Virges Getting A Better Grip On Line Skills

It's sort of amusing to realize now. And yes, Curtis Virges does indeed smile about what he was told upon arrival at Mississippi State four falls ago. How the most important physical attributes a successful defensive lineman could bring to this game wasn't the big things, or biggest muscles even. It was those two paws at the end of each arm, and two eyes inside the helmet.

"I wouldn't have thought that!" Virges agrees. "But it goes back to Coach (Chris) Wilson. He was saying great D-linemen have great eyes, and great hands. Bad eyes, bad D-lineman!"

Not so surprisingly Virges hears the same gridiron gospel preached to him now by his new boss. All position coaches have their preferences of course, but David Turner is pounding home the same message to Virges and the rest of these big Dogs on the defensive side of the line. Read what is happening, react rightly, and get your $%^&*()+@ hands up and in proper position. Because everything else proceeds from these foundational facts of football at the point of contact.

"Really he's been preaching using better hands, because it's going to be technique," said Virges of Turner's teaching here in the late stages of preseason. "It is all going to be about technique, that's how we're going to win games."

Exaggeration? Cliché? Not at all. Not even for a fellow packing 315 matured pounds on a 6-3 frame. This fourth-year junior might have always been one of the biggest guys around the pound, especially at West Point High School. And pure physique sufficed for success back in those distant days.

Virges however has come a long, long way in learning there is sooooo much more to playing defensive tackle in the Southeastern Conference than just throwing one's weight around.

"In this league everybody is strong, big, and fast," he said. "What separates individuals is who has the best fundamentals and techniques."

Virges for his part doesn't claim to rank first in this kennel for such things. But he's assuredly learned a lot in his time at Mississippi State, from a couple of different position coaches, too. Every iota of info is welcomed because Virges has gotten serious about learning the true craft of playing interior tackle. As he should, he said.

"I mean I've been here four years now. And I'd say it's been this last year that I've put everything together."

No time like the present because it is something of a decisive season for a junior like Virges. He saw action weekly during 2012 with a start at Troy. His more usual duty was in relief as part of the ‘big' rotation suited for run-stopping circumstances. At this point of 2013 preseason that still seems his best bet to get snaps, though hopefully earlier and oftener in games as Virges tries to prove he is a better-rounded tackle in this base four-front.

When healthy, P.J. Jones and converted end Kaleb Eulls presumably have dibs on the starting jobs. They are the ‘quick' tandem though at 295 or so pounds nobody will call them small either. It is just that Virges, Quay Evans, and especially Nick James bring the real beef in relief. Or rotation rather, since Turner and coordinator Geoff Collins might just want to throw the bigger bodies out there for first downs and first series when opponents are likely to rush the football. Maybe.

"I could see that myself," Virges said. "Because those guys (Jones, Eulls) are the more explosive guys off the ball as far as speed. I'm more of a power guy, I can throw guys. I'm more of a run-type guy than pass-type, that's why I've got to put it together and make a complete d-lineman."

Either way, this should be a season of opportunity for Virges. But of course the opportunities increase as he does become a more complete package. So he's thrown himself into refining learned skills again, just at a more intense level.

"I have, I've been using my technique. I just can't muscle my way so the only way I'm going to get more productive is using better fundamentals. Staying low, using my hands, punching and getting off blocks, shedding them. Those type things."

With age and time-in-system(s) comes an added responsibility for Virges. He may well still be learning but all of a sudden he's expected to also do a little teaching. However where a Jones can talk it up with underclassmen, Virges relies more on example in practice. "Honestly I just have to grind and work, come in every day and get better. The only way I can do it for the team is to keep doing it myself."

And in-turn the second-year guys, whether true sophs such as Evans and James or the redshirted frosh. They, too, Virges reports have bought into the ‘grinding daily' deal.

"And they've been coming along and doing that. Nelson (Adams), Jordan (Washington), A.J. Jefferson, Torrey (Dale), everybody has made a step forward to having a better season and helping the team win." It does say something about Virges' maturing that he feels qualified now to pick Washington up after a tough practice play and offer advice.

Then again, getting a word in edge-wise or any angle for that matter with Evans and James is quite the challenge. "They both like to talk!" Some might suggest these talented if inconsistent sophs save the verbiage until getting it done on the field, but Virges just shrugs the sound off.

"At this point I'm like they're going to talk, let's get our work in and if they're going to jaw they're going to jaw." Fortunately, both have begun backing it up better this August. "Yeah, Quay learned a little bit faster than Nick, but Nick has come along as well."

A real, regular rotation of size and speed and developed skills is something every SEC squad lusts for. The title teams have it, the contenders dream of it. Mississippi State certainly has the numbers now to roll defensive linemen in and out, perhaps even three reliable sets…if everyone plays to potential. Neither Turner nor Virges claim the unit is to that point just yet, if only because those minor injuries have limited the top tandem.

But they might be getting there, Virges said. "It has to a point. A couple of guys have been banged-up so you weren't able to see the rotations until about next week."

The Bulldogs, all of them, will have a non-contact Sunday practice before the annual Mississippi Cattleman's Association dinner. The team is off Monday for opening day of fall semester classes with practice resuming Wednesday.

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