Linebacker Coach Jim Tompkins

[Premium Article] MSU linebacker coach Jim Tompkins sat down with Gene's Page to review how spring practice went.

What were your objectives this past spring?
"Because we are playing a little different style defense, we wanted to get situated with our Drop linebackers, our Mike linebackers and what we call our Will linebackers. We wanted to get the two-deep set going into the fall. We worked the guys around at different positions trying to get everything to fall into place."

Talk about your players at Drop linebacker.
"We have Jason Clark (Sr., 6-1, 240) at the Drop. Jason is one of the better players on our team. At this position, he will be playing both up and off the line. We feel like he will be better if he can lose a few pounds this summer. He has to get a little quicker if he is going to be playing this position because he is going to be playing in space more. He has good strength which will help him when going up against the tight end.

"Backing Jason up will be Clarence McDougal (So., 6-1, 215). We didn't really know much about Clarence at the start of spring because he had been a defensive back. Of course, he had been injured and hadn't been able to do much for us. He worked in the winter program and we saw that he had made some progress. But to be honest, I was surprised at the progress that he had made.

"In high school, Clarence was one of the best players in the state of Mississippi his senior year. His injury really took away one of the things that was very important to him in his life, football. I'll say this; Clarence has made remarkable strides in overcoming that injury. And he has really come a long way in playing this position. He's got a look in his eye and he will really hit you. In fact, he had a really nice hit on the first play of the spring game. We really feel good about him. I'm really proud of Clarence. Right now, I can see him playing some at this spot and playing on special teams."

That's the two deep for the Drop linebacker. Talk about your middle linebackers.
"We started T.J. Mawhinney (Sr., 6-1, 235) on the side early but moved him back in the middle. That's where I thought he should be because he is a very good fit at middle linebacker. T.J. had a great spring. He looks like he is a great fit for what we are doing. He is a very good player. I'm expecting him to have a great senior season."

He was one of the few defensive players who earned a special honor from Coach Cooper, the black shirt.
"He is one of the guys that we gave a black shirt to because of his (spring) performance and learning what he had to do to play that position. And it wasn't just for doing it every now and then, but doing it everyday.

"We moved Kenny Kern (So., 5-11, 230) from outside to inside. Kenny can really run. He's got good eyes and is a pure linebacker. And he likes to make tackles. He is going to make plays for us. I can see Kenny Kern being a very good player at this position. I can see him playing at that position and on the kicking teams. He wil be a very important part of our defense. He is also the personal protector on the punt team.

"Brandon Downing (So., 6-0, 241) is also a middle linebacker. He hurt his knee in the spring game, but he's had surgery and should be fine. Brandon is the kind of player who you wish ran better than he does. But, when he gets out there, he always makes plays. There is not any problem with his toughness or hitting. He is a good contact player. He just wants to get faster and he is working on that."

Who are the guys that you have at the Will linebacker?
"We have Marvin Byrdsong (So., 6-2, 240) at the Will linebacker. We played Byrd in the middle and out wide some. Because he is a guy that is rangy and can run and chase you down, he is going to be a natural at that spot. I really think that Byrd will get better each week during the fall. We are really looking forward to him having a really good year.

"Behind him is a guy that we had in the secondary, Rico Bennett (So., 6-0, 202). Rico had been a big strong safety. Because this particular position has to play in space some, if you could get a big defensive back that can play this position, then that is what you want. Rico's had to make the adjustment from playing defensive back to playing linebacker and that has taken some time, but he made a lot of progress. He will tackle you. And he can tackle in the open field. I feel pretty good about him."

Talk about a few of your other linebackers.
"Tarus Morgan (Jr., 6-0, 249) is another guy who had worked at all of the linebacker spots. He ended up playing at the Drop position in the spring game and played well. He can play any of the positions but, more than likely, will play at Drop.

"Cody Upton (Jr., 6-1, 240) is a junior college guy who walked on. He gets your attention because when he gets out there in the scrimmage, he makes tackles. In one scrimmage, in particular, he had three real good tackles at middle linebacker. I'm glad we have him. We'll have a place for him in the kicking teams and at Mike linebacker."

Thanks, Coach Tompkins.

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 You can contact him by emailing

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