Bulldogs get an early jump on season

Published 9:06 am Wednesday, July 26, 2017

STARKVILLE (AP) — Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald isn’t mourning the death of two-a-day practices, even if it means an earlier start to preseason practice.

The Bulldogs opened camp Tuesday with several days left in July, which is much earlier than in previous years. One major reason for the early start is a new NCAA rule limiting teams to just one contact practice per day.

For Mississippi State, the lack of two-a-days likely means less time at “The Farm,” a field located across campus from the practice facilities that usually is the site of the preseason’s hardest workouts.

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Fitzgerald won’t miss the long, hot days of two straight physical practices in the Mississippi sun and humidity. He believes there will be benefits to players being in better health during the August grind.

“If that means we have to spread it out over a week more, that’s perfectly fine,” Fitzgerald said. “Having a few days where you just come in, lift weights and watch film instead of practicing every day, I think that’s going to help out a lot.”

Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen, who is entering his ninth season with the program, has a mixed opinion about the new schedule.

He said it’s good that they’re able to structure camp around player safety. In making the schedule, Mullen said he asked the team’s athletic trainers and strength coaches to put together an ideal schedule to allow for rest and recovery. Then he worked that plan around the ideas of assistant coaches and summer school class schedules for the final version.

His major worry is the down time it creates.

“There are concerns,” Mullen said. “In the middle of training camp, there’s no school, no anything and the players have whole days off. They don’t do any football — we can’t even do a life skills presentation. Nothing.

“So I hope they’re well-behaved that day.”

Mississippi State enters camp hoping to improve on last year’s 6-7 record. The Bulldogs had a 5-7 record in the regular season but made the St. Petersburg Bowl because there weren’t enough bowl-eligible teams. The extra spots were given to the 5-7 programs with the highest Academic Progress Rate scores.

Fitzgerald’s return should give Mississippi State a good foundation this season. The 6-foot-5, 230-pounder was one of the breakout stars of the Southeastern Conference a year ago, throwing for 2,423 yards and 21 touchdowns while running for 1,375 yards and 16 touchdowns.

He is joined by running back Aeris Williams, who ran for 720 yards in 2016, and Donald Gray, who caught 41 passes for 709 yards and five touchdowns.

Last season at this time, Fitzgerald was in the middle of a four-man competition for the starting quarterback job. Now, he’s the unquestioned starter and gets to concentrate on making himself better instead of worrying about the other quarterbacks.

“Going into this camp, my main goal is focusing on myself and fix what I need to fix to make myself better so we can have a good season,” Fitzgerald said.