SEC: Chris Wilson

Pruitt now can construct own UGA staff

January, 15, 2014
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It appears as if Jeremy Pruitt will have the opportunity to build Georgia's defense according to his own vision. As of Wednesday night, he is the only defensive coach on the Bulldogs' staff.

Multiple media reports Wednesday night have defensive line coach Chris Wilson (leaving for USC) and inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti (going back to the Washington Redskins, where he previously spent 11 seasons as an assistant) joining defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and secondary coach Scott Lakatos as departures from Mark Richt's staff within the last week.

Richt said at Pruitt's introductory press conference on Wednesday morning that Wilson and Olivadotti would remain on staff “if they want to, and as of right now I think they want to.”

Obviously they decided otherwise, leaving Pruitt with three positions to fill. Pruitt will coach the secondary, but he and Richt must identify candidates to fill Grantham's position coaching outside linebackers as well as Wilson's line and Olivadotti's inside linebackers jobs.

In the short term, that might seem alarming for those around the Georgia program, but it no doubt holds some appeal for the Bulldogs' new defensive coordinator. Richt will allow Pruitt to have a major say in picking the new coaches -- if not allow him to hand select them -- much like he did when Grantham joined the staff in 2010 and brought along Lakatos and Warren Belin.

If Georgia is to take a step forward under the new regime, which shouldn't be difficult with 10 starters returning from a young group that ranked eighth in the SEC in total defense (375.5 ypg), it will be because Pruitt and Richt made the correct hires in the coming days and weeks.

Pruitt's arrival after an enormously successful season at Florida State was widely hailed as a home run for Richt, and that's a great start in rebuilding Georgia's defense. That's only the first step, though, and the Bulldogs need to swing for the fences three more times if the defense is to return to the suffocating form that marked the early seasons of Richt's tenure.

SEC lunchtime links

January, 13, 2014
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Football season is nearly over, but the news never stops in SEC country – especially with all of the NFL draft announcements, coaching changes and recruiting news churning this week.

Defense rules in sloppy Georgia win

September, 21, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Sloppy play plagued his team -- particularly on special teams -- and drew boos from some waterlogged fans on a rainy afternoon, but Georgia coach Mark Richt found at least one satisfying aspect of Saturday's 45-21 win against North Texas.

Once Richt's team absolutely had to get serious, it stopped playing around. The Bulldogs (2-1) used a solid effort from their defense and a 24-0 run to close out the game after a North Texas (2-2) blocked punt resulted in a touchdown that made it 21-all early in the third quarter.

“We got ourselves into a fight,” Richt said. “It was tied, obviously, in the second half and it could've got real ugly, but it didn't. We continued to settle the game down by playing great defense and continued to move the ball and get some points, and we were able to finish the game without a lot of drama. It could've been very dramatic. It was very dramatic until we pulled away a little bit.”

No. 9 Georgia moved the ball seemingly at will Saturday, outgaining North Texas 641 yards -- fourth most in school history -- to 245. The Mean Green had barely exceeded 200 yards of total offense before their final drive against mostly reserves from Georgia. Yet thanks to a North Texas 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, the blocked-punt score and an Aaron Murray interception in the Mean Green end zone, the outcome was in doubt far later into the afternoon than the pregame 32-point spread might have indicated.

However, Todd Grantham's defense delivered its first strong performance of the season, limiting North Texas to just one offensive touchdown a game after surrendering just six points in the second half of a win against South Carolina. The Bulldogs' run defense was particularly stout, allowing just seven yards on 25 attempts -- which tied for the fewest surrendered in any Football Bowl Subdivision game this year.

[+] EnlargeTray Matthews
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsGeorgia freshman safety Tray Matthews' interception in the second half gave the Bulldogs all the momentum they needed to pull away.
“I thought them guys played their tails off,” Grantham said. “They hung in there, were put in some tough spots, showed mental toughness. Tray [Matthews] got a turnover. I'm proud of the way those guys played.”

