Johnson Provides an MSU Defense Update

Mississippi State defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson likes what he sees from his veterans as well as several newcomers.

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Coach Johnson has seen several things that have impressed him about this year's defense.

"There has been a lot of retention of the scheme. And we've also added a few things which they have picked up very well," he said. "The effort has been good. The contact has been pretty good."

But considering six of his eleven starters are seniors with two or more years of starting experience under their belt, you would expect that.

"Experience makes a tremendous difference. Next to speed and character, I would take experience over anything," said Johnson. "You can play a freshman with a bunch of old guys and he won't hurt you as bad. We have finally gotten six or seven returning starting seniors, some of whom have started for three years. Most of our seniors are key players and have the leadership and maturity element."

While he's seen a lot of positives from the defense, one thing, though, does concern him.

"The only thing that has been frustrating is that we have three or four guys out with nagging injuries," said Johnson. "And two of them are really young kids who need all the reps that they can get (true freshmen DE Rodney Prince and LB Jamon Hughes). We are really counting on (Jamon) Hughes to mix into our two-deep. Gabe (O'Neal) is hurt right now and that's creating a problem for us with depth at linebacker. (Demario) Bobo has been in and out. We need him to get well because we are thin at safety."

While the injuries are a concern, the injury situation, as a whole, is not unusual. In fact, it's probably better than most other squads.

"It's normal," said Johnson of the nagging injuries. "I don't think we've had a surgery injury yet. And we've hit a lot and practiced long. We've been very fortunate. I think it's because we are in good shape."

Although he's got a lot of senior starters, Johnson's also been impressed with several of the young guys.

Defensive Line - "(True freshman DT) Kyle Love is the one that is contributing the most in the front group. That is a little due to losing Corey (Clark) at tackle. We have a small spot that someone can compete for. And Love is doing a good job. He's making some decent plays; he just can't go very long. He didn't come in in very good condition, but he's fighting through it. He's got to get himself into shape before we can count on him as a player. Rodney Prince was having a pretty good camp, but he got a bruised thigh the other day. We are pretty deep at end, but we are pretty pleased with Rodney."

Linebacker - "At the linebacker spot, (Tim) Bailey and Hughes both look like they can really help us a lot. It's really been frustrating that Hughes hasn't gotten many reps. He pulled his hamstring on the third snap of the scrimmage. When he gets back, he'll almost be starting over. I know he'll make a lot of mistakes and I'm concerned about that. We have Carlton Rice who can jump in and fill that spot. We've got Gabe out, so Carlton's backing up (Anthony) Littlejohn. It's sort of a musical chairs right now. We've got to get people healthy."

Secondary - "(In the secondary) (true freshman Anthony) Summers has been spotty. He's a little bit too casual. In high school, you can be intense every three plays and make an impact play. In college, you have to be intense every play just to not (allow) an impact play. He's going to be ok. He's just got to learn the speed of the game. We just moved (redshirt freshman) Tay Bowser to secondary. (True freshman) Adron Chambers moved there in the spring. (True freshman) AJ (Anthony Johnson) is there. In addition to that, we have (true freshman) Marcus Washington. There are a bunch of young players back there. There is good competition and good ability. I think we are going to move Tay (to safety) until we know Bobo is healthy and able to practice."

One freshman, in particular, has caught the eye of the veteran coach in a big way.

"The young one (in the secondary) that has caught my eye is (Marcus) Washington. He has an intensity about him, a level of maturity," said Johnson. "He doesn't take a play off. He's making too many mistakes to play on Saturday, but his work habits and intensity are very good. He's ready to go out and try to compete against the guys we play on Saturday.

"It's hard to say what his ceiling is. For me to predict what he will do, there are too many variables. But, if you just want to know after I have watched him for two weeks what I think he could be. He could be a three-year starter in this conference and by the time he is a junior or senior he could be an All-SEC type player. He ran (wide receiver) Tyler Threadgill down the other day (in the scrimmage). Sometimes, it's not who times best on the watch, but who turns the jets on in the critical situation. The kid has something about him. He's going to be a heck of a player."

Jamon Hughes is another true freshman that he likes a lot, although Jamon's got a few things to do that almost all freshmen have to deal with.

"Jamon also has that same type potential, but he's got a little bit of that freshmanitis," said Johnson. "They come in and get a nagging hamstring. They don't stretch extra. They don't go to the training room extra. It's a high school mentality. The next thing they do is play in a big scrimmage and jerk a hamstring that has been nagging him for a week. He's got to get a little more maturity off the field."

Has the MSU coaching staff made a determination as to which freshmen will redshirt?

"We aren't to that point, yet. I think the next scrimmage will give us a little better indicator," he said. "But the biggest problem we have is too many guys out that are coming back in two days or a week. Until we get them back in, I don't know if we can sort out the two-deep. I do think we are going to have the luxury to redshirt some of the young kids. I just don't know which ones because we can't get 22 healthy bodies to find out who they are. "


Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by email at swindoll@genespage.com.

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