SEC: Mississippi State practice 090814

Leaving Starkville for Oxford

August, 14, 2009
8/14/09
7:32
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

STARKVILLE, Miss. -- I'm getting ready to make the hour and 45-minute trek to Oxford to check in on Ole Miss' preseason camp.

The Rebels will scrimmage Saturday, and I'll have an update.

Also, check out the SEC blog Saturday morning for my Q&A with Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen. I had a 30-minute sitdown with Mullen on Friday, and he has a very clear vision of where he wants to take this program.

Nobody said it's going to be easy. There's a reason the Bulldogs haven't won more than four SEC games this decade.

Mullen's plan for climbing out of the lower echelon in the league revolves around one central theme: Owning the state of Mississippi in recruiting.

"We have to win most of the in-state battles," Mullen said. "For us to succeed here, we better get the kids that we want. If we get at least 15 of the top 20 players we want in the state every year, we have a chance to be a really good team. If we get 18, we have a chance to be a great team. If we get 20, we have a chance to be a championship team."

Blessing in disguise for Bulldogs' Chaney

August, 14, 2009
8/14/09
7:16
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

 
  AP Photo/Jim Lytle
  Linebacker Jamar Chaney, left, is thrilled to be with the Bulldogs for another season.

STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Jamar Chaney is a big believer that everything happens for a reason.

He probably wouldn't have chosen to still be at Mississippi State this time a year ago, but he is.

And as he says with conviction, "I wouldn't change it for nothing."

Chaney, the Bulldogs' fifth-year senior middle linebacker, suffered a nasty injury in the opener a year ago. He tore ligaments in his ankle and broke his left fibula, which turned out to be a terrible omen for the Bulldogs.

He was lost for the season, and Mississippi State's season quickly went down the tubes.

Undecided about whether to enter his name in the NFL draft or apply for a medical redshirt and return to Mississippi State, Chaney admits that he went back and forth.

It didn't take him long once first-year coach Dan Mullen and the rest of his staff settled in to realize that he'd made the right choice.

"I see it as a blessing in disguise," said Chaney, a second-team All-SEC selection in 2007. "At first, I was down and wondering about everything, wondering if this was the right thing. But to come back and go through a whole offseason and now a season with Coach Mullen and his staff has been exactly what I needed.

"Coach (Matt) Balis (the Bulldogs' strength coach) has me in the best shape of my life, and Coach (Carl) Torbush is the best linebacker coach I've had and the best defensive coordinator I've had. I'm happy where I'm at. I'm happy with the career I've had, and I'm happy with how it's going to end."

Chaney is part of a Mississippi State linebacker unit that rivals any in the league. All three of the Bulldogs' starters are at least 240 pounds, and they all can run. The 6-1, 245-pound Chaney has been timed at just under 4.5 seconds.

Junior K.J. Wright will play one of the two outside spots. The 6-4 Wright is pushing 250 pounds, while junior college newcomer Chris White (6-3, 245) will play the other outside spot.

"It's going to be the best linebacker corps we've had in years here at Mississippi State," Chaney said. "We have a lot of guys who can really get to the ball, and it's not just at linebacker."

He said that junior college newcomer Pernell McPhee continues to be dominant at defensive tackle after bursting onto the scene in the spring.

"You're not going to be able to block him one-on-one," Chaney said. "If you try, you're going to suffer the consequences."

The Bulldogs might be able to slide the 275-pound McPhee outside to end some, too, especially if true freshmen Josh Boyd and Fletcher Cox keep progressing the way they are.

"They don't play like freshmen. They're going to play this year," Chaney said.

Getting Chaney back for another season was a huge coup for Mullen, and it goes much deeper than just Chaney's ability to blow up opposing ball-carriers.

"It's the leadership he brings, and not only the leadership he brings on the field, but that demeanor he brings off the field," Mullen said. "He comes in as an older guy who everybody looks up to and is experienced, and he 100 percent buys into the new coach's program.

"As soon as Jamar Chaney buys in, the younger kids look at each other and say, 'If he buys in, then we need to buy in.' That's what makes him irreplaceable for our team."

Mississippi State makes huge strides with facilities

August, 14, 2009
8/14/09
2:45
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Despite a $36 million athletic budget that's the smallest in the SEC, Mississippi State's athletic facilities are extremely underrated.

Seriously, if you haven't been on campus here in the past five to six years, you're going to be surprised at how new, how state of the art and how up to date everything is.

It starts with the brand new Templeton Athletic Academic Center, which is as nice as any academic center in the SEC and a terrific recruiting tool.

"We may not be like some schools and just throw money at facilities," Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. "But we have a vision, and when you have the right vision for what you want, you can have nice facilities."

Mullen admits that he was surprised when he first came to Mississippi State at how nice the facilities actually were. Former coach Sylvester Croom had done a good job of getting the ball rolling with a new weight room, training room, players' lounge and locker room at the Holliman football complex.

