Half of Mississippi State’s open football practices remain as the Bulldogs prepare for the Liberty Bowl, including a scrimmage in Davis Wade Stadium Tuesday, but a few have already begun to stand out and earn notice.
One of my favorites is Chris Jones smiling and laughing Sunday night after running extra after practice for “loafing a little bit,” he said. As steam poured off his body in the 30-degree night, he told the assembled reporters that it was just part of football and understands why his coach David Turner makes him work so hard.
I was actually watching Turner and Jones talk after the up-downs and sprints and couldn’t help thinking it seemed obvious why Turner is so tough on him – because Jones is so good. Turner knows what the combination of size, strength, agility and drive can mean for Jones. Millions of dollars and an NFL career, not to mention endorsements with the smile and charisma of his, are the ceiling, though it’s certainly not a guarantee any of that happens.
Jones has been named to several Freshman All-American teams and was considered one of the top recruits in the country when he signed with MSU less than a year ago. Out of curiosity, I compared his first-year stats to those of someone else held in similar (though greater) regard as a freshman – Jadeveon Clowney.
Keep in mind, Clowney played mostly defensive end, while Jones played mostly defensive tackle, so the pass-rushing opportunities were a bit more frequent for Clowney.
That said, here are the key stats for each in the regular seasons of their freshman seasons, purposely not counting Clowney’s superb bowl game performance as Jones has not yet played in his.
Clowney: 32 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, six sacks, six quarterback hurries and one pass break-up.
Jones: 31 tackles, seven tackles for loss, three sacks, 10 quarterback hurries and three pass break-ups.
Again, it’s not exactly apples-to-apples, but it’s at least a little bit interesting seeing how favorably Jones’ first year compared to the one that earned Clowney so much hype.
Elsewhere in practice for MSU, there are a few positional changes to note, most of which are being received well.
My two favorites are freshman Gabe Myles switching from cornerback to receiver and junior Justin Cox switching from corner to safety. Neither are guaranteed to stick, but both seem to play to the strengths of each.
Myles – called Gabe Football by his team after playing Johnny Manziel on the scout team this year – was a quarterback in high school and qualifies for “athlete” moniker, someone who can do most anything. He seems to be adjusting well and made one particularly nice diving catch over the weekend.
Cox played safety in junior college before coming to MSU and defensive coordinator Geoff Collins mentioned his natural size, speed and length when asked about the switch. He certainly seems more natural at safety than corner, though it remains to be seen if the change sticks.
Elsewhere, junior safety Dee Arrington has been working with the linebackers, something he has done before, while freshman receiver BJ Hammond has been working with the tight ends.
Oh, and there’s a new quarterback in town. Nick Fitzgerald was still in high school last week, but on Saturday he was practicing as the No. 2 quarterback for an SEC team. Ferris Bueller was right. Life moves pretty fast.
Not to get ahead of myself here, but Fitzgerald certainly looks the part. He’s a better passer than many expected him to be, especially for having just arrived, and his ability to run the ball is obvious with his big frame.
I’ll have more from practices in the way of observations, especially with more open practices remaining, between now and Friday.
In the meantime, a few players who have stood out for one reason or another:
Freshman cornerback Will Redmond.
Junior linebacker Christian Holmes.
Freshman running back Ashton Shumpert.