Mullen: Injuries allowing young players to step up

Sweltering heat and threatening rain clouds again kept Dan Mullen a bit annoyed as his summer schedule continues to get interrupted. The Maroon and White practiced again in the friendly confines of the Palmeiro Center just feet from the brand new Seal Complex as State moved one day closer to the season opener against Oklahoma State.
The Bulldogs were set for a spirited day, nonetheless, after sleeping in this morning and heading to First Baptist Church in Starkville for a message. "When you sleep in, sometimes you realize just how tired you are," Mullen said on the day's activities. "We started slow, but came along a little bit. I loved the execution in the two-a-days yesterday but we started slow and we got a little sloppy and we're down a bit with injuries we're four wide receivers and two tight ends down. When you try to throw the ball it gets a little tricky."
Mullen broke down and decided to give the media an update on those injuries as he covered each of the "dinged up" Dawgs in the preseason. As practice heats up, so do the injuries. Redshirt freshman tight end Gus Walley is the biggest of casualties early as the talented pass catcher just underwent Tommy Johns surgery on a UCL more commonly used on pitchers in baseball. Mullen expects the freshman to miss most of if not the entire season though Mullen is hopeful, because he's no pitcher, he will be back at some point in the season.
Tight end, a position with lots of young depth, is suddenly becoming a position of concern as the coach also addressed junior Malcolm Johnson being out until at least the first week of classes which begin August 19. His injury wasn't disclosed but he has been seen on crutches, though not to be believed a serious injury. His backup, Rufus Warren, is also limited in practice with an ankle sprain and is questionable in the next couple of days.
The receiver position has been raved about by yours truly, but it too is being slowed in development because of some hobbled Dawgs. Redshirt freshman Fred Brown has been in a red jersey most of the summer because of a broken wrist and is out for some time. True freshman Fred Ross is day-to-day with a lingering groin issue that he's had since the beginning of fall camp and Shelby Christy is still recovering from a shoulder injury suffered before coming to campus. Christy, while limited in a red jersey, still looked good going through drills in the first week of camp but contact is a different story.
The good news for the Bulldogs is several players are making their way back into regular practice, though Mullen mentions they are bringing them in much slower to carefully work through their injuries. Offensive tackle Damien Robinson and starting defensive linemen Denico Autry and P.J. Jones are working through their own dings and look to be coming along fine.
As the list looks a bit worrisome as of now, Mullen reassures fans that Walley is the only player at the moment that is expected to miss game one and expects the injuries to get better as the team prepares for game one, but he also expects players to step in and fill those roles.
"This time of year, it's all about opportunity; it's the next guy up. You're getting a lot of reps with the ones and twos and come game day, you're going to have to get 70 reps so those opportunities become less and less. For some of those guys, this is their chance."
With the injuries come the thought of a lot of new players out on the field for year five under Mullen and he mentions that as an obstacle as well, but likes the reps that the young group is getting in practice to speed up the process.
"When you're in training camp it's not like a game where you have just the veterans going out on the field. There are a lot of young faces getting a lot of reps so they're fighting through it and learning. Our installation is basically done so now it's just putting it all together."
MSU has five practices in three days coming up on the farm and Mullen is hopeful they will get their due work in out in the heat. Even with the schedule a bit off for the coaches and players, he still sees progress in his young team.
"There is so much learning but I've seen a lot of improvement," Mullen said. "One thing that we do is we don't want to spend a lot of time on things guys do really well. You want to see the improvement on what guys do in some difficult situations and I've thought our players have responded well together. The team has really come together staying in the hotel. This is the one time for this group to come together."
The Bulldogs will be back on the practice fields tomorrow for two-a-days and Mullen expects higher energy and more execution from the young pups. "I think we'll be ok. We got to sleep in today and got to go inside so we expected tomorrow to be a grind for the guys."
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