Dog Defensive End On A Record Pace

You’d think after lighting a fire under defensive line Dogs last week, the head coach would now go attend to other units. Nope. “It hasn’t been a drop off,” A.J. Jefferson reports. “I mean, Coach Mullen has been ripping and gripping.”

Just in case any missed or forgot… Following the Texas A&M game, and based on other previous weeks, Dan Mullen jumped into the middle of defensive line drilling. Not quietly, either. As related following Saturday’s victory over Troy, those Bulldogs dominated to the tune of 15 tackles for losses and a shut-out first half while the varsity worked.

So, all was taken care of, correct? “He kind of challenged the d-line again today,” Jefferson said. They responded, immediately.’

“First play inside, Chris Jones split a double-team and picked Holloway up. I’m there like oh, snap! Coach (Manny) Diaz is going crazy, Coach Mullen is trying to calm Chris down. It’s pretty much the same this week.”

If this week’s results are anything similar, Mullen will be welcomed among the Dog d-linemen every week. It’s no slight on how Coach David Turner trains his troops, mind. Sometimes the boss just has to make a point in different ways.

“We know we’ve got it in us, the way we train,” Jefferson said. “I don’t know if it took Coach Mullen just waking us up to realize this is what we do, this is Mississippi State football. Because we do have a lot of young guys playing for the first time. So I think we needed that wake-up call.”

Jefferson has been wide-awake all this junior season. He’s certainly opening SEC eyes. Through six games Jefferson ranks third in league tackles-for-loss at 10.5, and seventh in sacks. Actually he has the second-most TFLs behind only Charles Harris of Missouri at 11.5, but the SEC grades on average per game.

There’s nothing average to how Jefferson does the job though. In fact he has the most tackles for loss through six games ever by a Bulldog. Jefferson’s performance has more than adequately answered concerns of replacing Preston Smith’s production at defensive end.

Of course all along Jefferson was regarded as the obvious heir there. His backup snaps showed plenty potential in 2014. Now, “I think experience has helped me out. And having Preston and Ryan (Brown) there to watch them, it’s helped a lot.”

What also helped was having Jefferson come off the bench. Smith had earned starting privileges so Jefferson accepted a rotation role. But he also meant to match his elder and played about as well in all aspects. Now, 2015 is Jefferson’s turn.

“Coach Turner prepared me well. At the beginning of the season Coach Mullen really harped on helping the young guys get into the game-day routine.” Ironically, while Mullen told the team he regarded everyone stepping-up to a starting jobs as a ‘younger guy’ Jefferson has been an exception to that rule. Now Jefferson is expected to serve as an instructor for defensive linemen working their own ways up the depth chart.

It helps too that while Brown is a returning starter, the acknowledged ‘old man’ on the line, tackle Chris Jones is also a new number-one just like Jefferson. Their cumulative experiences made moving up to first team a smooth transition.

“Really just knowing what to do, being able to play faster. Then, me, Ryan, and Chris had a whole year to play together. Communication as well. And Coach Turner is my coach for three years so I pretty much know how he wants things done. Everything the same, every day.”

Well, not exactly the same. As the season develops fresh packages are playing, such as the three-man front with Jefferson over the nose and Jones outside.

“It’s really funny. Chris always tells Coach Turner that he’s a speed rushing end, at 330 pounds, 320 something. So it’s always fun to see what he can do off the edge.”

Jefferson very nearly had the fun of scoring a touchdown last Saturday. Then a teammate got in the way. No, a roommate. When Brandon Bryant rocked the football free from a Trojan, it was tackle Nelson Adams falling on the end zone fumble. “It almost ended the friendship right there,” Jefferson half-grins, half-grumps. For that matter Jefferson thought he had a sack in sight, “Then I saw a little water bug shoot through.”

“Nelson said he didn’t see me, he thought I was somebody from the other team. So it was either push Nelson down and hop on the ball or scoop it out of the end zone. I stuck my arm out and he rolled that 320 on it. You can have it, man!”

If this sounds like a Dog enjoying himself, well, yeah. But Jefferson does not consider himself a solo act in this defensive show.

“Yeah. Really it feels like I’m having fun. Because when you make a play you get to celebrate with your teammates. It’s good.”

What will also be good this Saturday is seeing some old friends and acquaintances on Scott Field, who just happen to go by the Bulldog label too. In fact, Jefferson seriously considered signing with Louisiana Tech. “It was pretty close,” he said, as fellow recruits tried to convince him to come along with them.

“But I still felt I didn’t fit in there.” Fortunately Mississippi State has been a fine fit for Jefferson. As for old buds in the other uniform?

“I might make my way to their sideline a couple of times. It’s going to be all fun though.”

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