VandyMania: Rushen, you've got essentially four seniors in the secondary for Vanderbilt this year, or at least four four-year guys, so I'm thinking that secondary really ought to be a strength for the team.
Rushen Jones: We're looking for big things out of the secondary. Like you say, we have a lot of experience. We have to pretty much lead the defense, because we have the most experience.
VM: Last season it seemed as though tackling was a problem, not just for the secondary, but for the entire defense. What are some of the things that have been done in the offseason to address those problems?
RJ: Since Coach Johnson has come in, just about all we've worked on in the spring was tackling. He's had us just going back to the basic fundamentals of football. I think we'll carry that into two-a-days. I think we'll be a lot better at tackling.
VM: So this spring you were working a whole lot more on fundamentals than you were on schemes and such?
RJ: Definitely. Sometimes you have to break a team down to get to the basics, and work your way back up. We're just at a rapid pace right now, and looking good coming into two-a-days.
VM: I know you've been having some 7-on-7 drills against TSU this summer. Can you tell me some of the younger players who are looking good, maybe at cornerback or linebacker?
RJ: Definitely, Kelechi [Ohanaja]. He's been doing really well. Dominique Morris, Cheron Thompson... all those guys have really stepped up and proved that they're going to be able to contribute this year.
VM: I'm kind of worried about the future of the secondary, because we lose so many seniors next year. You think the future's bright for the secondary after all you guys graduate?
RJ: I think so. Hopefully those guys get in there and get a little bit of experience this year. Going into next year I think the future is fine.
VM: You are finishing up school this December, right? What's your degree going to be in?
RJ: Business and marketing.
VM: What are you planning to do with that? I know you're probably looking at the NFL too.
RJ: Right now I'm just weighing my options. I haven't really put any thought into it.
VM: You had the opportunity to play with Jimmy Williams, who's now with the 49ers, for two years. I'm sure he was a good mentor for you.
RJ: Yeah, I saw Jimmy a few weeks ago, him and Jamie Winborn and Corey Chavous. I actually had a chance to do a couple of drills with Chavous. Jimmy and all those guys have helped me tremendously in my career. They've given me a ton of advice, not only to help my game, but to help the team win. I applaud them for that.
VM: Who's the toughest guy you've ever had to cover?
[Note: At just this point Dan Stricker, overhearing, gives Jones a knowing look.]
RJ: Let's see, toughest guy, that would have to be my man, Dan Stricker. [Both Jones and Stricker break up laughing, and Stricker gives Jones a thumbs-up sign.] Because I go against him every day in practice, and he makes me better as a corner.
VM: I have no doubt that's true, but let's go outside of Vanderbilt for a minute.
RJ: The toughest guy I've had to face would probably be Reche Caldwell from Florida. He's a great receiver. He has deceptive speed, and he can get away from you. Good receiver.
VM: Could you talk about the mentality you have to develop to be a good cornerback? I would think that for cornerbacks the mental aspect of the game is almost as important as the athleticism.
RJ: You have to have a sense of cockiness, but at the same time, you have to be able to play man-to-man on an island by yourself and compete with that receiver, no matter how big he is. That's what I try to do. You've got to have a "bad memory" too. As a corner you're going to get beat. But it's all about how you bounce back from that play and continue the game.
VM: In the Woody defense you played a lot of one-on-one in man coverage. Do you think you'll be playing as much of that this year?
RJ: We'll definitely play a lot of man. I'm playing field corner, so that's extensive man-to-man coverage. We'll vary it up a little bit, but in terms of corners, it'll be a lot like last year.
VM: You guys were 2-9 last year, 3-8 the year before that. What would you consider a successful season this year?
RJ: Like always, to go to a bowl game. We want to have as many wins as possible. We definitely don't want to sell ourselves short with a 5-6 season. We want to go all the way. I think that's the goal all my teammates have, and all the coaching staff as well.