In hindsight, freshman safety Matthews' interception -- the first of his career and first of the season for the Bulldogs -- might have been one of the biggest plays of the game. Georgia had just taken a 28-21 lead when North Texas had driven to the Bulldogs' 27. Matthews easily picked off a Derek Thompson pass -- he credited cornerback Damian Swann for re-routing a North Texas receiver who should have been in the vicinity -- at the Georgia 5 to halt a potential game-tying drive.

The Bulldogs then drove 95 yards in 12 plays, taking a 35-21 lead on Murray's 4-yard pass to Chris Conley, and North Texas didn't threaten Georgia's lead again.

“We were on the sideline, and I was like, 'Dang it's close, man,'” Matthews said. “I swear, [defensive line coach Chris Wilson] was like, 'Man, we need to create some turnovers.' It just stuck in my head that we need to create turnovers. He said we need an alpha dog on the defense, somebody that's going to lead the team and get the team pumped up. I was like, 'Man, I want that to be me, so I feel like I need to go out and make a play.'”

There were plenty of offensive highlights to go around.

Murray connected with wideout Reggie Davis on a 98-yard touchdown pass -- the longest pass play in school history, Murray's 100th career touchdown pass and the freshman's first career reception, no less -- and finished the day with 408 yards and three touchdown passes, plus a 1-yard rushing score.

Murray also passed David Greene to become Georgia's career total offense leader with 11,352 career yards. He is third in SEC history behind Florida's Tim Tebow (12,232) and Chris Leak (11,380).

“Really, it's a huge honor. Those are some studs right there, so just to be alongside those guys is a great feeling,” Murray said. “But most importantly it was a great win today. The team played great. We had some rough patches, but I really loved the way we were able to fight through it.”

Records and special-teams mishaps aside, the big story in Saturday's win was that Georgia's defense provided its first competent outing of the season. North Texas had just two offensive plays that covered 20 yards or more, failed to move the ball on the ground and saw its quarterbacks repeatedly hammered by oncoming Georgia rushers.

“Every time [Thompson] threw it away, I decided next time I was going to hit him even harder,” said outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins, who had two of the Bulldogs' 10 tackles for negative yardage. “Every time we hit him, two or three times he said, 'Oh [no],' because he was scared at times. But when you get hit that many times, I would be too.”

After surrendering an average of 460.5 yards per game against Clemson and South Carolina to open the season -- and with LSU preparing to visit next Saturday -- this was exactly what Grantham's defense needed, even if the final score was closer than one might have expected beforehand.

“I feel like this is something that we really enjoyed,” Jenkins said. “It showed the younger guys and just showed the nation how we can play when we all click and what our defense is going to be like in the future.”

SEC lunchtime links

August, 6, 2013
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Now that he has fully recovered from a knee injury that wiped out most of last season, Alabama running back Jalston Fowler is ready to pick up where he left off last season.

Crimson Tide kicker Cade Foster talks about spending some time in the offseason with former NFL kicker Morten Andersen, the league's all-time leading scorer.

Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee says the next four to five days are critical in the Tigers' quarterback battle.

Mammoth Mississippi State defensive tackle Nick James is learning how important technique is to having success in the SEC.

In the wake of Johnny Manziel's latest controversy, Ole Miss players and coach Hugh Freeze have mixed views on whether players should receive stipends.

Robert Nkemdiche is already practicing with the Rebels' first-team defense.

Georgia defensive line coach Chris Wilson has little patience for players who aren't getting the job done correctly.

LSU players voted to allow running back Jeremy Hill to re-join the team shortly after a judge decided not to send Hill to jail for violating his probation.

Texas A&M's hiring of the law firm that helped defend Auburn and Cam Newton in 2010 speaks volumes about the Aggies' game plan in dealing with the Manziel autograph situation.

Here's an Aggies season preview from GigEmNation.

Tennessee coach Butch Jones is making sure his players don't get bored or comfortable at practice.

Members of the Vols' secondary are tired of the critics and are ready to prove them wrong.

Florida coach Will Muschamp said the Gators' tight ends, who struggled in the spring, are making progress.

