“Oh, every day we get a chance. We’re outside, hitting the sleds, hand placement, stuff like that,” reports Jefferson. Stuff which focus on technical items, obviously. And of course there are the indoors demands of weight room work.
But. For all the obvious items that make up a Mississippi State summer, the most meaningful action is not physical. Not according to junior defensive end Jefferson.
“In the meeting room, that’s going to be the biggest thing.”
Now this needs some serious summer ‘splaining. Is Jefferson really giving priority to time spent sitting around the defensive line-Dog room watching game and practice clips, analyzing rights and wrongs of each snap, evaluating foot alignment or hand placement, all that…over slamming a sled and pushing pounds?
Yes he is. And not because the physical strain is less, either. However hot the July afternoon is outdoors, it can’t compare to how room temperatures spike when Coach David Turner tears into a blown assignment or missed alignment.
This is intense stuff, agreed Jefferson. More than that, it’s important if the Bulldog defensive line is to get their job done when Mississippi State opens the season.
“Getting in there and learning the plays,” Jefferson explained. “Because it’s a bunch of times we go tempo in practice and too many guys have to think about what they’ve got. So that’s going to be the biggest thing, get in the film room and learn the plays.”
In Jefferson’s case the impetus to learn is way greater than ever before. Not that he has slacked on instruction up to now, understand. Jefferson would not be in this prime junior-year position without doing due duty in the meeting room for a redshirt year and two varsity seasons as a rotation end.
2015 is a whole ‘nother situation. A starting job awaits. Jefferson means to take it.
His spring practices and scrimmaging made a strong case. “I thought I did pretty good,” Jefferson said, adding that he knows the opportunity is now.
“Yeah, it’s there. So somebody just has to go get it.”
By ‘somebody’ he means ‘A.J. Jefferson’. (It’s Anthony Jefferson, Jr., for the record.) Clearly the Mississippi State defensive staff is thinking along the same track, too. Jefferson began and finished spring camp with the #1 unit, having stepped into the spot opened by Preston Smith’s graduation to the National Football League.
So, the job is signed and sealed, right? Uhhhh…not until Turner signs-off and seals the opening night lineup deal. The line coach has full faith in Jefferson’s abilities to play d-end at a first-team level. It is having full confidence that the new starter can play all the time like a well, starter.
Or as Turner has put it, Jefferson has shown for two years he can come off the sideline and make a play. Jefferson understands it’s a different deal on the first unit.
“Because Coach Turner preached to me all spring, since day-one, I’ve got to show I can be more consistent. So I’ve got to carry it over to the season.”
If Jefferson can translate his rotation feats of ’14 into the same rate of production while starting, the sky is his limit. Off the bench last year he was credited with 28 tackles, best of all non-starting linemen in fact. More to the point, a full-fourth of his tackles were for losses including 2.5 sacks.
So for all the great plays and days Smith gave State, his presumed successor ought to achieve similar, well, successes. In fact Bulldog insiders don’t expect any drop-off in the pass rush from that end of the line. The 6-3, 270-pound Jefferson has shown a knack for attacking quarterbacks since his first varsity snaps.
It is against ground games where Jefferson has needed to raise his game, in Turner’s eyes. After his spring experience? “I feel like I have,” Jefferson said. Apparently the junior end did well enough that his coach has considered moving Jefferson around this season. As in, using his moves and muscle inside as a tackle type.
Crazy idea? Not at all. In certain matchups a guy with Jefferson’s gifts can thrive rushing from the inside. Plus, graduations have left State with fewer proven tackles than before. There are younger ones coming up of course. But it’s always good to have options inside.
For that matter there is no shortage of ends. Senior Ryan Brown has a good grip on his starting job and is in-line for pre-season honors. Junior Torrey Dale should be on the verge of a breakout season of his own. Grant Harris redshirted as a freshman, but Will Coleman did it as a juco transfer and is beyond-ready to play. Now add in spring juco enrollee Jonathan Calvin and yeah, State is stocked at end.
And Jefferson has to keep a step on his competition.
“I mean they’re coming along good. Calvin is a good learner, Will has put his weight on and has come along. Grant Harris, Torrey Dale. That’s going to help us out too, being able to do like we did last year.”
Yes, if an area could justify sticking with that rotation plan, it is this group. Fresh legs on the end of a defensive line is always a Good Thing. Of course in Jefferson’s case he would prefer to be on the field for the biggest plays.
But he’s really intent on being there for the first play. So, back to the squad room for some more learning.
“Obviously study the offense more and stuff like that. Because I’m not going to be able to be on the sideline and watch Preston do what he does. I’m going to have to change a lot of stuff with what I do.”