Mullen mum about who starting quarterback will be

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 27, 2009

JACKSON (AP) — Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen isn’t giving any hints.

Any helpful hints, at least, about who will be the Bulldogs’ starting quarterback when the season starts Sept. 5 against Jackson State.

Go ahead and ask him when he’s going to make an announcement — Tyson Lee or Chris Relf. Monday? A couple days out? Nope.

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‘‘We probably would announce our starter the first play of the first game,’’ he said.

To him, in fact, the question that consumes an awful lot of conversations with the season less than two weeks away is ‘‘an irrelevant deal.’’

It’s not the player that matters, it’s the play when it comes to settling on a starter for the former Florida offensive coordinator. And he won’t be able to fill in the lead role until he writes the script.

‘‘I don’t know what we’re going to run on the first play of the game yet, but that will probably determine who the starter is,’’ the coach said.

Mullen’s discussions about his quarterbacks are a lot like his spread offense. They’re all about misdirection and matchups.

He has declared the race even and doesn’t give a lot of details beyond that. Practices and scrimmages have been closed since an open week to start preseason practice.

We already know a few things.

Lee, the 5-foot-10 senior from Columbus, is a gutsy leader who overcame physical disadvantages last season with brains and heart. Relf, a 6-foot-3, 230-pound redshirt sophomore from Montgomery, Ala., snugly fits the mold of the prototypical spread offense quarterback.

One seems suited to lead the passing game and take the lead in pressure-packed situations, the other seems poised to be a double threat, especially near the goal line.

Left tackle Derek Sherrod breaks it down this way: ‘‘Tyson Lee, he’s obviously one of the greatest leaders on the team. You know he demands everything on the field and has a very good presence about him. And Chris Relf, he’s coming in strong, he’s learning this offense very well and he’s an ideal type of quarterback for this offense.’’

Mullen intends to play both and shows uncommon comfort with that decision. Over the years reams have been written about quarterback controversies and the need to develop a single leader. Most coaches want the sure thing, the safety of the uncluttered depth chart.

Mississippi State’s new coach doesn’t mind mixing it up. And along the way he’s keeping defensive coordinators in the dark — along with his own players.

‘‘I really don’t know right now,’’ Relf said when asked if he thought he would be the starter. ‘‘The coaches really haven’t told me nothing. I just go out there and do what I do and whatever happens just happens.’’

And who knows, it could very well be Relf who lines up under center the first Saturday in September.

Even the strictest of game plans has to have some give in it. Take the time Florida blocked an opponent’s punt on the opening drive. Mullen sent the goal-line offense on the field.

‘‘None of the receivers started so everybody made a big deal — ’Oh, my goodness, so and so didn’t start,’’’ Mullen said.

‘‘I don’t feel like that’s very important. There are a lot of plays in the game that make a difference.’’