As often happens with this particular coach, I have found that David Turner is far better at explaining things and sharing information than I could hope to be. Mississippi State’s defensive line coach is regularly among the best quotes on the staff, exhibited again this week when he broke down his position group for reporters in the middle of fall camp.
Two players earned praise from Turner, a coach who is not one to often dole out such things in the media, and both times it seemed to be the most glowing review he’s given them. It went to the pair of defensive tackles Chris Jones and Nick James. They may be the most naturally talented players on the line, so to see those two making strides bodes well for the overall success of the group.
Turner also mentioned that things are getting easier and more natural for junior defensive end Jonathan Calvin. He’s one I fully believe will have a big role in the rotation this year and seems a likely candidate to take the No. 3 spot A.J. Jefferson occupied last year.
Speaking of Jefferson, Turner also said it’s possible they could move him inside on an occasional or even regular basis. MSU had a lot of success doing similar things with Preston Smith last year, and that option speaks to Turner’s confidence in the rest of the defensive ends.
Question: How has camp been so far?
Answer: I think A.J. Jefferson and Ryan Brown have kind of been the leaders of the group. Those guys have led every day through their work ethic, the way they have attacked practice. The young guys have kind of followed. I say young guys, but it’s kind of a unique group. I’ve got one senior and seven juniors, and the rest of them are freshmen. There’s a little bit of a gap there, but the guys have been working extremely hard.
Chris Jones has worked harder than he’s worked the two previous years, which is good. I’m pleased with the way camp has gone thus far.
Q: Junior defensive end Will Coleman, who redshirted last year after coming from junior college, said the year off helped him. What changes have you seen from him?
A: I don’t think there’s any question it changed him. No. 1, I don’t think last year he’d have been ready to play mentally or physically, so things kind of have a way of working themselves out. He’s a whole lot more confident now. He’s stronger. Having been in the program a year, not played, but been in the defense, he’s a whole lot more knowledgeable. He’s not thinking now, which means he’s playing faster. I’ve really been pleased. It started about the last week, week and a half of spring ball and has continued through fall camp.
Q: After losing a lot of players from last year’s team, how do you feel about the depth in 2014?
A: We did lose a lot, but every year each team changes. We’ve got numbers, we do have that. Some of the young guys, the redshirt freshmen, have got to step up. Cory Thomas, he’s had some good and bad days. Braxton Hoyett, he’s had some good and bad days. Those guys have got to step up. Hopefully we get a chance to play them early and get their feet wet. I think, by the middle of the season, they’ll be really solid guys, really solid backups. Somebody’s going to have to step up, there’s no question about it. I don’t know if we’ll be, up front, as deep as we were last year, but we’ve still got to be able to roll two-deep at least, maybe two and a half.
Q: How are juniors Nelson Adams and Nick James handling the competition for the other starting tackle spot?
A: Nelson is coming along. He’s still probably not as physical as I want him to be, but he’s getting better. Nick James has made tremendous strides. He’s by no means a finished product, but he’s moving in the right direction, which it’s his time. If you look at it realistically now, he’s a redshirt junior, so this is his time. Usually by their redshirt junior year, those guys start to figure it out. He’s coming along, I’ve been pleased with him. Just got to keep him focused each day. Just take it one day at a time with Nick. I pick at him. I say hey, just hold it in the road today and stay focused. So far, he’s done that.
Q: You mentioned that A.J. Jefferson has been a leader. What has he done in practice to show that?
A: A.J. loves football. It’s obvious by the way he attacks it. Every day is the same: he works hard, he gets better. A.J., I laugh with him. He’s kind of sneaky good. Last year, during the start of the season, he was doing things, and I was like, wow, that’s A.J. People remember Preston, but A.J. did some really good things last year. I think it started about midway during the season, he started to figure it out. He works at it. A.J. is a hard worker, as is Ryan Brown. Those guys kind of feed off each other and they’ve been good for the group.
Q: You said Chris Jones is working very hard. What’s brought that about?
A: I’m not sure, you’d probably have to ask him. I think he’s a little more mature. I think he’s a little more focused. I think he knows what he wants. I think he was kind of embarrassed by his sophomore year last year and that what we saw last year was not the real Chris. I think all those things have played a factor in his development, his push, his desire this fall. It’s his time. He’s a true junior, everybody knows he’s talented, but he’s gotta have the work ethic, put the time off the field into the game and work on his craft when he’s out there. That’s what I see him doing now.
Q: What have your impressions been of the true freshmen?
A: Well, we’re just trying to keep them here. All of the sudden, they get here, and it ain’t recruiting anymore. You get out there at The Farm and it’s 100 degrees, all of the sudden, they say, man, I don’t know about this college football. But they’re doing well. All jokes aside, it’s a good group. Keith Joseph has been a pleasant surprise. Anfernee Mullins is a guy that’s from Aliceville, Alabama, but he’s kind of like a typical Mississippi kid, country kid. He’s got a long ways to go, but he’ll develop. Kendell Jones has done some good things. Then, obviously, Fletcher Adams. He’s got a motor. It’s a good mixture of guys and I’m really pleased with them. I think, before it’s all said and done, they’ll have really good years here.
Q: What have you seen in junior college transfer defensive end Jonathan Calvin?
A: It’s been like Will Coleman, in a sense, that I think spring, he kind of learned what to do. He was feeling his way around. Now, he’s a whole lot more comfortable. He talks a lot more. It’s tough for a junior college guy to come in in January and all the sudden they’re thrown in the middle of everything, don’t know anybody, then it’s spring ball. He’s comfortable now around all the guys. He’s laughing and joking. He’s not a guy that talks a whole lot, but he’s more comfortable and it’s allowed him to play faster, he knows, he studies. He spends a lot of time studying. He knows football is important to him. That’s allowed him to play faster. He’s got a lot of natural pop. He’s a strong kid. He’s got a lot of natural pop and I think he’s going to be a good addition to him at end.