"There are some positives. We are learning but we are a long way from where we need to be. Going from a read front to an attack front is always a bit of a change. So, the guys are kind of feeling their way through it due to all the learning that they are having to deal with. The thing we have to do is continue working. There is nothing magical about it. And the guys are doing that. That is what I am pleased about. The biggest thing I can say about these guys is they are willing to work and willing to get better. We just have a lot of work in front of us."
Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz talked to me about how the defensive players are having to learn to not think so much and simply use their natural talent. Why is that so difficult? It seems like that is what they would want to do.
"It is, but it's like anything in life. Everybody wants a landmark. Everybody wants something that they can see and touch. And we aren't working on people now but an area. That's a big change for a lot of guys because they are so used to getting their hands on people instead of getting their feet vertically up the field. That's the biggest transition for them."
How it is different for the defensive tackles compared to the defensive ends in this new defense?
"It's different from a certain standpoint. The three technique and the nose (guard) are always in an attack position; they are never in a read position. There are opportunities, at times, for the ends to possibly stand up and become a reader in certain situations against certain personnel as well as certain formations. Sometimes that defensive end could even be an outside linebacker. So, that's the biggest difference."
You've seen some outstanding talent at Oklahoma and you've had quite a few of your guys go on to play in the NFL. How does the talent level of your defensive linemen at Mississippi State compare to that talent?
"I feel like Fletcher Cox, Josh Boyd, Pernell McPhee, Sean Ferguson and Nick Bell are guys who could play anywhere in the SEC. Those five guys have a lot of athleticism. And I say that without any hesitation. The biggest thing that I can do and Coach Diaz can do is allow these guys to play with their natural ability because those five guys can play anywhere in the SEC. The key with them is their natural athleticism will take over when they stop thinking.They give us a chance to be competitive.
"Obviously, we are also trying to develop guys in that second level. That's what really makes you a championship team, guys like James Carmon and guys like Devin Jones who really fit this style of play as far as getting vertically up the field and getting off blocks and playing with leverage. When we will be exceptional is when we are two-deep across the board with starters."
James Carmon came in here at 375. He's now lost about 40 pounds. I know your access to watching him is limited prior to spring practice, but based on what you have seen of him from when he first got to State to now, how much of a difference have you seen?
"I saw him in January when he was going through the process of recovering from some injuries. The biggest deal with him is he is having to work himself into shape, and he is doing that. The key thing with James is he has to play. And nothing can change that other than him getting out on the field and working himself into shape. He also has to realize that the SEC is a lot different than junior college. And he is beginning to come along in that."
James is a big man. Can he get much smaller than 338?
"The biggest thing he can do is get himself stronger and more explosive. If he can do that being 338, then that's great. But if he can't, then he has to do everything possible to allow himself to play 40 to 50 snaps per game. That's the thing, can he manage to play at a high level at 338? But he's got time to figure that out. Once he gets with (MSU head strength) Coach (Matt) Balis during the summer. I expect to see bigger changes in him."
You mentioned Fletcher Cox earlier. Would you say he's one of the most talented players that you have ever been around?
"He has the potential. He looks like the guys that we had at Oklahoma. He looks like Gerald McCoy, he looks like Tommy Harris. He may be bigger and stronger than Tommy. But the thing that he has to do is develop his fundamentals. And I'm telling you he has a chance at that point to be as good as anybody. But it is going to require a lot of work on both of our parts. That's the biggest thing, teaching them to how to learn to be a football player. Obviously being a freshman last year who played was big for him. But now he has to be the guy. There is a difference between being a backup to actually being the guy."
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.