The Gators are also trying to develop depth at safety, which is why Muschamp isn't taking the easy way out and sticking Cody Riggs and Jaylen Watkins into the starting lineup.

South Carolina's former defensive coordinator first saw the potential in linebacker Cedrick Cooper. The Gamecocks' current defensive coordinator is just as enamored with him.

Arkansas began camp on Monday. The Razorbacks will have a new quarterback, and Brandon Allen says he's ready to take over for Tyler Wilson.
ATHENS, Ga. -- Chris Wilson needed only about 30 minutes in Georgia’s first preseason practice before he started fiddling with his depth chart.

The new defensive line coach’s face broke into a wide grin when explaining why he loudly informed Sterling Bailey -- who finished spring practice as a starting defensive end -- that Ray Drew was now the starter in Georgia’s base defense and that Bailey would be the first-team end when the Bulldogs play a nickel defense.

“We make on-the-field adjustments,” Wilson cracked.

[+] EnlargeRay Drew
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsNew defensive line coach Chris Wilson isn't afraid to mix and match players such as defensive end Ray Drew to get the perfect fit.
Apparently such a change is nothing new for Wilson’s new charges, who say that if Wilson doesn’t think someone is getting the job done adequately, he’s quick with the hook.

“[It happens on a] daily basis,” Bailey chuckled. “He just loves motivating us. He just wants us to play hard.”

Georgia largely stuck with a small rotation of veteran players along last season’s defensive line, but that practice created fatigue that Alabama obviously exploited in racking up 350 rushing yards against the Bulldogs in the SEC championship game. The Bulldogs’ coaching staff has vowed to rotate more players up front this fall -- and Drew and Bailey are among the seven or eight players that Wilson hopes will figure heavily into that rotation.

But they have to prove to their new position coach that they deserve the opportunity, as neither player has been more than a role player thus far in his college career.

“[Wilson] mentioned it to me one time before that he likes competition within the players because if he puts you in a position and you’re not getting it done, he bumps someone else in there,” Drew said. “He wants you to take enough initiative to say, ‘OK, I’ve got to get my stuff together and win my spot back.’ So we look at it as a competition between the two players, but it’s actually just a way to make each other better.”

There should be no shortage of competition for spots in Wilson’s rotation over the next few weeks. Junior college transfer Toby Johnson -- the No. 4 overall prospect on the ESPN Junior College 100 -- is “kicking butt” at defensive end thus far in practice, Wilson said, and other youngsters such as John Taylor, John Atkins and Chris Mayes have impressed him at points.

They have a prime opportunity to solidify those impressions when the Bulldogs hold their first preseason scrimmage at Sanford Stadium on Wednesday -- even if the depth chart will probably remain flexible well into the season.

“We never know what the set depth chart is,” Drew said. “One thing he made perfectly clear to all of us is he does not care who plays. He’s going to put in the guy that is going to play his behind off, do what he’s coached to do and make things happen. So it doesn’t matter if you’re an 18-year senior or if you’re a first-year freshman. If you’re getting it done and you’re doing what you need to do, that’s what matters.”

As of now, the “play his behind off” factor might be the most important element of the competition.

Yes, understanding their assignments and playing with the proper technique will be of utmost importance once the linemen take on the Clemsons and South Carolinas and LSUs that they will face in the first month of the season. But as they enter their first scrimmage, Wilson wants to see them fight for their jobs, viewing competitive fire as perhaps his top means of evaluation.

“Here’s the thing that I would like to see more than anything in our next scrimmage: I would like to see us play extremely hard. I’m talking about with relentless effort,” Wilson said. “And if they are playing that hard, that means they know what to do. And if we will play as hard as we can and know what we’re doing, I think we’ve got a chance to win all the football games that we play.

“And so if we can come away with just those two simple things that sound so simple, we really have become a better football team."
ATHENS, Ga. -- Mark Richt had no connection to the SEC when he became Georgia’s head coach in 2001, but he knew better than to let the same be said of his coaching staff. Nearly half of Richt’s first staff had SEC experience -- and Richt readily admits that was by design.

