"Initially, it was a little bit of an adjustment period for them because they had to get used to me after playing for Coach Haley. While we are a lot alike, we are different, too. Then, you could tell they became more comfortable with me and the way I coach. I'm probably a little more demanding in terms of some of the little things. And I know I'm a lot more loud (laugh).
"What I was hoping for was the older guys to take a little more leadership role, but they didn't do it as early as I wanted in terms of practice. They progressed as spring practice went on.
"I probably spent the majority of my time with the tackles. I did that because that is where we are the most inexperienced. Right now, I don't know who would start. I wanted to try and figure out who will be the best guys inside. By the end of the spring, they had made a lot of progress.
"At end, we probably have the two best players in Avery (Hannibal) and Titus (Brown). Behind them, I'm not sure who it is going to be. It's kind of like tackle. Charles Burns was a guy we moved inside and outside. But we have to find a home for him. Right now, I think we have him settled at end.
"Cortez McCraney is another guy that played both end and tackle during the spring, but is now at tackle. I feel like the second half of the spring he made big, big strides. Hopefully, he will put himself in a position to have a tremendous fall and play.
"I really have three guys in the same boat. Kyle Love, Quinton Wesley and Jessie Bowman are three guys that have a lot of ability, but they have to get their weight under control. I feel confident that they will. I know Quinton and Jessie are on their way down. And Kyle has told me that he is going good. Those three guys have to lose weight to be able to run and play a lot of snaps and help us on defense.
"Jessie, being a junior college guy, you count on him playing. But once again, this summer, he has to do the things in terms of losing weight. But all four of them will have to play. It just depends on how much.
"At the end spot, behind the two starters, we are counting on a guy that's not here yet, Jimmie Holmes. We are also counting on Charles Burns, a guy who has played inside and outside. But he has to do some things in terms of rehabbing his shoulder and get stronger.
"From a athletic and talent standpoint, I think we have some guys who have a chance to be pretty good, but we are just not very experienced inside. And coupled with that we have to get their weight down and endurance up. I believe we will be ok if they do that.
"It's hard to count on freshmen coming in and playing on the line. I think LaMarcus Williams might have the best chance of that on the inside. Hopefully, Jimmie Holmes will be able to add something at end.
"But I feel really good about the group as a whole. They are starting to develop a little bit of a chip on their shoulder, because everybody is looking at it as a weakness due to the guys that we lost. That can be a good thing."
Titus Brown is probably the most productive player on the team. What do you like about him?
"Titus enjoys the game. He is a very good athlete for his size. I think he was recruited as a linebacker and has since gained weight. He makes plays because he is such a good athlete. He is a senior who has had some recognition because he has played well in this league. He has to understand that with that comes the responsibility of being a leader. That doesn't necessarily mean it's a vocal thing, but he has to understand that people know who Titus Brown is. I talk to him all the time about being more of a force in the run game. He likes to rush the quarterback, but he has to be better on first and second down. That is probably the part of the game that he can make the most strides in."
MSU fans don't know much about Cortez McCraney or Jessie Bowman. Talk a little more in-depth about them.
"The first thing that sticks out about Jessie is at his size he's a pretty good athlete. He can move, has good feet. I think the two things that held him back during the spring was his weight and that his shoulder was bothering him. But he's an exceptional athlete for a guy his size. What we are looking for in the defensive front, athletically he can do it. It's just a matter of physically doing it.
"We don't know a lot about Cortez McCraney because he hasn't played for us. But he has a lot of athletic ability for his size. I feel real good about him if he continues to develop. The biggest thing about him is we moved him from the right side to the left side. And we moved him to tackle. At end, he didn't play as fast as I wanted him to. At tackle, he's a better athlete than most tackles. Probably the last four or five days of spring ball he started to show flashes. I don't think there is any question if he can play, it's just a matter of if he can handle it mentally. And he's been away from it for a year while he sat out. But from an athletic standpoint, he has a chance to be very good for us and he has a chance to be pretty good in this league."
Is he at the weight that you want him to be?
"He's probably around 280, but I don't talk too much about weight with him. I don't want him to think that he has to eat pizza every night and come in at 300 pounds. Through eating right and lifting, he will gain the weight. And he can play at 280, 285 pounds if he plays with leverage and good technique. So, I'm not really concerned about his weight. The thing that he has to get better at is the technique in his hands and playing with leverage. If he plays high at 280 pounds, they will knock him back into the linebackers. If he plays low, he has a chance to be pretty good."
