Defensive Coordinator Ellis Johnson

Mississippi State defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson talked to the media a couple of days prior to Saturday's scrimmage.

Talk about your impressions of the defense the first two weeks of practice.
"Overall, I have to say I'm pleased. The attitude has been good, the effort has been good and the retention of what we are trying to put in has been pretty good. I think we have probably overloaded with what we are putting in. With what the NCAA has done to spring practice these days, you either pick schemes or pick fundamentals (to teach). And it is very difficult to accomplish both when you are installing a new program. I think we have a little bit more carryover with our defensive system than with our offensive system."

While you don't want to overload them, you still want to get as much done as you can.
"The challenge for us as a coaching staff is to try and put as much of our system in as we can, so there is something that we can carryover to the fall. But, we also have to get some fundamental work done and make sure what we are demanding of them other than the X's and O's. It is a puzzle right now. There is no question that scheme is taking priority over fundamentals. But we will get back to that when the time comes."

How does the talent level compare to other programs that you have been in?
"It is difficult for me because I have been in a 1-AA program for three years. Because of that, it is difficult for me to tell you how we match up with everybody else. Just as when I went from Alabama to the Citadel, it was very hard for me to evaluate that group of players on a comparative basis to who we were going to play there. I don't think this is a two-win group. I think they should be more competitive. We certainly have a lot of question marks, but I think there are some football players on this field that can play with anybody in the conference."

How does your defensive line look overall?
"The defensive line is probably our overall strongest aspect on that side of the ball. They are a little bit deeper in numbers than our other positions. There are more players that have played in games and have proven that they can play in this league."

A few days ago Coach Croom mentioned that the hitting sounded like a pillow fight. Was that also your impression?
"Normally the first day you put on pads you need to go ahead and make it one of your live days. And it wasn't. It was what we call a thud day. You want to see them go full speed and knocking each other around but you are telling them not to tackle. That is difficult. But the other thing it was, was them kind of bumping into each other instead of explosive and quick movement. Some of that was due to them coming out of heavy lifting offseason. There is a bit of an adjustment period because some of them are probably too heavy, too stiff. And some of it was just the first day in pads."

What is your priority for the first scrimmage?
"The first thing we are doing is identify people. We are trying to establish that 22, the two-deep. We won't worry a lot about busted assignments unless a young man has a problem that is going to prevent him from being able to be trusted in a ball game. We need to see the players that will play fast, play hard and play physical and are reasonably dependable assignment-wise."

Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. The URL for Gene's Page is You can contact him by emailing

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