In defensive line coach Rodney Garner, he had not only a former All-SEC player and coach at Auburn and Tennessee, he had a well-connected recruiting coordinator who helped keep Richt’s first signing class intact.

In Neil Callaway, he hired a hard-nosed offensive line coach who played under Bear Bryant at Alabama and coached under Pat Dye at multiple stops, including Auburn.

[+] EnlargeAaron Murray and Mike Bobo
Paul Abell/US PresswireOffensive coordinator Mike Bobo (right) was one of many people Mark Richt has hired that had SEC ties.
In Mike Bobo, he added a young former Georgia quarterback whose father built a decades-long reputation as a football coach within the state.

And in Jon Fabris, he had a live wire who brought intensity to each practice after playing in the league at Ole Miss and coaching at multiple stops, including South Carolina.

Over the past 13 years, Richt has developed plenty of experience in the league, leading the Bulldogs to two SEC titles and five Eastern Division crowns. Throughout that time, however, the SEC presence has remained on his staff.

Bobo is the lone holdover from Richt’s first batch of hirings, but he now has company from another former Georgia player, running backs coach Bryan McClendon, and a number of other assistants who have played and coached in the league.

Offensive line coach Will Friend was an All-SEC performer at Alabama and once served as a UGA graduate assistant under Richt. New defensive line coach Chris Wilson came to Georgia in the offseason after a stint as defensive coordinator at Mississippi State. And while he never coached in the SEC prior to becoming the Bulldogs’ defensive coordinator in 2010, Todd Grantham worked under the league’s current kingpin, Nick Saban, as an assistant at Michigan State.

In other words, it isn’t necessary to hire a head coach with SEC ties for the coaching staff to still have the league’s distinct flavor. Richt was an up-and-coming Florida State coordinator who ran a high-scoring finesse offense when he accepted the Georgia job and yet his collection of assistants included tough coaches who cut their teeth in the SEC, helping mold differing philosophies into a winning combination.

Few programs have won more consistently than Georgia since Richt took over as the Bulldogs’ head coach, so previous SEC experience might be slightly overrated as a predictor of future success in the league. Richt’s tenure might never have gotten off the ground, however, if he hadn’t initially hired some coaches who understood the SEC’s physical demands and who already developed key recruiting contacts within the state and region.

Multiple philosophical changes that Richt instituted played some part in Georgia’s sustained success, but his tendency to hire coaches who already have a lay of the land within the nation’s most competitive football conference has been one of the most important stabilizing factors of his tenure.

Lunchtime links

March, 20, 2013
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Remember Barney Stinson's one rule: "New is ALWAYS better!"

Opening spring camp: Georgia

March, 1, 2013
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Schedule: The Bulldogs will open spring practice on Saturday and conclude the spring with their annual G-Day spring game on April 6 at 1 p.m. ET at Sanford Stadium.

What’s new: Chris Wilson will coach the Georgia defensive line after coming over from Mississippi State, where he was the Bulldogs' defensive coordinator for the past two seasons. Wilson replaces Rodney Garner, who left to take a job on the Auburn staff.

[+] EnlargeJordan Jenkins
John Amis/AP PhotoGeorgia linebacker Jordan Jenkins has his sights focused on netting more sacks in the 2013 season.
On the mend: Sophomore running back Keith Marshall will miss at least the first week of the spring after pulling a hamstring while running track. Junior receiver Michael Bennett is recovering from an ACL tear he suffered last season and won’t go through any contact this spring. Freshman receiver Tramel Terry, who enrolled early, is also recovering from ACL surgery after being injured in a high school postseason all-star game. Offensive guard Chris Burnette had shoulder surgery and won’t go through spring practices. Offensive tackle John Theus will miss most of the spring while recovering from a broken bone in his foot.

