The Coach's Corner with Mississippi St.'s Dan Mullen

Mississippi State looks to build on the momentum of a 9-4 campaign and a thorough beating of Michigan in the Gator Bowl when Dan Mullen and the Bulldogs kick off spring practice on Thursday in Starkville.

As he enters his third season as head coach, Mullen has the Mississippi State program trending in the right direction and primed to become an upper-echelon program in the SEC. After a 5–7 debut campaign, the former Florida offensive coordinator recorded nine victories in 2010 — including wins over Florida and Georgia and the season-capping win over the Wolverines on New Year's Day. Perhaps most importantly for die-hard fans, the Bulldogs are 2-0 against rival Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl under Mullen's leadership.

Dan MullenICONDan Mullen enjoyed a 9-4 mark in his second season in Starkville.

With dual-threat quarterback Chris Relf continuing to improve as a passer and a rushing attack paced by Vick Ballard and LaDarius Perkins, the Bulldogs hope to light up the scoreboard on Saturday afternoons. One thing to keep an eye on during spring ball is whether the rising senior Relf will be able to establish a chemistry with the team's young corps of receivers, a group that will have to step up by the time fall rolls around. The Bulldogs redshirted several receivers last season they hope can make an impact in the fall, including Malcolm Johnson, Robert Johnson and Jameon Lewis.

Defensively, Manny Diaz is no longer the coordinator after taking the same post under Mack Brown at Texas. However, co-defensive coordinator Chris Wilson now assumes the lead role while Geoff Collins was brought in to assist him and also serve as linebackers coach. How will the staff replace star defensive end Pernell McPhee as well as all three starting linebackers, including Chris White and K.J. Wright?

Mullen and his staff will begin to get answers to all of their questions during spring practice, which culminates with the spring game on April 9 before one final practice on April 11. The National Football Post had a chance to speak with the Bulldogs head coach via telephone on Wednesday to talk about a variety of topics, including the state of his team, life in the SEC, Cam Newton's potential as a pro prospect and whether or not Tim Tebow has a mean bone in his body.

Editor's note: Mississippi State was scheduled to open spring practice on Friday, but Mullen moved up the start of camp to Thursday because of incoming inclement weather. In the podcast, I referred to the start of spring drills being on Friday.

Email dave.miller@nationalfootballpost.com or follow me on Twitter at Miller_Dave

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