Dan Mullen met with the Mississippi State media Monday afternoon for the Bulldogs annual media day. Here is the transcript from the press conference.
Mullen opening statment: "It's great for us to be back out on the field. We love to be out there with our guys. This what they play for. And for our coaches, they've been anxious to get back around our guys. I think ours is one of the few sports where leading up to the season, right until you start training camp, we're not allowed around our players all summer. You have to be away from them all summer, so I know everybody is really excited to be back around those guys. I know our team is excited after the way we finished last year with the big Egg Bowl victory, the Gator Bowl victory, a lot of momentum within the program. I know our guys are excited to get back out there and keep that going hopefully into this season. Just the overall excitement around the program with season ticket sellouts and the other things we've created - this buzz, this atmosphere, not just around campus but around the whole state of Mississippi, in the south. For Bulldog fans it's amazing and I know this team is going to work as hard as they can to make all those people proud."
Q: You tweeted earlier that the defense was better than the offense early on, why do you think that?
"Well, today's practice. That was just today's practice. Two days ago I thought the offense kind of took the day, but you know I think the defense had some momentum at different times during the practice. That's where offensive guys need to step up. It's hard, you don't see total evaluation because it's still a lot of installation going on, you know, so right now the offense is trying to install and teach certain things and the defense is trying to teach certain things. you're not really scheming against each other, but I thought the defense did a good job making plays today, where the offense - when things weren't going great, the quarterbacks would just check it down, manage, take what they're giving us and seemed to keep forcing the ball down the field."
Q: What did you see in practice today, the first day in pull pads?
Mullen: "Good intensity, you know, good intensity. We didn't do a whole lot of live-tackling. Just a real quick period here and there where we went live to tackle, so it wasn't a whole lot different than yesterday. When you get out there and you go full pads, the demeanor of the team has to change, and I thought it did. I thought or guys were adjusting to what's going on the field. The intensity they're bringing to the practice field, I'm pretty happy with. That being said, it has to be much greater than last year's intensity if we want to improve."
Q: Is being isolated at the farm one of your favorite parts of camp?
Mullen: "Yeah, I love being out there. You know, it's different. One of the reasons you go out there is it's so different. The mindset of our players, 'this is training camp,' there's all the different, I guess seasons that we go through, you know with offseason, spring ball, summer conditioning, training camp, then in-season, and this is training camp. That's a great time. I think everybody's fresh, everybody's excited to get out there on the field, see what type of team we have, and when you get out there to the farm and it's just us, it's a special feeling and I think there's a lot of bonding within the team, a lot of team building that goes on out there."
Q: How do you think your team is handling higher expectations?
Mullen: "Oh, I mean, I think they're handling it fine. I'm sure our expectations are even higher than anybody in the media. I see how everybody votes us. Our goal is to get to Atlanta. Nobody picked us first, so our expectations are even higher than everybody else's. They're handling, I guess, your guys' expectations very well."
Q: How important is it for long-term success of program to have another strong year in 2011?
Mullen: "I think, in the consistency of the program, that's where we want to go. You don't see championship programs that just win a championship one year and then fall off the charts for the next three or four years and then come back and win a championship again. Championship programs are consistent winners and then find a way to have that special season. That's what we want our program to be and that's what we're building towards."
Q: What have you seen from quarterbacks so far?
Mullen: "They're just, they're getting used to being out there. All the work they do in the offseason, I guess they throw and all that stuff, it's a lot different when you put pads on and someone's coming to hit you and you're dealing with blitzes and all of those things. I'm happy with the fact that they know what's going on out there on the field. They're not looking at you with kind of lost eyes and saying, 'What's happening?' They're trying to take those next steps of graduate level quarterback play. Hopefully by the end of training camp, Chris (Relf), we need him to be on doctorate level here pretty soon. Tyler (Russell) and Dylan (Favre), you know, still have some time. Dak (Prescott) has plenty of time."
Q: Ivy league practices are non-contact until, I think, one week before the first game
Mullen: "Yeah, I don't know about that. I worry about the dangers involved in that, you know? Football is a collision-contact sport and if you're only going to do that in game week or just in a very, very short window or only during games, I think you can put some players at risk. They better get used to getting hit. They better get used to hitting each other and hitting somebody else. I think there is some danger involved in that. We're a tough, physical team. We're not silly in how we do it, how we hit and how we have our guys go through contact but I'd be nervous of saying, 'Hey, don't hit anybody at all. Let's not put on any pads on, let's not do any of this and then let's go play a game and see what happens.' I'd be nervous with the dangers involved in that.
Thoughts on Angelo Mirando's job so far? Seems like a high intensity guy
Mullen: He's a young guy that's working hard. Part of my job as a head coach is not just to develop players but to develop our coaches as well. He's a very committed, very hard-working young guy. I have a lot of confidence in him. The great thing about that is he's very tough on our players. They'll tell you that but he can also relate to them. I think that's a very important fact for those guys. When they look out there, they have somebody who can understand some of the things they talk about and he does a good job of doing that."
Q: What guys have stood out to you at linebacker? (Brandon) Maye?
Mullen: "I have no idea right now with that position. That will be a long time until we figure that stuff out. Most of the guys are still learning the defense and we're installing right now. So I'd say (Deontae) Skinner, Cam Lawrence, Brandon Wilson, Matt Wells, Chris Hughes, Brandon Maye, Ferlando Bohanna. I don't want to miss anybody. Did I say Skinner? All of them are kind of standing out right now and getting their reps and getting ready to play."
Q: How do you feel about your depth? First year to sit back, feel really comfortable with depth at most positions?
Mullen: "I think there are a lot of positions you look out there and say we're building the program where we want it, where we do have depth across the board at different positions. You have a group that's your one group and a group that's right behind them and pushing and competing. And then a young developmental group behind them. A lot of the positions across the board, we have that. That is comforting. That d-line, we need some depth on the defensive line. That's going to be a big deal for us in recruiting in the future: guys who can come in and play right away on the d-line. A lot of those positions do look, we're becoming more balanced throughout our classes and balanced with our depth at each position. There are guys we can throw out there and play."
Does that give you a guys confidence at winning more than nine games... championship?
Mullen: "It certainly helps. One, depth increases competition at practice. When guys start clawing and scratching just to get a rep at practice, you're going to see drastic improvement. That's great for the improvement and development within the program. WHen you look at having to play the Southeastern Conference schedule, you better have some guys who are ready to jump in the fire and go play. That's certainly going to help us at several different positions."
Who's the No. 2 quarterback behind Relf?
Mullen: "We look and, to me now... If we're going to play with two quarterbacks, Chris and Tyler are going to play. If that's our depth chart at 1 and 2, Tyler has some experience. I don't have to force him onto the field. He can play with earning playing time (last season). If we go to Dylan and he's going to be one of our guys or our No. 2, I have to force him in and play some two quarterbacks because he needs experience. He needs to play. It's a long season. Part of us is like saying, 'Hey, who's going to be behind Vick Ballard?' I can't put a guy on the field for his first situation. You don't want it to be a win or lose situation in a game. You want him to kind of play in the first quarter and get in the flow of the game. That's how we'll do it with the quarterback.
"The fact that Tyler got to play a lot last year, if he is the No. 2 guy, we're not forced to try to get him on the field. We just play him when he deserves to play or when we need him to play."