Question marks: The Bulldogs are losing a ton of key playmakers on defense, and it’s particularly important that they find some answers at safety this spring. Freshman Tray Matthews, an early enrollee from Newnan, Ga., will get every opportunity to win one of the starting safety jobs. Learning the defense will be critical for him this spring. Junior Corey Moore will also get a chance to show what he can do before junior college additions Paris Bostick, Shaq Fluker and Kennar Johnson arrive this summer. Finding somebody to do all of the things Alec Ogletree did at inside linebacker will also be a challenge. That makes this spring a big opportunity for junior Ramik Wilson.

New faces: The Bulldogs welcome 13 early enrollees. Junior college newcomer Jonathan Rumph (6-5, 215 pounds) will be a prime candidate to replace Marlon Brown as the bigger receiver in the Bulldogs’ offense. In addition to Matthews, freshman Quincy Mauger will get a look at safety. At nose guard, redshirt freshman John Taylor (6-4, 335 pounds) is the heir apparent to John Jenkins. Freshman John Atkins of Hargrave (Va.) Military Academy and junior college newcomer Chris Mayes, a sophomore, will also compete for early playing time up front on the Bulldogs’ defensive line.

Position of power: The Bulldogs were faced with having to replace three offensive line starters this time a year ago. But they crank up spring practice on Saturday with all five starters returning as well as every other offensive linemen who lettered a year ago. Mark Beard could push his way into the starting lineup at left tackle.

Breaking out: The Bulldogs plan to work Josh Harvey-Clemons at both outside linebacker and safety this spring. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham made sure to get Harvey-Clemons in some nickel situations a year ago, so covering receivers in the slot should come a little more naturally to him in 2013. He’s a dynamic athlete, and his development will be a key for Georgia on defense. It’s important the Bulldogs settle on a position for him this spring.

Don’t forget about: Jarvis Jones is gone, but not forgotten. Don’t be surprised if talented sophomore Jordan Jenkins gives the Bulldogs a Jones-esque dimension at outside linebacker. He’s a terrific pass-rusher and lighting fast off the edge. He’s smart, instinctive and is always around the football. From the Florida game on last season, Jenkins was a starter for the Bulldogs. He finished with five sacks and could easily be a 10-sack guy in 2013.

All eyes on: The Bulldogs return virtually all of their firepower on offense, led by senior quarterback Aaron Murray, who’s on track to shatter most of the SEC career passing records. Scoring points shouldn’t be a problem. The challenge will be on defense, where the Bulldogs are losing 12 players who started at least two games last season. Grantham likes his young talent on defense, but getting people in the right spots and developing that talent will be crucial this spring.

SEC lunch links

January, 31, 2013
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Our Thursday stroll around the league:

Lunchtime links

January, 7, 2013
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The game is finally here and we'll be saying goodbye to the 2012 football season later tonight. Another year is in the books. It seems like they go faster and faster.

Lunchtime links

November, 2, 2012
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Checking out the SEC links on a Friday.
Those who have the unfortunate task of facing Mississippi State's secondary must deal with the thought of going into lockdown mode.

Wide receivers have to face facts as they enter "Precinct 913” run by cornerbacks Darius Slay (9) and Johnthan Banks (13).

The clever title involving both players’ uniform numbers supposedly came from the mind of a fan, but the two have grown to love and live it, as they own the title of the SEC’s best corner duo.

"Me and Slay work real good together," Banks said.

[+] EnlargeDarius Slay
Spruce Derden/US PresswireDarius Slay is helping Mississippi State make its case for having the best secondary in the country.
Their seven combined interceptions (Slay 4, Banks 3) are more interceptions than 108 Football Bowl Subdivision teams have, they haven’t allowed a touchdown against them, Slay is one of four players nationally averaging 1.0 interceptions per game and Banks is allowing just 4.2 yards per pass thrown his way in man coverage.

Banks was thrown at 11 times through the first three games, but watched offenses pay the price, as Slay ended up being the only player in the nation to intercept a pass in each of the first three weeks of the season.

South Alabama avoided Slay, throwing 10 passes at Banks, but he left the game with yet another interception.

Things only get better when you add safeties Corey Broomfield, who moved from corner, and Nickoe Whitley. The foursome has combined to defend 12 passes and intercept eight. It's also helped Mississippi State's defense allow just 53 points in four games, the lowest allowed through the first four games since 1999 (28).

