A few short days ago, Mississippi State was in fall training camp. Now, Dan Mullen's Bulldogs are just over one week away from kickoff of the 2011 season. Real, live football is getting pretty close.
"Does it feel like it's creeping up? Oh, it's not creeping up," Mullen said. "It's jumping on us."
MSU opens the season next Thursday at Memphis, though Mullen refers to it as Saturday, which is how he keeps his days of preparation straight. Thus, next Monday is, in the minds of coaches and players, a Thursday.
"One week from today we're walking on the practice field, walk off the field for Thursday practice, you've got your Friday walkthrough and you're loading the bus getting ready to go play," Mullen said. "It's upon us. You've gotta keep stressing the sense of urgency to shift out of training camp you know. Nine days from now, we can't walk off the field and go, "Oh, we had a bad practice today." It's permanent at that point. You can't do that."
With the quick start in mind, Mullen is working on the switch from training camp to game mode, a transition that started with yesterday's practice.
"You're still in that kinda transition," Mullen said. "You're kind of in between game prep and transitioning from camp where you're working on hard stuff and a little bit of scheming for an opponent in that transition. There's still some of both going on. I think guys are getting used to it, they're just learning how to do it. It's everybody. The older guys on our team, even the starters, know what to do on scout team but they're getting back to that mode of what do in those portions of practice."
Yesterday, Mullen said practice started off sloppy after the players had a couple days off, but he felt more positive about today's practice.
"[Practice was a] little better from the start," Mullen said. "I like the finish a little better yesterday. But there were some good things in the finish. The effort was good at the end of practice. The effort throughout practice was a little sharper and crisp today. Little sloppier in execution. Talking to guys coming off the field, guys weren't happy coming off the field, and that's OK for me. I'd rather them be unhappy with themselves because they didn't perform at the level they expected than me be unhappy because I'm upset with the effort."
In other news, the players voted today on the permanent team captains, awarding the honor to senior safety Charles Mitchell and senior running back Vick Ballard.
Said Mullen, "You'd have a hard time finding two harder workers than Charles Mitchell and Vick Ballard."
While Mullen is only entering his third season, Ballard is the third captain in two years who was a Mullen recruit. Chris White and Pernell McPhee signed with Mullen out of junior college before his first season in Starkville and were both named captains last year.
Mullen said that fact is indicative of the type of players he wants in his program.
"I think the guys we recruit, we kind of tell them what to expect in our program," Mullen said. "We go out and recruit certain guys. Vick Ballard, we recruited Vick Ballard because we liked his skill set but loved his, all the intangibles about him, that's important for us in recruiting in our program. Obviously, no one else realized that, because I don't think he was any stars by anybody or anything. We saw that, and he comes in understands the work ethic we expect in the program and if you sell out, if you work, you're committed, you sacrifice, you're ready to be the best you can be, great things happen to you."
Mullen also offered an update on the left tackle spot, though not a clear one.
Coaches and players have indicated throughout camp that James Carmon had the lead for the spot and was working with the first team in practice.
Mullen wouldn't share who it is, but said, "We have a good idea who's gonna start in the first game."