Quotables: Players and coaches offer observations on practice

You’ve heard from me after the first split-squad practice, and one of two opportunities to see the team practice live, but for those who didn’t find my musings and reactions informative, we’ve got something better: people who actually know football.

It was a bit of a harried scene next to the cold tubs after practice as we scrambled to catch up with players and coaches, but we managed to get some good thoughts from Mississippi State’s stars, the highlights of which we’ll share here.

Rather than take up space on the interwebs with bad jokes in between quotes, we’ll do this in a Q&A-type format, which should be nice and palatable, easy to read.

We’ll start with 6’5” redshirt freshman receiver Joe Morrow, who started a little slow but had several good catches over the course of the morning, including a touchdown catch off a deflection from Chad Bumphis.

Joe Morrow runs down the field guarded by Darius Slay

“I dropped a couple passes at first,” Morrow said. “But that’s just concentration. If we all concentrate, Tyler puts the ball where it needs to be. That’s why I’m at the position, I need to play.”

Was it nerves at first?

“Nah, I wasn’t really too worried about,” Morrow said. “I got all my jitters out in the spring game. I just go out there and play.”

What happened on that touchdown deflection?  Did you do that on purpose?

“I don’t know what happened,” Morrow said. “I just turned my head and the ball was right there. The first thing that popped in my head was, ‘Catch.’ So I jumped under it and it fell in my hands.”

How’d all those young cornerbacks look?

“All the young guys coming in, they’re still getting used to the system and everything, but they’re very athletic. All of them are athletic. Once they get used to the system, they’re gonna cause some trouble for the receivers.”

Are you ready to put the pads on next week?

“Too excited,” Morrow said. “I’m ready for it. You really can’t do what you want without pads because you can’t get that physical. Once the pads are on, it’s full-go.”

Next up, some words from senior defensive tackle Josh Boyd.

It’s hard to gauge linemen without pads on, but how do you think y’all did?

“You know, it’s more of a working edges type deal, you can’t do a lot of bull-rushing,” Boyd said. “It’s just working on our fundamentals. I think we’re doing great, but it’ll be better when we get our pads on.”

How do the new guys like freshman tackle Quay Evans and junior end Denico Autry look?

“They’re coming along good. They’ve got a lot of productivity. I think both of them will play this year and help our d-line a lot.”

Freshman defensive tackle Nick James almost makes you look small.

Nick James, mammoth

“Yeah, he’s a real big guy, real athletic guy,” Boyd said. “I think he’s gonna be a great help for us this year.”

What does it take for these young guys to get ready for the SEC?

“It’s just playing hard every snap and you’ve got to buy into what Coach Wilson is teaching us,” Boyd said. “We have more different techniques than most people, so it’s a lot of work. You just have to buy into his technique and it’ll be alright.”

For another leader on defense, I chatted for a minute with senior linebacker Cam Lawrence.

How was practice, Cam? You guys looked pretty good.

“Defense was stout. The young guys really jump out to me, especially the cornerbacks. A bunch of young, raw, athletic kids. It’s just all over the field, athletes. Now, it’s just a matter of teaching them technique and it’s gonna be exciting.”

Was the defense better, or just ahead because it’s early?

“I’m sure the offense hadn’t installed all their plays, but we haven’t installed all of our stuff. The first day, we’re executing well, threw a little rust off. I felt like we picked up right where we left off at the end of spring ball.”

Richie Brown

How did freshmen linebackers Richie Brown and Beniquez Brown look?

“Just young, raw talent,” Lawrence said. “They’re actually smart, they know football. Football makes sense to them. Being a linebacker, they’ve gotta have a good head on their shoulders.”

Redshirt freshman linebacker Benardrick McKinney made some big plays.

“He did, he stepped up at the mike position, which is a big position for us. Making all the checks, all the right calls, he had a pick today, just making plays.”

Next up is one of my favorite coaches to talk to, offensive coordinator Les Koenning.

So, Les, freshman walk-on quarterback Jamil Golden looked pretty comfortable out there.

“We bring them in, we meet with them before practice and take them out there,” Koenning said. “He got a snap, he executed a play, he did a really good job. For a young freshman to come in there and never been around our system and pick it up, and understand the checks and go through the things, it was impressive to me for a good first day. Believe me, nobody is in the Hall of Fame here. We’re going through it, we’re in a learning process and we’ll make evaluations as it goes on.”

How do you think Morrow did out there?

“Joe is learning. Coach Angelo is doing a good job with him, bringing him along. He’s learning. The thing about Joe is he’s been really, really good or really, really bad. He needs to get that consistency, that’s all he needs to do. Sometimes he’s not exactly in the right spot, but then when he is in the right spot he makes the good catches and he makes plays. That’s the learning process for him. And I think he’ll tell us when he’s ready to play.”

