Mississippi State football notebook: Bulldogs don pads Sunday to cap first weekend of camp

STARKVILLE — If the Mississippi State football team put on pads for the first time in preseason camp and no one was around to see it, did it still happen?

Such was the case Sunday with the Bulldogs’ third preseason practice moved indoors and closed to the media because of lightning in the area.

With MSU’s first game now less than four weeks away, here are three updates from Bulldogs coaches during the first weekend of camp.

Mele talks special teams

This early in the preseason, incremental improvement is the name of the game for Eric Mele, in his first year at special teams coordinator for Mississippi State.

Mele said he saw what he was looking for Sunday.

“Today was a little bit better than yesterday, which is good,” he said. “We saw more field goals go through the pipes. Snaps were a little sharper; hold, same thing.”

Mele leads a unit featuring a new first-string kicker in Coastal Carolina transfer Massimo Biscardi. The Bulldogs assistant said he’s been impressed by Biscardi’s experience as well as the “good pop on the football” the MSU kicker brings.

“He’s got a compact kicking style, which is nice,” Mele said. “He’s been doing a great job for us so far.”

Northern Colorado transfer Ben Raybon showed off a strong leg during a kickoff drill Saturday, routinely kicking balls out of the end zone on the team’s practice field.

And punter Archer Trafford has been solid — not only at booting the ball away.

“He’s actually looking really good holding the football as well,” Mele said. “It’s something you can add to the repertoire for him. He’s also adding some hangtime to his punts, which is definitely a positive there. Everybody’s continuing every day to just get a little bit better.”

Leach praises one Thomas, pans another

After Friday’s first practice, head coach Mike Leach feted one Thomas in the team’s wide receiver group but was less positive about the other.

Freshman Zavion Thomas, who stood out Friday with one standout catch after another, drew praise from the Bulldogs’ head man.

“He’s been really explosive in the offseason and has done a lot of really good things,” Leach said. “We are going to have to check him out and see if he’s ready to play.”

A four-star prospect by the 247 Sports composite rankings, the Louisiana native is still a freshman and still needs time to mature despite his play so far.

“We’ve got to give him a little time in order to learn things and get comfortable, but he’s explosive and does a lot of good things,” Leach said.

But when it came to Rara Thomas — himself a true freshman just last season — Leach was more critical.

“I thought he was average,” Leach said simply when asked about the sophomore wideout’s first day.

Rara Thomas had a better day Saturday, perhaps building towards the goals Leach outlined to the media the day before.

“He’s got to be the same guy every play,” Leach said. “On his best plays, he’s got to be that guy every time.

“He’s got to keep grinding away. He’s just got to get better. We’ve got other guys who can play too. He’s got to go out there and fight for his job.”

Arnett breaks down secondary

Defensive coordinator Zach Arnett — coaching safeties this season — called cornerback Decamerion Richardson “probably the most consistent worker on the team every day with his approach.”

Apparently Richardson isn’t the only member of the Bulldogs defense with such a mindset.

Arnett compared safety Jalen Green — as well as linebacker Jett Johnson — to Richardson on Saturday.

“He’s another guy like Decam, he shows up with the right approach every day,” Arnett said of Green. “He’ll try to get better at something, and obviously he’s much more comfortable, so there’s less thinking. It allows your natural ability to shine through a little bit.”

That’s good news for Green, who is in his second year in Starkville after transferring from Texas.

But other MSU secondary players are still newer.

Cornerback Marcus Banks transferred in from Alabama, while West Virginia’s Jackie Matthews — whom Leach called “an inordinately fast guy” Friday — received first-team reps for the Bulldogs this weekend.

“He had a really good spring,” Arnett said of Matthews. “He played corner some at West Virginia. He played slot and nickel too. He feels really comfortable in man coverage.”

Matthews could start alongside Green and Collin Duncan at safety, although Shawn Preston Jr., Dylan Lawrence and Corey Ellington aren’t far behind.

“Obviously, we’ve got a lot of work running around and covering routes and where we’re supposed to be in zone coverage,” Arnett said. “We’ve got quite a few guys who have gotten significant reps under their belts; we’re just trying to identify the top six and then within that the top three who deserve to start.”

Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.

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