In the bigger picture Mississippi State’s defense as a whole and the front line in particular have been reasonably successful. This still isn’t enough. After some slow SEC starts where opponents put up quick points, Turner and coordinator Manny Diaz are pushing the Bulldogs to come out stronger. And smarter.
As Mississippi State steps out of conference play for a pair of home games, Turner spoke about most members of his defensive front and their mid-season status.
How have your tackles played so far? “It’s been some ups and downs. If you look at it, Chris Jones has played better than he has played. He’s still not where he’d like to be and where he wants to be, but he’s moving in the right direction. Nick James is better than he was last year, and has some flashes. But still a work in progress.”
“And some of those younger guys. Nelson Adams has really started to come on which we’re proud of him, he’s played a lot of snaps and been sharp knowing what to do. And then Torrey Dale has been able to play some inside.”
“Then we’ve got the two young guys, Braxton Hoyette and Cory Thomas. They’ve just got to get used to the speed of the game and playing at this level. But those guys are contributing, rolling in there.
We’re still a work in progress, and trying to get better each week.”
What are some things Chris Jones needs to improve on? “Well, it’s just consistency. That’s all, just consistency. It’s tough, this is a league where up-front everybody’s got good players. And he’s got to be a guy that’s consistent, making plays at a consistent level. And that’s all we’re working on. He’s still learning the position. The guy’s been here three years and played as a true freshman, so it’s all still relatively new. But he’s progressed, and that’s what he’s got to do. Is just be consistent every day.”
What was the reasoning behind moving Dale inside? “The reasoning was I thought it would be a better place for him to contribute to the team. And he brought some things. He’s got his weight up, he plays stronger in there. I honestly thought for him it would be the quickest place for him to have a chance to contribute to our defense. He’s been a good surprise, he has. He’s still kind of feeling his way around, we can tell that. But every day he’s getting a little comfortable and a little better.”
A.J. Jefferson is right where Preston Smith was in tackles and sacks, how do you compare their games? “I don’t know how much they compare, physically. I guess the numbers, if you say so, the numbers are about the same now at this point. Really, two completely different players. Preston is a little more finesse guy; A.J. is a little more nuts-and-bolts kind of guy.”
“But it doesn’t surprise me. A.J. works, A.J. enjoys football, he likes playing physical. He’s sharp, football makes sense to him, he understands the game. And his numbers really don’t surprise me. I expected him to put up good numbers and hopefully he can continue to make some big plays for us.”
When did you see it click for Jefferson? “I don’t know I can pin-point. I think maybe half-way during the season last year. He’s always been a physical player, he’s always enjoyed the contact aspect of it. And I think he plays smart, that comes with understanding football and understanding offense. He’s aware, I think he studies the game. All those contribute to helping him make plays.”
Offensive coaches now treat time of possession as irrelevant. Is it different for defensive coaches especially on the line having to play more guys? “Probably. Everybody wants to run fast-paced offense, and sometimes it’s a little more illusion than reality.”
“The bottom line is we’ve got to get ourselves off the field. That’s the bottom line. We struggled a little on third down (at Texas A&M) and haven’t been as good on some possession downs as we should have been. Our job is to get ourselves off the field without points, and that’s what we continue to try to do.”
What kind of job have Jonathan Calvin and Will Coleman done? “It’s been a transition. Will’s been here for a year. And Kojak Jonathan has just gotten in. It’s been a transition no question about it. But each week I see those guys getting a little bit more comfortable in the defense and understanding and playing a little faster.”
“Knowing what to do, knowing how to do it allows you to play fast. And I’ve seen them taking steps in that direction.”
What’s it like coaching a big personality like Jefferson? “Well, he enjoys football. There’s no question about that. He’s kind of a blue collar guy, a lunch pail guy, and that’s what got him here. He’s fun, and he enjoys football and I enjoy coaching him.”
“What I’m trying to do is get him to be a little more of a leader and an out-front guy. But it’s been fun coaching him, I’m looking forward to seeing if we can’t get better and get our defense going.”