Steve Robertson - Genespage.com

Bulldog tight end Justin Johnson shares his thoughts on the new faces at his position.

Last fall Justin Johnson agreed to make the move from wide receiver to tight end in an effort to get on to the playing field as a true freshman. Now a sophomore, Johnson is one of the elder statesmen on Coach Scott Sallach's depth chart. With graduation and injuries impacting the grouping, Johnson is helping the reinforcements get up to SEC speed.

The Bulldogs saw Darion Hutcherson graduate, junior Gus Walley take a medical hardship grant and underclassmen B.J. Hammond give up football. With that level of attrition, the Bulldogs hit the recruiting trail hard signing three quality replacements. 

True freshmen Dontea Jones and Christian Roberson enrolled in January and East Central Community College standout Jordan Thomas is expected to join the roster in June.

Sophomore Justin Johnson is doing his part to help his position mates acclimate to the Bulldog way of doing things.

"We're very, very young," Johnson said. "That's not a bad thing though. We sort of get to start from scratch. All of this is sort of a review for me too, so I can go back and re-learn the basics again. I can go back to where I started at.

"I am just trying to help the other guys, because I have been through the same things before. I know how they feel, especially right now. I am just going to do my best to help these guys through the process all the way through the season."

With just one season of SEC experience under his belt, Johnson is already serving the Bulldogs in a leadership capacity. Ready or not the role was his for the taking.

"I feel like I have taken all of that by the head, but I am still growing myself," Johnson said. "There are still some things I am trying to figure out for myself. I am not where those new guys are, but I am still learning and trying to get better everyday."

With the new frosh on campus and taking part in spring practice, Johnson is doing his best to be both a peer and a mentor of sorts. Not looking to push himself on others, Johnson is looking to show respect as well as earn it.

"They look just like me when I first got here," Johnson said of Jones and Roberson. "They are still trying to learn everything. My first day as a tight end was the first day of fall camp. They're making all of the same mistakes I made. It's all a competition, but we're all just trying to get better and get ready for the season."

Coach Scott Sallach has had the benefit of having some talented upperclassmen the past two seasons. This year, turnover on the roster has made the veteran coach spend more time working through the little things.

"The older guys always knew all of the stuff," Johnson said. "I was able to piggy back off of them and get little tips from them. There were some things Coach Sallach wouldn't go over, because they already knew it. 

"I was getting a lot of the plays down, but I wasn't always getting all of the details. A lot of that stuff I am hearing this year is new to me too. It's giving me a lot of the deep things that I need to know and understand to be the best that I can be.

"There's a lot more teaching this year, a lot more sitting down and getting into all of the details of the plays. He's slowed some things down and we're all learning why we do certain things."

Now the veteran despite being just a sophomore, Johnson is the most experienced tight end on the Bulldog roster and he caught just five passes a season ago. To say there are opportunities at the tight end position is putting it mildly. 

"We are a very young room right now," Johnson said. "I feel good about the group. We should be good. Farrod Green is getting better everyday. We have these young guys who have come in and they are trying to learn. They are just trying to learn how we do things at Mississippi State. It's just the spring, so we still have a long way to go before we start the season."


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