Quinton Wesley is a guy that you said needs to lose a little weight. If he loses that weight, what is his potential?
"Quinton Wesley probably has as much athletic ability as anybody that I have coached in 20-something years."
That's a big statement.
"Well, that's just a fact. You are talking about a young man who has gained over a 100 pounds in a year and a half. When I saw him as a high school senior, he was 220 pounds. When I got here in the spring he was 320 pounds. And he's still a great athlete. The problem is he doesn't have a lot of endurance and stamina due to his weight. But Quinton can be as good as Quinton wants to be. If he matures and handles the off-the-field stuff, he has the tools to be as good as he wants to be. He's a tremendous athlete for a guy his size. He can be a different guy. When I look at him, I say this is what you want them to look like when you are drawing them up. But he's no different than any other young guy, he just has to mature. He's no different that I was when I was his age."
Did you see improvement in his maturity during the spring?
"Yeah, it started to come around. There were two things; number 1, he knew he could be pretty good and he used that to push himself. And, also, the big thing that set him back was that we couldn't depend on him doing the little things off the field. But he's taken more pride in doing those things. I think, as a young guy, he's started to understand. Really, that was the only thing holding him back."
What do you look for in a defensive tackle and defense end?
"After the size thing, there are really two things; can he run and will he hit? I figure I can coach the rest of it. I've had the chance to coach in the SEC, the ACC and the Big Ten. There is no other league like the SEC. If you can't run, you are in a world of trouble. Speed, in this league, is unmatched in any other league other than the NFL.
"The first thing is he a good athlete, can he run? I heard Coach say you either have speed or you are chasing it. That's a true statement. So, that's the first thing I look for.
"The next thing is is the guy physical and likes contact? If you don't like contact this is not a sport that you will be able to play.
"Really, I have friends all over this league and we are all looking for the same thing; we are looking for those great athletes who happen to be big guys."
Is it complicated to project a player like a Titus Brown, a player who was a linebacker in high school, but has turned out to be a great defensive end after he gained some weight?
"There is no exact science to it. We have all had guys that we thought would do it and didn't. But if you hit on more that do than don't, then you are in pretty good shape. There is no science in recruiting. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I might see a young man who I feel has a chance to be pretty good and somebody else might say I don't like him.
"You really have to look at everything. What's his body type. What's his home life like. Is the young man in a situation where he is not eating three meals a day. Then, all of sudden, you get him on the training table and lifting five days a week. A great example is Quinton Wesley. He was a 220-pound high school senior and now he's 320 pounds. He has the frame to carry that weight. You get a guy who is 16 to 17 years old, he's not through growing."
You said what you look for in a defensive lineman is size, athleticism and a contact mentality. And you said there aren't many of those type guys out there. Then, you add in the fact that they are going to get pounded on every play when they are on the field. That makes him even more unique. So, personality has to factor into it as well. With the way recruiting is these days, coaches like you don't have the access to the kids like you probably want. How do you find out about a kid's personality?
"The only way you find out is by talking to the coaches and the people around him. You want to find out if he is a tough guy, how does he do when you get on him? I'm on the guys hard. I'm going to ride them hard, because it's the only position on the field where a player is going to get hit every play, those guys are going to get hit every single play. And they are also running to the ball trying to make a tackle while getting hit. So, not only do you have to be tough physically, but mentally as well. That goes back to if he likes to hit. If he likes to hit and likes to be hit, then defensive line is a pretty good position for him. But he's got to be a tough son of a gun. Remember, you are talking about a freshman who may be 17 years old who might have to play against a 23 year old fifth year senior. You are literally talking about a boy playing against a man who may be a fifth year senior."
What position did you play in college?
"I was recruited as a wide out, but I played everything in high school. My sophomore year I was offensive guard. My junior year I was a quarterback. My senior year I was a tailback. I was recruited as a wide receiver, but I ended up moving back to running back."
How did a wide receiver/running back wind up coaching the defensive line?
"When I was a graduate assistant at NC State, I played against Dick Sheridan, who left Furman and took over the NC State program. I feel he is one of the best coaches to coach the game. When you were a GA for him, you did it two years. One year he wanted you on offense and one year he wanted you on defense. He wanted you to learn both sides of the ball because that would help you in your career.
"My first year I was a defensive GA working with the defensive line. The guy I GA'ed for was Steve Robertson, a great guy who I loved to death. He was like a father to me. I loved it so much that I went to Coach Sheridan and asked if I could stay on defense with the defensive line. And he let me do that. For me, that was what I wanted to do. And that's how I ended up on defense."
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.