The Bulldogs are giving up 213.5 passing yards per game, but have allowed just two passing touchdowns while registering nine interceptions.

Yet, Banks feels the jury is still out on this unit.

"I don't think anybody else thinks we have a really good secondary, but we know we have a good secondary," Banks said. "It kind of makes us mad that I get singled out, out of the four. That motivates us. We know that people are going to come watch me and praise me, but that makes them go even harder to show what I can do, they can do, and maybe do it better."

Added Broomfield: "You can say what you want to say. You can put any list together that you want to, but we're going to put it on tape that we're the best secondary in the nation."

Through three seasons of work, these players have 32 career interceptions among them, but nearly half go to Banks, who ranks first among active FBS players with 15 career interceptions. He's also tied for third nationally with Broomfield with three interceptions returned for touchdowns. He's an excellent cover man who moonlights as a ball hawk.

But he’s nothing without his posse.

"I know I get all the praise, but I'd say we're all dangerous," Banks said. "All those guys just get it done -- 'Broom,' Slay, Nickoe -- all of them do the same things I do. It's just ridiculous how good these three guys that play with me are."

Banks said the crew really started to jell when Slay moved into the starting lineup. It gave the Bulldogs a chance to be in nickel on every down with Broomfield still on the field. Having three corners on the field at all times makes for more versatile packages for the secondary and provides more opportunities for man coverage, which they all love.

It’s also helped make them more competitive in practice. Defensive coordinator Chris Wilson said his players have to keep an edge in the secondary, and they do that by constantly challenging each other in practice.

It’s almost another game to see who can out-do the other each day in order to eliminate complacency.

“In the big picture, if these guys can really prepare as well as I think they can, week in and week out, they'll only get better,” Wilson said.

Saturday, this secondary should feast off Kentucky's pass game, which will be without starting quarterback Maxwell Smith. The thought of possibly playing against two true freshmen quarterbacks has to make State's foursome salivate uncontrollably.

But in two weeks, Tennessee comes to town. Tyler Bray and his band of receiving threats will invade Starkville on a mission to rule the skies. However, they should tread lightly when around the precinct.

Handcuffing is its specialty.

“We're ready,” Slay said. “We're built for good competition and we look forward to playing good receivers.”
Denico Autry played his high school football in the shadow of Charlotte, N.C., and had his sights set on playing collegiately at North Carolina.

“I didn’t have the grades, and my plans changed,” said Autry, who’s from Albemarle, N.C., a small town about 40 miles east of Charlotte.

It’s a good thing for Mississippi State those plans did change, because Autry has been a force this spring for the Bulldogs after going the junior college route the past two years. He’s given them the kind of edge pressure from his defensive end position that they didn’t possess a year ago.

“That’s what I do best, get to the quarterback,” said Autry, who had three sacks in Thursday’s scrimmage. “I know I can rush the passer, but you can always get better. I think I’ve gotten better this spring. The big thing is that I have to get better in all parts of my game. They’re not going to be passing on every down. You’ve got to be able to play the run, too.”

Ironically, the 6-5, 255-pound Autry found his way to East Mississippi Community College with the help of another SEC assistant.

Auburn linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen was coaching at North Carolina when Autry was in high school and had a connection with East Mississippi Community College defensive coordinator William Jones.

“Coach Thigpen hooked me up with coach Jones at East Mississippi, and that’s how I got to (the state of) Mississippi,” Autry said.

It didn’t take him long to start wreaking havoc on opposing junior college quarterbacks. Autry earned All-America honors last season in leading East Mississippi to the junior college national championship. He collected 11 sacks and 41 quarterback hurries and was rated by most analysts as the top junior college defensive prospect in the country.

The offers came pouring in. Miami offered. So did USC, Oregon, Florida, Auburn, Tennessee and North Carolina.

But Autry remembers watching Mississippi State play Alabama and LSU last season and thinking to himself that he could help the Bulldogs get over the top against those teams.

