Amos Jones: From a linebacker standpoint, I think a big positive was Gabe O'Neal. He was as healthy as he's been since he reported as a freshman. He's been here for two years for us so the experience there is good. Then we have Anthony Littlejohn who started about six games for us last year. He knows what it's all about and isn't shellshocked anymore to see an SEC team over there on the other sideline. It boosted our depth putting Anthony behind Gabe. Last year, Gabe and Clarence McDougal basically split time with Gabe hurt sometimes. But we should be just like last year at that spot with Gabe and Anthony, giving us two good guys to play there. Of course, we are excited about Quinton Culberson. He has settled into that middle or Mike position and for the first time in his career, he knows there won't be anymore moving around. We expect Tim Bailey to back him up and then have Jamar Chaney on the outside, too. We expect great things from Jamar Chaney. I wish I had 25 just like him who were that intense on the field. I tell you the truth, I get overly excited about these guys. I have grown to love and respect these guys.
Q: What disappointed you the most in the spring?
Jones: Well, there really were no negatives. The big thing is we have to stay healthy and that's our biggest concern. Last year, we didn't have a back-up for Culberson and he played about 60 snaps a game and we don't need that this year. He needs to get a breather from time to time without us missing a beat. We need to get Bailey adjusted to that role and we need Carlton Rice and Brad Horton, two guys who've been in the system awhile, to help us at linebacker and not just on special teams. We hope that Tim Bailey and Jamon Hughes fill in nicely like we think they can.
Q: How much will the loss of Jimmy Miller be felt if any?
Jones: Not much really. We brought in Tim expecting him to contend as a starter. In the spring, Jimmy Miller was out for most of it so it will be nothing new this fall. We expect Jamon Hughes to fill in nicely and he is a rare find because he's a guy that played linebacker in high school. Most college linebackers are high school safeties or whatever converted to linebacker but Jamon is a true linebacker. You will find it hard-pressed to recruit guys that are just linebackers in high school that will remain a linebacker in college. Titus Brown played just one year in high school at linebacker. Gabe was an athlete at Columbus playing everywhere and Culberson was a cornerback. Jamon is a rare find and we like his potential this year.
Q: How much easier is it on you coaching-wise with so many experienced linebackers back this year?
Jones: As coaches, we are always guilty of starting from square one and going from the basics and working up from there. But now, we just have to tweak a thing or two with theses guys. The language is not foreign to them and they know the little things and that makes it easier on us as coaches. I tell you, everyday I walk into the office, I get excited about my group of guys. Sometimes I need to give a good butt-chewing to them and other times give them nothing but the positives. Either way, I know their feelings will not be hurt and they take it.
Q: What is the role of your linebackers in this defensive system?
Jones: We have got to be playmakers, have good form-tackling. Our defensive line has done a great job the last two years and Brick Haley has done an outstanding job with that group of guys. They have been good at making plays in the backfield and Willie Evans led the league in sacks last year so that tells you a lot about them. As linebackers, we have to take on those blockers and not leave it to the safeties. I want our three linebackers to lead the team in tackles. Our biggest role is to be great tacklers, cover who needs to be covered, be good in the zone defense and feel out the opposing offense. We won't put our guys in mismatches covering-wise but we know they can all run and cover the guy who needs to be covered.
Q: Talk about the loss of Clarence McDougal.
Jones: I have never been more proud of a kid I have coached ever than Clarence McDougal. I mean, here is a guy that had every reason in the world to quit football. It took him almost two and half years to come back from his knee injuries and the surgeries that followed those. But he really loves the game of football. It's hard to replace a guy with that much love for the game but I think maybe Quinton Culberson and Jamar Chaney have that love, too. But I have the utmost respect for Clarence McDougal and he will always be at the top with me. That Ole Miss game he had should be one remembered always by Mississippi State fans. He blocked a punt and had several tackles in the backfield that day. That game was so exciting for me because I knew exactly how much Clarence loves Mississippi State and loves football.
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 email@example.com.