Senior Dog Lineman Expects to Make Plays Whatever the Formation

It’s been the main spring story so far, how the Bulldog defensive line is changing look and alignment alike. A.J. Jefferson has advice for anyone looking for radical differences. “The names are the same. We just have to figure out how they want it done.”

‘They’ being the really ‘new’ part of Mississippi State’s 2016 defense. That being the coaching staff. All four are brand-new parts of Dan Mullen’s program. Parts that have fit right in, according to the senior defensive end.

Or wait, is it defensive tackle? How does Jefferson name his job, especially in the three-man front used for most of the first two spring practices? He doesn’t name it.

Jefferson just does it, same as before in a base four-man line. “I mean, you’re going to be up on the (offensive) tackle. We’re going back to four-front out next practice,” Jefferson said. “Still same hand placement. Still trying to get off blocks and making plays.”

Making plays is Jefferson’s forte. He is coming off a 2015 season that produced 47 tackles with 13.5 of them for losses, including five sacks and seven more official hurries. There were more of those of course as knowing #47 was coming around one end hurried many a planned pass.

So one might think asking this old Dog to learn some new scheme-tricks would be a tough sell. Nope, not A.J. “I think it’s a good thing to play different things.” Not least because expanding his own repertoire gives that much more to show NFL clubs ahead of the 2017 draft.

Now, Jefferson is clear: going odd on the front is nothing really new. Mississippi State used three-man lines in previous seasons, remember. So Jefferson is fine taking his hand-down stance whether one or two interior linemen are to his side.

“But it’s just different names of the stuff we do,” he said.

There are two significant differences though. One is the new ‘viper’ position, which has taken a couple of defensive ends and made them outside linebackers along with a redshirted linebacker. Jefferson calls it a “great thing” for the overall system.

“I think it’s a great position for Will Coleman. He’s faster than all of us! I think it’s a good place to show his speed on the edge. I want to see Gerri Green get out there some, too. I do.” Not that the soph middle linebacker has taken any viper-type snaps yet…but if Jefferson lobbies for it, why not?

Either way Jefferson lights-up at the idea of offensive tackles and blocking backs having to decide whether to stay on him or pick up a blitzing viper. For that matter he figures the new way-outside ‘backer can thrive on the opposite side.

“Torrey Dale is getting reps with the ones, Jonathan Calvin when I think of him I think of pass rush. He’s 275 and can still run a 4.6. so either side we’ll be pretty good with him.”

The other obvious difference? His coach. Jefferson and Coach David Turner worked very well together for three seasons. Now as a senior Jefferson will be coached by Brian Baker. It’s a real change, right?

“It’s really not a big difference. Coach Turner told us he’d been knowing Coach Baker a long time. I feel Coach Baker, they really do remind. When I think of one I think of the other.” Though, Jefferson adds, the new line coach has one significant challenge in store.

“The only thing is when Coach Baker deals with Nick. Because he still ain’t got used to Nick!”

Well, Jefferson will do what he can to aid the relationship between Baker and big Nick James. Because putting #88 over the ball would seem an ideal job.

“Because he has to do that a lot more, him and Nelson (Adams),” Jefferson said. “We did it a lot last year, like I said, the only thing is they’re going to be true two-gappers if they’re playing the zero.”

What appeals especially to Jefferson and his peers is something this defensive coaching crew brings to campus: a whole lot of combined NFL experience. Oh, the Bulldogs will pay attention to their coach whatever his background.

But a professional record on the resume? Yeah, that gets attention without a word being said.

“I mean it’s a great thing,” Jefferson said. “We know those guys know what it takes to get there. Most of them played there. Knowing they’re not going to lead you down the wrong path.”


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