Good indeed, as this senior adapts to a new reality and role in Mississippi State’s defensive line. With the arrival of coordinator Peter Sirmon and line coach Brian Baker, these big Dogs are shuffling and settling into a revised 2016 scheme.
For Dale, after four falls working as primarily a defensive end, it means taking a step closer to the ball at tackle in a three-down front. As Dale explains later it is not a huge technical difference…but it does help if he’s a little huge-r himself.
Which by sheer coincidence, he’s done over three months. “I gained about 20 pounds, so I’d say I can fit in and get it done.” Dale now lists himself at a 285 compared to his (admittedly low) official 252 of 2015.
Now healthier and heftier, Dale is attacking senior season opportunity. And three weeks into spring football there he is, first-team at left tackle. Dale works opposite fellow tackle A.J. Jefferson, also moving from four-front end to odd-front tackle; and nose tackle Nick James.
All who watched last Saturday’s scrimmage saw how well this trio operates already. The first defense as a unit, for that matter, as they dominated their offensive teammates on Scott Field. And oh, did they seem to enjoy cutting loose after weeks of controlled practices and putting guys on the ground.
So is that the nature of these Dogs? A reflection of their four new coaches’ personalities? A combo of both?
“I think it’s just a defensive personality!” said Dale. “The job is to stop them.”
Keeping this first-team job is not assumed. Dale is working to stay a step ahead of sophomore Cory Thomas, who just looks more the part of a ‘tackle’ at 6-5 and 300. It says much for Dale’s competitiveness and experience he is getting first turns in spring.
“He’s a great player, he pushes me, I push him,” Dale said of Thomas. “It’s a back-and-forth, get better and hopefully we both have successful seasons.”
Dale already rates his introduction to Baker as a success. Sure, it’s another transition at this late career stage working for a new position coach to go with the coordinator and system. Then again age offers Dale perspective. “You’re going to learn something new every year anyway.
“I think he’s a great coach. 19 years in the league, he obviously has the knowledge of where we’re trying to get. We’re trying to soak it up.”
Dale said he wasn’t sure at first what to expect when told the line would shift to three Dogs-down. Though, it must be reminded, odd fronts are not entirely new. Mississippi State showed this look frequently over the seasons for specific packages and situations.
And the irony is last fall it was 250-or-so-pound end Dale who found himself at ‘nose’ in these sets! That worked out reasonably well for his future.
“I mean, last year gave a taste of what I was going to do this year. But I think everything since last year to now has been a stepping stone.” Now here Dale is adjusting his stance and spot to play more between offensive tackle and guard and look to make things happen. The rest of the d-line Dogs are making the same adaptations.
“Since we started to get the hang of it, I think everybody on the defense really likes it.” Dale also likes what the extra linebacker/end is bringing to the scheme. Because, as Sirmon and Dan Mullen often point out, this is a multiple defense and will still have four-fronts, albeit not necessarily the same two-tackle, two-end combos.
“I think it gives us a lot of opportunities to show what we can do, from a three-man to a four-man, inside, outside,” said Dale. “It just gives us a lot of different looks and shows what we can do.”
Next chance to see what the Bulldog defense is doing comes Saturday. The second and last real scrimmage of spring is scheduled for a 11:00am start. It’s open to public view and naturally fans and friends hope to see more offensive production than in the first.
Dale’s Dogs expect to see…otherwise. He certainly has an objective for Saturday. “Keep whipping the offense, that’s about it! It’s football.
“And when the fall comes, we’ll get to somebody else!”