Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page

Mississippi State defensive end A.J. Jefferson talks about how the Bulldogs will cope without Ryan Brown.

Mississippi State had to replace three defensive line starters this season. The lone senior starter, Ryan Brown, has put together a solid final season in Starkville. Sadly, Brown will not be able to take part in the season finale, the Belk Bowl. Fellow bookend defender, A.J. Jefferson reports that Mississippi State is adopting a next man up philosophy.

"It really changes a lot," Jefferson said of Brown's absence. "Just him being there with his leadership and just being Ryan makes a difference. It changes a lot of the whole group with him not being there."

While Brown will not be able to take part in the bowl game or the practices leading up to the match-up against NC State, Jefferson reports that Brown remains active in other ways. In return, the defensive linemates have been there to help support Brown who must come to grips with the fact that he has played his final college game.

"He is my roommate, so we're close," Jefferson said. "He's been staying over at his girlfriend's house, so he doesn't have to go up those stairs. We live on the second floor. We have all been going over there and trying to love up in him a little bit.

"When he is up here at practice or in the complex, he is still the same Ryan Brown he has always been. He's doing a good job with everything. I think he's doing a good job hiding it if he's real sad about things. He's still the same Ryan to us."

Brown elected to lean on his friends and teammates when he first learned that he would have season ending surgery.

"I found out the same day Ryan found out," Jefferson said. "We were all over at Nelson (Adams') house barbecuing and he came over there and told us. It was a sad moment, but his mama had already called me and told me about it. 

"She told me that she had never heard him so down before. That's his mom, so she's been around through it all good and bad. She was worried about him."

Jefferson reports that learning to live life on life's terms is difficult when you see someone close to you suffer a major setback such as this.

"I felt really sorry for him," Jefferson said of Brown. "He does everything right in the program, so you just hate that it was Ryan. Since we got here with Coach Balis and them, Ryan was what the program stood for. 

"He came in here ready to work. He wasn't a highly recruited guy. He worked hard to put himself in a situation to play as a freshman. He gained weight. He did the things he needed to do to make good grades.

"I think it hurt all of us to see that he wasn't able to go out the way he wanted to."

With Brown out of action, Jefferson reports that the team is adjusting the rotation to prepare for the offensive challenges from NC State.

"It's just time for everybody to step up." Jefferson said. "We all had to play more this season, so everybody has played. They just have to know that now is one of those times that they have to step up and be ready to play more."

The Bulldogs hit the practice field late last week looking to knock the rust off before they began to install the game plan for the Belk Bowl. As those first sessions wind down, the Bulldogs are back in the flow of things.

"That first day back it felt kind of different, because it's been so long since we have been out here," Jefferson said. "I felt good out there today. The offense and defense both had a lot of energy. It feels like we're back at the beginning of the season with how we practiced today."

While the specific instructions needed to stop the Wolfpack offense were not in the practice plan early on, things will soon change and become much more serious.

"We have just been out here and trying to get back into football shape," Jefferson said. "I have never been to North Carolina, so I am excited about going up there for the bowl. That's one of the best things about football. You get to go a lot of places. It's just a blessing to me. I think about all of the places that I couldn't go without football. Having the chance to go and do all of this and go places I have never been before is just a real blessing."

The bowl practices also provide the chance for younger players to get more reps with the 1st and 2nd teamers. Jefferson went through those practice paces as a true freshman himself, so he understands what these extra practices mean to a young guy looking to prove himself.

"The young defensive lineman didn't know all of the plays at first," Jefferson explained. "We are working with them on all of that and this is getting them ready for the spring. The plays won't change, so they are learning the things we do.

"They aren't just robots on the scout team. They are actually running our defense, so that helps them. It helps us older guys too. We get some extra time to brush up on technique. It's like Coach (Dan) Mullen says, this is a chance for everybody to get better."

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