"I am definitely pleased. We had a number of changes. We had guys playing positions that they had never played before. We had guys playing with techniques that they had never used before. (As an example) upfront, they had been a slant and angle defense. We believe in coming off the ball and taking on blocks. They had been more of a man coverage and all out blitz type defense. I think you have to be able to blitz, but you have to be able to play some zone.
"So, I feel real good right now with the progress that was made during the spring. The guys picked up on the base parts of the scheme. We probably have 60% of it taught to where our guys can execute. We still have another 40% that we have to get in during two-a-days, but I feel good about where we are right now. There was a lot of good work accomplished. I found out a lot of good things about our defensive players this spring. I didn't hear one complaint from our players. I didn't hear one negative thing. We have players who like to practice, who like to play. I really get fired up when I'm around players who like to play."
Did it surprise you, after seeing the talent that you have, that MSU only won three games each season the past two years?
"I hadn't really thought about the record. I looked and saw that they were in some games that were close. I looked to see if there were enough (players) that were good enough to win right now. My evaluation of that is yes there is. We have to stay healthy and play smart. If everything falls into place, there is definitely enough talent in our program to get it turned around right now.
"I actually feel good about it right now. I know that we have a group of guys who love to practice. They love to play and they love to work out. And I think we have good kids because there haven't been any that have caused trouble since I've been here.
You mentioned 60% has been taught. So, during the spring game, the fans watching it didn't really see much of what you will have available during the fall?
"Defensively, we stayed in one defense - one base front - and two coverages the entire game. Besides a couple of short yardage situations, we didn't blitz one time in the spring game. The (total) package has about 15 fronts."
15 fronts? Why did you limit it so much during the spring game?
"It's a new scheme. We didn't want anybody to see it. We want it to be a surprise to the teams we play early in the season. It would have been easy for somebody to have someone (come to the game) to see what we are doing.
"My background has a little of everything in it. (Because of that) there is still an element of surprise going into this first season. When Oregon, or any of our first three opponents, look at us on film and try to find out what we do defensively, they'll have to take a little part of everything. "
You may have held back on your schemes, but you didn't hold back on the hitting during the scrimmage.
"There was a lot of contact. It was a very physical day. You still have to play run and pass. You still have to turn the guys loose even though we played the same front. There may have been a time where I put a rush call on just to give our defensive line a chance to totally rush the passer, and to tell our secondary guys that we think they are going to pass it so drop back into a zone and get ready to hit people."
Since you are a new coach to the program and didn't really know anything about the players, other than what you saw on film, did that cause you to have different objectives than you would have during a normal spring?
"(We had) to teach from scratch. Everything was new to the guys. The NCAA doesn't allow you to meet and go through all the things you need to do preliminarily to get ready for practice. The first day that we met and talked football and drew on the board was the (first) day that we went out.
"You are talking about guys that have to learn what a three-technique is, what a five-technique, what a 30-linebacker is, what a cover-two is. They have not played cover-two here in eight years. It has been all man. Coach Tompkins told me they hadn't really worked on short yardage in several years.
"There were some things that we had to teach, but I was very pleased because the guys picked up on it. I didn't have to teach the coaches techniques and fundamentals. All that I had to teach them were the schemes. I made a few adjustments in verbiage that would help our staff understand because, for the most part, everything was new to everybody here but me.
"After 15 days of putting the scheme in, I feel very good. Now, the guys will learn from the teaching film while looking at it on their own during the summer. Because of that, there is no doubt that we will be ready for the first game."
How will you be able to get them completely ready and able to understand the entire defense by the first game when you still have 40% left that they need to learn and understand?
"When they come in for two-a-days, there is more time because we have them day and night. There are no time restraints. We get 29 practices, so it's like having two spring practices. I already have 60% in and I'm planning to have the rest in.
"Defense is what you pick and choose. We are (already) doing our summer scouting reports for Oregon, Tulane and other teams. I'm going to choose what we need as weapons on defense for our first three games. Then, I going to figure out a way to teach it and install it. We won't carry anything into those first three games that we won't need."
Have you always been known as a strong disciplinarian? I ask that because from day one, you made a strong effort to have strong discipline.
"Last year, there were some times when we got beat because we did something stupid. I am going to try to make sure everyone that I deal with will not do something that will cause us to beat ourselves. I think if you stop the run, don't give up the big plays and don't commit foolish penalties, you can win on defense. That is our philosophy."
Do you feel you have taught your guys that?
"(During the spring game) I can't think of a penalty or a ball going over our head, other than a ball going over (Bernard) Vinsome's head in a three-deep zone. And he had just been moved to cornerback. Other than that, I can't think of any that were big plays.
"If you don't give up those and don't have any foolish penalties and you tackle well, you usually will play solid. I know we have enough talent that can get that done."
If there is something that Ron Cooper is known for among the college football world, what would you say it is?
"I have been known as being sort of hard-nosed. I am tough on athletes. As I have said, I think you win with discipline. I have eased up over the years.
You mentioned discipline. Were you trying to send a message that first day of practice when you stopped a drill to discipline a defensive player who, while standing on the sidelines, said something to an offensive player who had dropped a pass?
"I went to two or three boosters events and everybody gave the same type message about what they saw; our (defensive) players talking and yapping on defense. I don't think you win by running your mouth. You win by hitting people and playing football. I told the defense before they went out (for their first day of practice) that I didn't want any pushing or shoving or any talking. We are not going to run our mouths. It doesn't matter if it's on the field or on the sidelines, we are going to play ball."
You coach the safeties. Talk a little about your impressions of the players that I have listed. [I gave him my three-deep chart.-Gene]
"(Free safety) Darren Williams had a real good spring."
Did you know he was very, very highly recruited coming out of high school?
"Oh yeah, and he has that kind of talent, big-time ability. He is a guy that we will have to continue to develop. I think he is a big-time safety. He will be even better in the fall after he has learned more. I make my safeties my quarterback (on defense), especially the free safety. That may be a little hard for him right now but I've put the pressure on him because I want him to respond.
"(Strong safety) Kevin Dockery, after looking at the spring game this morning, I thought that he played better than he did the other scrimmages. He got better and better each practice.
"I think those two are really special.
"Gabe Wallace got better and better each scrimmage. I got on him some during practice but he really responded.
"Including (juco transfer) Chris Swain, I think all four of them can be in the (two-deep) rotation. I'm not going to be afraid to put any of them in the game."
Tell me a little more about Chris Swain. I was very impressed not only with his physical ability but his leadership ability as well.
"When Swain learns (the system) he is going to be unbelievable. He will hit you. I am very pleased with him right now."
"I think (Brett) Morgan is going to be a super player. As he gets stronger, he will get faster. He is smart and will hit you. I look for him to play on special teams and play a role.
"Those five are the ones that finished spring ready to go. We have to get all of those guys to what I call Black Jersey potential, meaning, when we put a guy in a black jersey, we know that he is at the top of his game. T.J. (Mawhinney) and Odell (Bradley) have earned those." [Both wore black jerseys in practice.-Gene]
Thanks for your time, Coach.
Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. The URL for Gene's Page is http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com. You can contact him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.