Did tight end Marcus Green appear to be in good shape after missing the spring?

“Marcus went well, I’m really proud of Marcus. I’ve been teasing Marcus a little bit so I’ve had a good time with him. It’s really good to see him back, it really is.”

You had LaDarius Perkins and Josh Robinson out there this morning, what’s the competition like at running back?

“The competition is really heavy now because any of those four tailbacks could be a starter based on how they do out [on the field]. They all have the abilities to make big plays.”

Is Perkins the leader of the group?

“He’s just so much smarter so he is like having another coach out there,” Koenning said. “Not only is he smarter, he has conditioned himself to get through a tough practice.”

Perkins himself said it’s a deep group, and one he’s tried to take charge of.

“I mean, it’s more competition,” Perkins said. “Them guys push me every day, I helped them a lot this past summer. I was being more of a leader the whole summer and I helped them get in shape and everything. We came out and did extra things like catch the ball. So I feel like we’re going to come out pretty good this year.”

Robinson came out with some pretty strong words on his position. The youngster certainly isn’t lacking for confidence.

Josh Robinson

“We all feel like we got a stable in that meeting room that nobody else has in the country,” the redshirt freshman said. “We got four great running backs that we can put into any situation and they got different skills for a different situation. We got no competition where we beat each other out but it’s just about dedicating our strengths and weaknesses to the team.”

“As long as we play our roles right, you are going to see an awesome team. We are going to have that shock the world grind this year.”

Robinson’s confidence, it turns out, extends to the other side of the ball, too.

“Our defense is great,” Robinson said. “We should stop Alabama, LSU or anybody we play. We are the top defense they are going to play. When they play Mississippi State, they’re going to know we were there. Just competing against our defense will make our offense better including our four running backs.”

Defensive coordinator Chris Wilson, while not quite as wooly as Robinson, felt good about his unit.

“I think we’ve got a talented group that has a lot of work to do,” Wilson said. “There’s an upgrade in our skill guys with youth. We have guys that can play zone and man. That right there is completely different than we have had in the past. We got depth, more talented guys with depth and that’s the thing that stands out the most.”

Cedric Jiles catches a ball while Will Redmond watches

Wilson also had some praise for freshman cornerback Cedric Jiles, who had several big plays.

“Good young player,” Wilson said. “Young guy who has some great ball skills and can run. When you can run, you are usually pretty confident. The biggest thing is getting him some knowledge. The more knowledge they get, the more comfortable they get.”

Co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Geoff Collins saw some good things, as well.

In particular, Collins made notice of redshirt freshman linebacker Benardrick McKinney.

“He’s awesome,” Collins said. “He’s 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, can run. He’s highly intelligent, and the biggest thing about him is he’s a leader. He’s got an infectious personality, and he just kind of takes charge. You just see him during practice, the more he’s comfortable, the more he’s stepping up and picking up where Brandon Wilson left off.”

Who else looked good, coach?

“Christian Holmes had a great practice [Thursday], just the development that he’s made over the summer was really, really impressive to me. Cam’s stepped up where he left off, and Benardrick’s doing really good.”

With McKinney and Ferlando Bohanna as young guys in the middle, how much does it help to have Deontae Skinner and Lawrence on the outside spots?

“It’s huge. You have the second-leading tackler in the SEC at one side. You have a kid, Deontae Skinner, that the last six games of the year was arguably one of the most dynamic players in the league. So that just takes the pressure off a kid like Benardrick or Ferlando, so that they know when a call’s not being made, Cam or Deontae can do it, or Matt Wells and Chris Hughes or whoever can do it.”

Do you think Skinner could be poised for a breakout year?

“I would hope so,” Collins said. “I treat him and prepare him like he’s going to be an All-SEC player, an All-American, and that should be his goal. That should be all of their goals, is to reach those kind of standards.”

We also got some info from junior college All-American pass rusher Denico Autry, who got to campus in January.

“I’m still doing my thing out there, but I just have stuff that I need to learn before I’m out there with nothing to worry about in my head. It’s a process and I’d say I’m about 80 percent there, but right now is about just trying to make sure I get some confidence in what my role is.”

We also got an update from injured right guard Tobias Smith, who said he’s “114 percent,” but did not participate in team drills this morning.

“I’m limited in some things, but when it comes time to get back in the full swing of things, they’ll have me ready to go before it’s time,” Smith said.

We’ll be back tonight with plenty more after the 7 p.m. practice with the other half of the team.

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