“I watched them against LSU and Alabama,” Autry recalled. “LSU didn’t offer me. Alabama was recruiting me, but they really didn’t offer me when it got down to it. I saw how Mississippi State played both of those teams and wanted to be a part of that.”

Autry was a must-get for the Bulldogs, who desperately needed to add a finisher to their defensive line. Tackle Fletcher Cox gave up his senior season to enter the NFL draft, and of the Bulldogs’ 27 sacks last season, only six came from defensive ends.

“I want to be that third-down guy, somebody that helps get us off the field on third down and takes the other team out of their game,” Autry said.

With the Bulldogs set to conclude their spring on Saturday with their annual Maroon-White spring game, Autry is a big reason there’s a renewed sense of optimism on defense in Starkville. The Bulldogs were fourth in the SEC in scoring defense last season, but eighth in total defense.

"He is who we thought he was," Mississippi State defensive coordinator Chris Wilson told The Mobile Press-Register. "When he's not out there thinking (too much), he makes us different. I don't always like to say better. I think it's an overused term, but he really makes us different."

Autry said he loves Wilson's attacking style of defense, which he said will be the Bulldogs' calling card in 2012.

"We're a hard-nosed defense that’s going to keep coming after you, and you’re not going to get anything easy against us," he said.

Autry also knows that he's not the first junior college player to come into the league surrounded by a lot of hype. Some of those guys pan out. Others don't.

Pernell McPhee earned All-SEC honors a couple of years back at Mississippi State after starting his career at Itawamba (Miss.) Community College. Jones has said that he thinks Autry is better than McPhee, who's now with the Baltimore Ravens.

Autry would prefer to do his talking on the field ... this fall.

"The only thing that matters is what you do in the games," he said. "That's where you have to prove it."

Opening spring camp: Mississippi State

March, 22, 2012
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Schedule: Mississippi State was scheduled to open spring practice on Thursday at 5:30 p.m. ET, but that practice was postponed because of rain. All 15 workouts will be open to the public. The Maroon-White spring game is scheduled for 6 p.m. ET on April 21, and will be part of Super Bulldog Weekend. A concert by Sugarland will follow the spring game.

What’s new: The Bulldogs didn’t have any changes among their nine position coaches, but Niel Stopczynski joined the staff as assistant recruiting coordinator, and Brett Elliott will be a graduate assistant on offense.

On the mend: Offensive guard Tobias Smith (knee), offensive tackle Archie Muniz (knee), and safety Nickoe Whitley (ruptured Achilles) will be limited this spring. Quarterback Tyler Russell won’t be 100 percent after banging up his knee during bowl practice, but he’ll be out there getting first-team reps.

On the move: Receiver Michael Carr has left the football team for a second time, and won’t be back.

Key battle: With Vick Ballard departing, there should be some serious competition at the running back position. Speedy junior LaDarius Perkins has made his share of big plays while backing up Ballard the past two seasons. Now, it’s Perkins’ chance to show he can be the go-to back. Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen has raved about 6-foot, 225-pound sophomore Nick Griffin and the dimension he brings to the offense. Had Griffin not torn his ACL last spring, he would have been a big part of the offense last season. When healthy, he’s looked like the complete package. A pair of redshirt freshmen will also make their case for playing time -- 5-9, 215-pound Josh Robinson and 6-foot, 205-pound Derrick Milton. Robinson was one of the stars of bowl practice last December, and the Mississippi State coaches are eager to see how he follows up this spring.

New faces: Three junior college signees enrolled in January and will go through spring practice. The headliner of the group is defensive end Denico Autry of East Mississippi Community College. Autry also had offers from Alabama, Miami and the USC Trojans. Offensive tackle Charles Siddoway played last season at Butte (Calif.) College after spending a year at California. Center Dylan Holley is a transfer from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. The Bulldogs’ top high school signee, defensive tackle Quay Evans of Morton, Miss., is also participating in spring practice after graduating high school early, along with offensive guard/tackle Justin Senior of Hargrave (Va.) Military Academy. