Saturday Mississippi State fans had their first glimpse inside Dan Mullen’s 2012 Bulldogs. What was seen was a poised first team offense and a tenacious defense all around.
In fact, the defense clearly won the day with pressure up front and tight defense in the secondary.
"I think we've got a talented group that has a lot of work to do,” said Defensive Coordinator Chris Wilson. “There's an upgrade in our skill guys with youth. We have guys that can play zone and man. That right there is completely different than we have had in the past. We got depth, more talented guys with depth and that's the thing that stands out the most."
Typically during the early days of any fall camp the defensive unit will be ahead of the offense, thanks in large part to the approach taken by State coaches.
"We simplified some things as coaches and the kids are grasping it quickly,” said Wilson. “The way we are installing things right now is really helping the younger guys as far as retention. They've had a chance to do it with themselves all summer so it's really carried over for us."
The evidence of Wilson’s comments was evident on the field. Freshmen and sophomores were making plays all over the field, in particularly, Benardrick McKinney.
"He's a football player and he's instinctive,” Wilson said of the linebacker. “You know we tell these guys that you're a freshman in college but you're not a freshman in football. Most of these guys have been playing football for seven years. So the same Cover two they ran in high school is the same they run here. Same with man coverage. We just got to get them used to the tempo."
Wilson credits McKinney’s progress to the pressure produced when a particular group is loaded with talent.
"When you get more talented, you should have two-deeps and it should be a war everyday as far who gets on the field and gets on the jumbotron first,” Wilson said. “That's what they are looking for. Nothing makes a guy better than pure competition."
The athleticism isn’t limited to linebacker. Wilson sees the secondary as a group of difference makers for this year’s team. There’s veteran leadership coupled with youthful athleticism which is proving to give the coaching staff the flexibility to shuffle players around.
“Here’s the neat thing – you want your best corner covering their best player,” Wilson said. “So guys are going to be moved wherever they are needed. The best guy is going to follow the best (offensive) guy and so when people start thinking it’s about scheme but it’s about situational and matchup.”
And while the defense did shine on Saturday Wilson was quick to point out the team wasn’t wearing pads.
"We're in pajamas,” Wilson said with a laugh. “To say anybody is ahead in pajamas would be self serving so at the end of the day there's big competition and you want to see guys flying around and executing at a high level. We will find out who is really going play, once we get to run into each other in a couple days."
State will return to the practice field this afternoon for day three of preparation for the 2012 season.