STARKVILLE, MS (WLOX) - Mississippi State football is getting ready for year eight under head coach Dan Mullen. Mullen, his assistant coaches and selected players met with the press on Monday on the Bulldogs annual Media Day at the Leo Seal Jr. Football Complex.
"What an exciting time of year, "Mullen said. "I know everybody in the building cannot wait to get out there on the field. As players, you put in so much work, a lot of work before you get to play the first game again. They go through conditioning in the winter, spring ball, conditioning all summer and training, trying to get bigger, faster, stronger and get their body in shape and ready to go."
Bulldogs new defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon takes over a defense that returns six of its top seven tacklers from a year ago and 70 percent of its 2015 tackle production.
"I want to play the defense that gives us the best opportunity to stop people from moving the ball and scoring, "Sirmon said. "I know 3-4 and 4-3 is nice, clean and tidy and it can communicate your defense, but we will be a multiple front defense. We are recruiting guys that have great size and athleticism to play in multiple fronts. I think it is real positive for us with the style of play. It becomes what do you have to stop to win the game?"
The Bulldogs will hold position meetings in the morning and then go through their first workout of camp later Tuesday afternoon. MSU will spend the day in helmets and shorts. The first full pads practice is slated for Saturday, which is also the first day the Bulldogs head to "The Farm."
There is a quarterback battle for the starting job and Coach Mullen said he is going to be extremely happy to find out who steps up to win the job. 6-foot-5, 230 pound sophomore Nick Fitzgerald enters camp as the leading candidate to replace All-American Dak Prescott. He completed 80 percent of his passes last season for 235 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Junior Damian Williams sat out last season. The former Archbishop Rummel High graduate who guided the Raiders to a state championship in Louisiana will give his all in trying to win the job. Sophomore Elijah Staley and redshirt freshman Nick Tiano are the other quarterbacks who will give Fitzgerald and Williams serious competition.
"The biggest thing for us is who can make the play every single snap and consistently perform at a very high level, not look at the spectacular plays they can make but can they make the average plays, "stated Mullen. "I know that they have talents, but who is the consistent performer. I'd love to make the decision as soon as it defines itself. It might be week one or week two, but it might be game week or in October. I don't know until someone separates themselves and is clearly ahead of everybody else."
6-foot-5, 205 pound wide receiver Fred Ross snagged 88 catches last season for 1,007 yards and 5 touchdowns. He believes the Bulldogs offense will be solid.
"Very explosive, "said Ross. "We have a lot of younger guys who are eager to play and bring a lot to the table. I can't wait to see how it is going to turn out."
Mississippi State offensive coordinator Billy Gonzales is high on Ross.
"He's learned the positions. He's learned everything and what that does, it frees you up so you can put Fred out there and you don't have to worry. It allows you to match him up one on one if you like the match-up. There will be times whether it's Malik Dear or Keith Mixon, whoever it may be it just frees you up and allows you to do so many different things."
Gonzales knows the Bulldogs have a player who can score every time he touches the football in Keith Mixon.
"Keith had most explosive spring, "stated Gonzales. "I say explosive because he had big plays. At the same time, you have to remember we were minus a couple of guys."
Mississippi State opens the 2016 season on September 3 hosting South Alabama in Starkville.