Brick Haley: I thought the kids really progressed well. We have some older ones back who have been battle-tested, understand the game and have bought into the system that Coach Croom has brought to Mississippi State. I was well pleased with the group in spring practice.
Q: Who stood out to you the most from the defensive line in spring practice?
Haley: Well, we've got Deljuan Robinson, Andrew Powell, Antonio Johnson and others back and like I tell them, there are no starters because everybody is starters in this system. But they all continued to work hard, got better and really worked their butts off and you can easily see that. I also thought Titus Brown is getting there and understanding what is expected out of him at defensive end. He will help there, no doubt.
Q: How important is depth and experience in the rugged Southeastern Conference?
Haley: It's the most important thing to have in this league. It's nice to have guys that have gone toe-to-toe and faced this type of talent. This isn't their first time and they understand the speed of the game. It is so tough to play true freshmen up front in this league and I am glad we have seniors and juniors, mostly. They are ready to roll, too. They're mostly working on preparation, mentally, and making sure their minds are ready for the fall.
Q: How many guys would you like to have in the regular rotation and what is a perfect number in that rotation?
Haley: Well, you need at least eight guys and you would love to have nine guys. The key is to keep people fresh on drives, you know, those 12 or 15-play drives where you can put four fresh guys in a couple of times. You want some to play five plays here and others five plays there. You want it to balance out and you would like to have eight guys playing around the same number of snaps. But I think we are still a year away from that number, as far as eight guys you know you can trust for a long time. Guys like Quinton Wesley and Charles Burns still have to get their battle scars and earn their stripes. We are not far away from that number and that's what we are working toward, and getting more defensive linemen for the next couple of years to give us that needed depth.
Q: In a perfect world and everyone is healthy, what are your expectations of the defensive line this season?
Haley: I expect them to be solid run-stoppers and put a load of pressure on the quarterback and the other team's passing game. I hope that is their expectations, too. We do have high expectations this year for this group and it has been the past couple of years. I think they have come through with flying colors the past couple of years and we know and believe we can accomplish some things this season. It's the guys that have to get mentally ready to do it again.
Q: With guys having been through the wars on the field, how much does that help the younger guys like Wesley and Burns?
Haley: It really helps us to bring along the other guys. With older guys teaching and showing them, they look and learn from those guys and see their work ethic and what is expected out of them. The younger guys see from the older guys what we stress the most and once they see them doing it, it's easier than us coaches telling them. It's good to have guys that know how tough it's going to get in the fourth quarter and show them what it takes to be successful up front. On Friday nights before the game, the older ones can show the younger guys what to expect and what's coming at them the next day. It's like having coaches around them all the time, on and off the field.
Q: How big is the loss of Willie Evans?
Haley: Well, you can't help but miss a guy who led the Southeastern Conference in sacks and tackles for losses last year. It is a big loss, no doubt about it. But you don't replace a guy like Willie Evans with one guy. You have to do it as a unit and as a team. It has to bring our team closer and with that you get things done that way. I think we will be fine. But again, you don't replace Willie Evans with one guy but you can do it as a unit and that's what we have to do. And I believe we have guys that will step up their numbers. We may not have a 16 or 17-sack guy up front but we can as a group.
Q: Now that we know what you think about your upperclassmen, what do you think about the potential of a guy like Charles Burns who was able to play as a true freshman?
Haley: I know that Charles Burns has grown up as a football player and as a young man. And at Mississippi State University, that is what we are trying to build of our football players. Not only do we want them to improve their play on the field but also improve off the field. I think Charles Burns is a perfect example of how we want our guys to grow on and off the field. With him playing last year, it was so invaluable for him to get around 60 or so snaps as a rookie. You can teach guys, tell guys over and over and do all those things as a coach. But there's nothing like the guy actually going through the battles on the field. He has done a good job coming in this year and had a good spring. There is no substitute for experience and I think we will see that pay off this year as far as Charles getting some action last year. He will build on that and now he understands the speed of the game and isn't so shocked by what he sees on the field.
Paul Jones is a writer for the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website. Paul, also a sports writer for the Columbus Commercial Dispatch, can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.