Josh Boyd Stepping Over And Stepping Up

It's just one step over to the side. To either side for that matter. Funny though, how such a short and simple move could open so much up for Josh Boyd. "It's a little new, it's more open than what I'm used to at nose," he said of shifting to a true tackle's position. "But I like it, and I'm trying to adjust to it."

Any adjustment oughtn't take long. Given his proven performance right in the middle of Mississippi State's defensive line these past three years, everyone expects Boyd to thrive this senior season playing in the three-technique position. The place previously played, not coincidentally at all, by Boyd's departing teammate and classmate Fletcher Cox.

"They moved me to three, to Fletcher's old position," said Boyd. "So I play a three-technique now. But I still play a little bit of nose."

A little bit, sure. Defensive coordinator and line coach Chris Wilson isn't letting his all-conference candidate on the interior line get too far off the ball, after all. Check Tuesday's practice report for the role he will fill, literally, when the Bulldogs go into a couple of package sets. Still as Mississippi State revises the pieces in spring places for 2012's base defense it is big Boyd taking first dibs on the tackle's position. The one lined up either left or right of center, with first shot at causing chaos in the offense's ideas.

Not that Boyd wasn't a disruptive Dog in his former set-ups. Last fall he collected 51 total tackles, eight of them for losses and 4.5 officially sacks of quarterbacks with two more hurries. A fine year for any interior lineman in any scheme, all the more so because cohort Cox was getting 56 tackles of his own with 5.0 sacks and 14.5 stops for losses.

Oh, yes, he has. Boyd has looked at those combined numbers of the two tackles, and figured a goodly portion of Cox's statistics ought to fall into his column in 2012. "Pretty much! But I felt I had a better opportunity to keep playing if I came back."

Right, returning for a senior season when Boyd considered his potential for playing professionally in 2012. Cox did too and he declared for the NFL a year early. Boyd spent two weeks after the Music City Bowl trip weighing his own options.

"Coming back was a tough decision. But I felt like coming back would be the best, the best for me. I talked to my family and I talked to my coaches I felt it was the best I could do so I decided to come back."

Thus here he is this April, banging helmets with the Bulldog offense one more spring. There's more to it this time around though, as the elder Dog on the defensive line finds himself banging a few heads (metaphorically mostly) with younger teammates. Boyd understood that by coming back in 2012 he would not only have the chance to adjust his position.

He would accept the responsibility of setting a tone for everyone on the front. On the whole defense in fact. So far, Coach Wilson said, so good.

"I've seen Josh step up as a leader. He had the same option Fletcher had, he chose to come back, and I'm excited about the opportunity he has. He's really stepping up."

Yes, Boyd said, the boss is counting on him this senior spring. "He does. He tells me I have to be a leader because I've been here, I've been a starter for two, three years. So he leans on me a lot to be a leader on the field and help the guys out.

"The transition to here from high school is rough, and there's still some of the younger guys still trying to get their feet on the ground. So I pride myself on being a leader and trying to help them out."

It helps, of course, having younger guys who want to fit into Mississippi State's way of line-life. Not to mention possessing the talents to become SEC players on their own individual schedules. Boyd might have been an instant regular as a true freshman back in 2009, as much out of necessity as his own abilities. He might envy the juniors, sophs, redshirts, etc., who are being allowed to develop at a more organized pace. Or, to jump right in as did true '11 frosh P.J. Jones and Preston Smith. If someone is able to help immediately he will be given the chance by this coaching staff.

Boyd, though, points out there is a difference in playing immediately and understanding what the job is really about.

"Because I know it took me a while even though I was playing my whole freshman year. I still had to get used to it. But they're getting better. And we're going to keep getting better and better so we can be ready for the season."

As for reshuffling the front, soph Curtis Virges has moved into Boyd's former spot over the ball on the first unit with senior Dwayne Cherrington second-team. Boyd is backed by and in some early-camp practices alternating with the precocious Jones. "P.J. is going to be good, he's a real physical guy and he learns quick. So he'll be good." The older Jones, Devin, is Mr. Reliable in the rotation.

Then there is the newest kid, the early-enrolling freshman Quay Evans. Coach Wilson is pacing this pup's development carefully but already in contact work Evans has taken turns with the second and third teams and soon enough will alternate on the ones.

"Quay is going to be good," Boyd said. "He has a lot of learning to do coming from high school. He's pretty young but once he matures a little bit he's going to be good, too." And while defensive end is not Boyd's area of expertise, that juco transfer has caught his eye already. "I think Denico Autry is going to be a real good player. He's still getting used to this, juco is still a little different from this and he's trying to get used to it. but once he gets everything I think he's going to be a real great player. There's a lot of things he can do that certain people can't do."

For that matter, not everyone can be an all-around leader. Making plays is part of it, setting a theme in squad meetings another, and of course there is the off-season consistency in workouts and classrooms and so on. Few get this opportunity and fewer are up to the responsibility. Boyd welcomes it all, even if it means changing something.

His talk, specifically. Boyd needs to have first, last, and best word in this '12 huddle, and that is an adjustment.

"I mean, I'm getting used to it! Because you know, I've never been a real vocal leader. So I have to step up just to help these guys out." Now it needs noting that even had Boyd been a verbal type, getting a word in around Cox was no easy matter. And for the record Cox always insisted he also had the better jokes and was the best singer on the line, too.

Boyd? "Yeah, I was the quiet one! Now I have to be a vocal leader. I embrace it. Because I was a pretty good player last year when me and Fletcher were together. So now I've kind of got to step up and be a role model for these guys. I try my best to encourage them and keep them going."

Losing Cox and senior Sean Ferguson do mean some rebuilding is necessary this spring. But Boyd likes the veterans on the '12 roster, and is impressed by the redshirts and newcomers. And hey, about the way the Bulldog offense has been setting the pace in spring so far…the defense as a whole and the linemen in particular are eager to re-establish themselves as camp contact work heats up.

Boyd said the first two weeks, with five practices, were about knocking off rust and getting newer linemen up to scheme-speed. "Before we just really light it up out there," he explained. That's a warning for the offensive teammates to not talk too proudly. Or, for fall opponents to take the Bulldog defensive line lightly either.

"I feel like we're going to take a step up. Because we've still got real talented guys who have been here and played, and they're going to get better. So I believe we're going to step up and be even better."

Coach Dan Mullen will have his team practicing again Thursday in what he calls a ‘light' afternoon's work, before a serious session of scrimmaging Friday.


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