August 8, 2018 9:05:05 PM
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State's first day in full pads was also its first day indoors.
Early in the MSU football team's practice Wednesday, it was forced to move from the Leo W. Seal Football Building's fields to the turf inside the Palmeiro Center. MSU's fifth practice of the preseason carried on without a hitch.
"We didn't change anything from our practice," coach Joe Moorhead said. "There's some spacial constraints in the indoor that prevent us from doing some things -- lines on the other side of the field would help -- but it certainly didn't keep us from doing anything we wanted to do."
While most Bulldogs got to participate in a practice with more contact, some notable starters and potential starters were out with injuries.
Safety Johnathan Abram, left tackle Greg Eiland, wide receiver Stephen Guidry and defensive end Marquiss Spencer were all out of Tuesday's practice, and that status rolled over to Wednesday. Moorhead said Abram and Spencer had upper-body injuries while Guidry and Eiland had lower-body injuries; he said all four are day-to-day and doesn't expect any of them to miss, "an extended period of time."
Eiland was seen with a boot on his right foot in Tuesday's practice. Junior Tyre Phillips was practicing as the starting left tackle in his place.
Kickoff duties up for grabs
While junior Tucker Day and sophomore Kody Schexnayder battle for the starting punter job, it is a much bigger cast of characters trying to take the kickoff role Cooke handled.
Both Schexnayder and Day said punting is their top priority, but both said they are also in the kickoff specialist battle, and they are far from alone.
"It's going to be everybody in there," Schexnayder said. "It's going to be a battle all the way down to the first game of the season. I'm excited to see it."
That includes the returning starting placekicker, Jace Christmann, and the three other kickers on the roster: freshman Cole Deeds, sophomore Jordan Lawless and freshman Scott Goodman.
Cooke's 60 percent touchback percentage was in the top half of the Southeastern Conference, but he may have been more deadly in his kicks that were returned: MSU led the conference with a kickoff return yardage allowed of 17.93 yards per return.
The role of the kickoff specialist is going to be one worth monitoring this fall after the NCAA's most recent rule change. Previously, returners had to catch the ball in the end zone to receive a touchback to the 25-yard line; now, a fair catch anywhere inside of the 25-yard line will be ruled a touchback.
Kilby-Lane already helping
When Moorhead secured the services of linebacker Sh'mar Kilby-Lane -- a Copiah-Lincoln Community College transfer by way of Florida State -- at the end of the signing period last year, he said he wanted more depth at the position. Now he is seeing the junior make an impact in other ways.
"He's a guy that has some experience from his time at Florida State. What it does is, at a position where you're talking about (sophomore) Erroll (Thompson), (sophomore) Willie (Gay) and (junior) Leo (Lewis), you've got a bunch of young guys with him, he provides a little bit of experience, stability and depth. He's doing a good job. I think he feels confident because he's done it before at this level."
Murphy sticking with safety
MSU's options with West Point native Marcus Murphy were plentiful when he enrolled early for spring practice, as his athleticism was used for almost everything in high school and was thought to be good enough to translate to college. The coaching staff settled on safety, and so far there has been no reason to change.
"He's working at our nickel, the Star position, working some safety and getting reps at return, as well," Moorhead said. "He's got a lot on his plate right now. You want to best utilize your players and give them the best opportunity, but with where he's at right now, we want to keep as little on his plate so he can master that and then move on to other things."
Murphy is part of a group of six players vying for the punt return spot, Moorhead said. He also said MSU will have a lead returner and an off returner on its kickoff team, with three or four players going after each spot. Both competitions will get whittled down as time passes.
"Special teams is going to be a phase that hopefully wins three and loses none for us," Moorhead said.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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