

So, yes, the day started off hot and intense. The coaches were yelling at players. The players were yelling at each other. And once even the coaches yelled at the coaches, when Dan Mullen and Koenning had a short exchange during 11-on-11 scrimmages. The intensity was strong throughout the day.

Mullen had said that "evaluation" does not start until the players are in pads, though he did video tape all of the non-contact, no-pad practices the first two days.

Getting to watch his players in pads for the first time since April 9, Koenning said he was generally pleased, though he will review the practice later.

"I thought it was good," he said. "You're never happy with what you see until you watch the film and then you see what you like. It looked good at times and other times it didn't."

Koenning said that, so far, he and the coaches have just been teaching and reviewing the plays and schemes, a process that he says has not yet finished. In addition to teaching, Koenning said it was a learning experience for the coaching staff to see how their players reacted.

"We're trying to go and do as much we can," Koenning said. "We've had a lot of insertions. It was the second install we've had. Today was an overload on them. Obviously, their mind is thinking it's a little hot, so you actually see the way they're truly gonna react."

Senior linebacker and Clemson transfer Brandon Maye, who is still working with the freshman, said he noticed the increased intensity today more than ever, especially compared to his ACC roots.

"The pace, the pace, the pace of the practice," said a heavy-breathing and drenched in sweat Maye. "It's full-go. There's no breaks in between, you get breaks as you go. That's the biggest difference right now."

While the tone of practice may have been hot and angry, Koenning still found good things to note, particularly the timing between the quarterbacks and receivers.

"That means that they threw this summer," Koenning said. "That's a good feeling for us. The timing and stuff was good, so we're really excited about that."

Practices continue this afternoon as the second and third teams join together at 2:45 for the final practice open to the public.

Koenning said that, to this point, he has been happy with what he's seen.

"So far, yeah," he said. "We haven't finished all the installs, but yeah I've been very pleased with the direction we're going. We just need to keep going and keep pushing. Obviously, with the heat, it's been great for us. We're not a fluff team. We're a hard-nosed football team and our kids gotta work hard."

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