Dan Mullen took to the practice field for the beginning of fall camp for the third time as head coach of Mississippi State as the Bulldogs started practice to prepare for the 2011 season.
Unfortunately for MSU, practice was rained out about halfway through, sending the Bulldogs inside to the Palmeiro Center.
It wasn't all bad, Mullen said, as they knew rain was a possibility and the storm hit right as the team was in a break between periods. However, Mullen's long-term planning was shot, as he had his date and time specifically in mind long ago.
"I did this, because last year our study - we have a study of weather patterns - that it rains between 4 and 5 or 5:30 this time of year every single day here," Mullen said at the end of a practice interrupted by rain showers at about 7:15 p.m. "We decided instead of suffering the heat and potentially having storms we'll go a little later. I guess we should have gone from 4-6. I guess Mother Nature is putting a little adversity on us."
Despite the Mother Nature-imposed adversity, Mullen said he thought practice went well. This being his third camp, the now-seasoned head coach said that he can see improvement from past years.
Compared to previous fall camps, Mullen said it was, "a lot faster. There's a lot guys that know what they're doing. There's different expectations on the field. You see the bigger separation now because the young guys who have no idea what's going on and 'holy cow this is college football,' and the old guys who have been through it. Chris Relf, this is his third training camp, he's been through it. He knows what's going to happen from period-to-period. He knows how to act and the tempo that we expect to practice with is not a shock for him, he knows what's going on."
Fans and media have hashed and re-hashed the position battles at left tackle and linebacker throughout the summer, but Mullen said there is not one particular battle he is watching.
"No, because there's so many and a positional battle can also involve another position," Mullen said. "We want to try and have the best 11 guys on the field at all times, and that could affect a lot of different things that we do. If two guys battle at a position and they're both better than a third guy somewhere else then we need to tweak some things."
Throughout most of the practice, which included positional drills as well team-on-team activity, players were split into first team, second team and third team, though Mullen said the depth chart is not important this early.
"Right now, everybody gets the same reps," he said. "The threes get the same reps the ones get right now. Everybody is going to get the same opportunity. It's not like you're not getting reps. Early on we try to get everybody going for the first couple days as many equal reps as possible, so that when we do start to cut it down there's a separation and you're ready to decide and everybody is ready to step into a role."
There will be two practices Friday, with the seniors and freshmen practicing early and the middle guys playing in the evening, though there is overlap as not all positions have adequate numbers in the senior and freshmen classes.
The benefit of splitting, Mullen said, is that every player gets more reps, though the practices end up a little bit shorter.
One of Mullen's first observations at Thursday's practice was the presence of his senior quarterback.
"With (Relf) now, in a quick, passing moment I can say something to him and he knows exactly what I'm trying to tell him," Mullen said. "I think in those things, that's where I see it. I say, 'Hey, you didn't open up all the way,' and he knows what I'm talking about. Those are things that older guys, they know exactly what you're talking about at all times."
As Mullen watched tonight and continues to watch players over the next few days, he's not necessarily breaking down their strengths and weaknesses.
"I'll watch film later," he said. "I'm looking to see who's jogging behind the play. I just want to find out who's not going as hard as they can out at practice. That's what I'm looking for."