STARKVILLE — Mississippi State University football coach Dan Mullen didn’t mind Thursday if he didn’t see flawless execution on the first day of fall camp.
Mullen and his assistant coaches almost expected mistakes to be made because older players are adapting to the pressures of new starting roles and underclassmen are adjusting to the pace of practice.
But the pitch-and-catch combinations of MSU’s offense surprised Mullen with crisper play thanks to the experience of the fifth-year senior quarterback Tyler Russell.
“(Russell) knows (the new receivers) are going to need to play with him right away, so this isn’t practice number one for them,” Mullen said.
As one of the team leaders, Russell had sessions this summer with the new receivers this summer. The workouts were without coaching supervision, per NCAA rules, and were designed to get the receivers ready for the speed of practice and to help them avoid the common mistakes that are made on the first day of camp.
“I wasn’t as prepared as I should’ve been (against the University of Mississippi and Northwestern University), and I look back at how I practiced and got myself mentally and physically ready to play and it wasn’t at a high enough level,” Russell said at SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala., referring to the team’s final two games of the 2012 season. “It’s my job to make sure that not only am I prepared to play every week but my teammates understand what is expected as well. That’s what leadership is.”
MSU receivers shined on a day the players spent most of the time with the first-string offense. Junior Robert Johnson and third-year sophomores Joe Morrow and Jameon Lewis spent the most time with Russell as veterans of an inexperienced group of receivers.
Jeremey Chappelle, a three-star recruit out of Tyler (Texas) Community College who is expected to contribute immediately, spent most of the day with the freshmen and newcomers. Chappelle hoped to use the summer to build on a spring game at Davis Wade Stadium that saw him make eight catches for 114 yards and a touchdown.
“I hope this spring game proved to a lot of people I can play and help Mississippi State right away,” Chappelle said April 21. “I won’t lie about my spring because I had a hard time learning the plays and the small things about the offense. Now that I’ve got the plays and, more importantly, the tempo down to a natural thing, I know I can do big things.”
Russell also could have another weapon in 5-foot-8 redshirt freshman Brandon Holloway, who is back with the receivers after spending time in the spring with the running backs as a emergency option. The highly touted prospect with 4.3-second speed in the 40-yard-dash has his teammates excited about what he could add to the offense.
“He’s the most dynamic athlete we have on the field,” MSU sophomore quarterback Dak Prescott said. “When you have a player like that, you’re just excited about getting him the football however you can and not worrying about what position he is from play to play.”
Holloway, who was a three-star prospect without a position coming out of high school, had 134 carriers for 904 yards and 10 touchdowns as a senior two years ago. He also caught 19 passes for 304 yards and seven touchdowns.
“It’s so much of a thrill to get back to receiver today full-time, but then again I was lined up behind the quarterback and in different spots all day,” Holloway said. “I want to play and play a lot, and the best way I know how to do that is to be versatile.”
While Mullen laughed and joked Thursday at that thought the freshmen had a better understanding of what was happening at practice, he acknowledged the receivers were ahead of the normal schedule on day one.
“It’s a different speed today than anything you can prepare for,” Mullen said. “What I liked seeing was there’s more execution down the depth chart immediately than I saw in the spring, and that’s progress we can build on.”