Well thanks for the tip, Father Time… Then again one had to see the sly eye-twinkle as Eulls spoke to know he’s not exactly creaking into this season. The upperclassman of Mississippi State’s defensive line might well have tenure-trumps on most teammates. But Eulls opens 2014 with a rather youthful-like spring to his steps.
For one thing, he’s healthy. Never mind the protective boot worn on his right leg that had Eulls clumping up steps to the media room. That’s simple precaution by now. ““Physically I’m feeling great,” he proclaims.
If correct, then this senior season could be the campaign Eulls has hoped for. Not that his underclassman career lacked for achievement. This is a Bulldog who has started every game for three varsity seasons, after all, inserted into the lineup in 2011 as a redshirt frosh and not to be moved out. Moved over, yeah, having transitioned from defensive end to interior tackle last season. But not moved out.
In return the Bulldog defense has gotten three years of consistent production. The uninformed will look at the raw numbers and wonder why Eulls’ tackles total was just 26 for the junior year. Re: health. He played much of the fall on a gimpy right foot and still got the job done, while rotating with younger tackles. If giving up snaps cost stats it also allowed him to play the full year and that was a worth-while bargain for everyone.
And just to play it safe, Eulls was excused from almost all spring training competition. The down-time shouldn’t factor into picking the starting D-line for Saturday’s opening game. Eulls says he noticed no rust during this preseason.
In fact, “One thing you see from that is you pick up where you left off. We may have missed time, but missing a beat or a step? I don’t see that at all.” The ‘we’ is because Eulls spoke for both himself and fellow senior DT P.J. Jones, who also scuffled through 2013 on a bum wheel (left ankle in his case) and took it easy in spring ball. That tag-team is ready to resume action together, with Eulls saying the experience of playing through pain is just that much more 2014 motivation.
“It kind of encouraged me, I’m pretty sure it encouraged anyone else.”
There’s more encouraging words about the state of State’s entire defensive front. Since spring ball observers with good memories and Father Time-like tenure themselves have suggested comparisons to 1980-’81, or 1998-’99, maybe even some of those mid-70s groups. Those units featured All-SEC individuals and pro prospects; so should this one. The difference to 2014 though is sheer depth of personnel. Every position is at least two- and in a couple cases three-deep.
But wait, as the advertisement used to shout, there’s MORE! As in a level of mix-and-match for Coach David Turner that most programs can only dream of. While fall camp has been closed, in spring State’s defensive staff didn’t try hiding the variety of sets for applying to situations. Even- and odd-fronts, all sorts of tackle and end combos, and Dogs who can line up on the center one snap before jogging outside the next. How much gets revealed for-real in the opening game will surely depend on necessity.
What is certain is how much Turner’s corps can adapt. “I feel it can be very versatile,” Eulls said. “Especially with all the guys not only learning their position but learning every position across the board.” Such versatility has brought an added preseason camp bonus by pushing even the veterans to raise their overall game to stay in the mix.
Or as Eulls said, “One thing you can always do, is always improve and always learn. We try to learn off each other and against each other, some things and weaknesses and strengths that help out.”
One area where Eulls has little left to learn is in regard to his compadre Jones, and vice-versa. They probably couldn’t know about each other if they’d grown up together…and when two guys line up side-by-side for a whole SEC season the bond might even be closer than blood.
“Oh yeah, playing with P.J. it’s a comfort level. It’s a bond and we don’t even have to say many words at all, we might give a wink or a laugh. We know what each other is thinking,” Eulls said. “This year’s line I think is not just your teammates, but like your brothers. You get to know them on a personal level and bond together.”
Having gone from the end of the line to inside, Eulls sorta knows what Nelson Adams is thinking these days. The sophomore may be moving inside-to-end and doing it a year sooner but yeah, changing positions and identities can be a challenge. Still he’s approving how Adams has accepted the move.
“He’s starting to pick things up. Nelson and all the other guys are pretty smart and sound and I feel he’s doing a great job. Especially transferring from quick-set to all that time, and from being in closed space to a lot of space.” If Eulls still sounds just a teeny bit envious, well, maybe so since he can’t help missing the old freedom at end.
But Eulls has accepted his veteran responsibility calmly. Unlike Chris Jones, who keeps beating the verbal drum about wanting to be an end all the time. Fortunately he does so with a big grin because even at tackle the super-soph will thrive. And maybe he should pay attention to an elder’s evaluation?
“My personal opinion, I think he fits best inside,” said Eulls. “Because he’s a big guys with size and everything, and for most people that’s kind of rare.” And it is Jones who epitomizes why expectations of the Dog D-line are off most charts already. If a kid of this caliber is a rotation tackle (or end) then what does it say about how many big bodies State can stick on the front line?
And as Eulls will remind, sacrificing some stats and snaps only means everyone is able to go max-effort each time the ball is hiked. Meaning, a front just as strong in the fourth quarter as the first.
“No matter what the defense or the play it’s all there,” Eulls summarizes. “I feel we just have to go out and do it.” Starting this Saturday evening when the eight-month wait ends and these 2014 Bulldogs get after their goals.
“We’re pretty anxious to get out there and just showcase what we’ve been doing.”