Autry, Dog Defense Eager For Pads Practices

Just because their offensive counterparts are already throwing some new and interesting looks, not to mention a whole lot of passes, there way doesn't mean the Bulldog defense is out on the practice field as non-tackling dummies. Not according to Denico Autry. "Oh yeah, we've got tricks for tricks!"

Which probably means starting next week, when Mississippi State turns the troops loose to make some genuine contact, practices will have more treats for observers. Where reports from Saturday's session (see filed story) emphasized some adjustments and expansions on the offense, Tuesday is when the guys in white uniforms intend to offer a reality check of sorts.

That's the plan anyway, per Autry. The senior defensive tackle will give fellow Dogs their due from the first, fresh looks at how the offense wants to operate.

"We had a couple of mistakes on the first day of practice. But we came back and executed everything we needed to make up. And we did." Which sounds as if some sort of balance is being restored already.

Then again, no Dog defender is content until the scales are tilted—no make that turned entirely—their direction. Which gets back to the ‘tricks for tricks' Autry referred to. He explained it was about the defense in general but the front-foursome in particular.

"It means we're versatile. We've got three-techniques that can play end, we've got ends that can play defensive tackle, the nose can play three. It's just moving around."

Not a lot of that was shown in the first two sessions, understand, as coordinator Geoff Collins and new line coach David Turner kept things fairly basic as far as alignments. Up to now the ends and tackles have stayed pretty well put when going 11-on-11. The lineups? Those are already shuffling as Coach Dan Mullen follows his stated pre-spring policy of mixing and matching starters, alternates, backups, even some reserves here in the early days of camp. The goal, obviously, being to have real practice tape to show the personnel as well as for individual evaluations.

But don't worry. The tricks will show soon enough. So far, "Just play with effort," said Autry. "That's all he wants us to do."

He, being Turner, the former Bulldog assistant now returned after three seasons at Kentucky to work for Mullen again. Turner picked an excellent spring for this comeback, too, with a well-stocked roster of big Dogs to practice. While officially the chart will show two losses up front in Josh Boyd and Shane McCardell, the 2013 fact is Turner can put an all-veteran group on the practice field for the first team and even the second if he must.

But what do those Dogs think of their new boss whom they only met less than two months ago? "Oh, he's a great guy. A great guy," Autry said. "And a great coach." This isn't just a case of a kid trying to score points with the new guy either. Autry has meshed immediately with Turner and his tendencies. Not that the changes from Chris Wilson are radical, he said.

"Just a little bit more technique-wise, breaking it down, stuff like that. It's just a different style, that's what it is."

Besides, Turner knows a good ballplayer at first sight; and last year in Lexington he got an eye-full of Autry. So the line coach is delighted with a proven performer on the end of State's line. As a junior transfer Autry compiled 42 tackles, 9.5 of them for losses with four sacks. He forced a couple of fumbles and in the Gator Bowl caught a carom for his first college interception.

A good year, sure. A great year? That is Autry's senior ambition, and as the entire defensive line develops he ought to obtain more play-making opportunities off the end. But only if he has prepared completely, he agrees.

"I've got to work on preparation, on watching more film, technique-wise, you know. The whole nine, just trying to better all around."

Autry is typical of Mullen's junior college recruits. He was a December signee and spring semester enrollee, so he's been through one of these spring cycles before. Mullen likes to talk about expecting immediate impact from his jucos and in general they have produced. But, the best benefits ought to come when they do the spring thing a second time-around. Autry is now taking everything he learned a year ago this time, his hands-on fall season experience, and applying it to this camp.

"Oh, I feel a lot better. I know what to look for now. It's just taking leadership and doing my thing." Right, leadership. It sounds so obvious for seniors to be team tone-setters to fans. Inside the locker room? That is no place for fakers because players know the real thing. So Autry is not counting on his statistics and reputation to earn authority. He means to set the example.

Nor, he said, does he plan to carry this load alone. "Every team needs a leaders. And we've got a couple on our team that are willing to take that job and run with it."

Speaking of running… Autry doesn't lack mobility as 2012 showed. Now however he is picking up the pace even more. For one thing, he said the official roster listing of 265 pounds, or ten more than he was shown at last fall, isn't correct any more.

"I'm 260, I've trimmed down!" he said. Yet up-close he looks to be packing interior tackle pounds on the 6-6 frame. "I'm stronger, faster. I'm ready for, whatever," said Autry.

Not that it takes much to guess what ‘whatever' means. Especially for a maroon offense that's had a relatively smooth start to spring. Autry doesn't mind developing some confidence in the scoring-squad…he just wants everyone to understand who dictates pace at pads practices from now on.

"We're going to emphasize just making plays. We'll be in pads now and things are about to get serious. So we just have to make plays and…I guess just make plays!"

Mississippi State's next practice is scheduled for 4:00 Tuesday and is open to public viewing. There will also be Thursday and Friday practices in advance of a short Easter Weekend break for the Bulldogs.

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