That's after the old weight room for the football players was housed in an open pit area in an adjoining building and looked like something you might see at a high school.

The Bulldogs already had an indoor practice facility in place (the Palmeiro Center) and have made several upgrades to Davis Wade Stadium.

It's the nation's second oldest on-campus stadium among FBS schools, but a new $6.1 million JumboTron with a massive screen you can see from all the way across campus will be unveiled in its entirety this season.

Mississippi State athletic director Greg Byrne, Mullen and other administrators took a tour this summer to look at facilities from around the country to get some more ideas for the future.

Mullen surprised Lee hasn't separated himself

August, 14, 2009
8/14/09
11:30
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Dan Mullen has a little more than three weeks to go until his first game at Mississippi State, and he still doesn't know who his quarterback is going to be.

Mullen said following the Bulldogs' first full scrimmage Thursday that it was dead even at this point between senior Tyson Lee and sophomore Chris Relf.

Mullen went on to say that it would probably be a three-man race had true freshman Tyler Russell been enrolled in time to go through spring practice.

"Just the fact that he's mentally behind everybody else hurts him a little bit," Mullen said. "It will be a wide-open race until the end."

And, honestly, Mullen didn't see it going this way coming into the preseason. He thought Lee would have separated himself by now.

"I thought he would have been crisper, more consistent," Mullen said. "He's done some good things. He just hasn't done enough of them."

Relf's strength has been his athleticism, and he's made enough plays to hang around in the race. Mullen said it's all the other intangibles, such as being a leader, that he has to get better at if he's going to win the job.

Russell's suffering from paralysis by analysis right now because everything is so new. Mullen's not ruling out, though, that he can be ready to play at some point this season.

"Sometimes that light just clicks with a freshman, and he gets it," Mullen said.

Offense too 'herky-jerky' for Bulldogs' Mullen

August, 14, 2009
8/14/09
7:30
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen didn't keep score Thursday in the Bulldogs' first full scrimmage of the preseason.

But if somebody had, the defense would have won.

"Herky-jerky" is the way Mullen described his offense, which is not all that surprising considering the combination of the new offensive system and all the young players the Bulldogs are trying to incorporate.

While the news could have been better for the Mississippi State offense, it's pretty obvious that the Bulldogs will be able to stand their ground defensively this season. Mullen himself said he wouldn't trade the Bulldogs' starting linebacker corps of Jamar Chaney, K.J. Wright and Chris White for anybody. The addition of junior college defensive tackle Pernell McPhee just makes the Bulldogs that much stronger up the middle.

"I was hoping the offense would perform better than we did today and execute at a little higher level," Mullen said. "But I'm pleased with the consistent play of the defense."

The Bulldogs were also playing without two of their starting offensive linemen -- left tackle Derek Sherrod and guard Tobias Smith.

One thing's clear about where Mississippi State is on offense right now: Mullen isn't close to naming a starting quarterback. He said senior Tyson Lee and sophomore Chris Relf were pretty much dead even.

True freshman quarterback Tyler Russell still has his head spinning a little bit as he attempts to process everything the Bulldogs are throwing at him.

On a positive note about the offense, Mullen continues to be impressed with some of the freshman receivers.

"Chad Bumphis looked fast on a couple of plays, and [running back] Robert Elliott looked fast on a couple of plays," Mullen said. "One of the big things offensively was to try and find some playmakers. We'll go back and watch the film and see if we have a couple we can get the ball to."

Checking in on Mississippi State

August, 13, 2009
8/13/09
5:49
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

STARKVILLE, Miss. -- The drive west on Highway 82 in my rearview mirror, my next stop is Mississippi State.

Man, what's with all these new hotels in Starkville? Seriously. I remember the days when there might have been one or two places to stay, period, in town.

And if you're looking for a place to eat here, it's hard to beat The Veranda. Harvey's ain't bad, either.

The Bulldogs are holding their first full scrimmage of the preseason as we speak. It's closed to the public, but coach Dan Mullen will address the media afterward. I'll see what he has to say and check in later. I plan to sit down with Mullen on Friday morning.

I can't imagine this being a quick fix at Mississippi State, which has had just two winning seasons this decade. The first thing Mullen has to do is get his players into the program, and that will take another recruiting class or two. But in talking to some of the people here in town, he's off to a good start in terms of selling his vision for the program.

Mullen has been tireless when it comes to traveling around and reaching out to the Mississippi State community and to the people in this state.

There's still a stigma that exists here, sort of a second-class SEC citizen stigma, that Mullen is determined to change.

In the meantime, he's trying to find out who his playmakers are in the Bulldogs' new spread offense. Maybe he'll have a better idea after watching Thursday's scrimmage. 

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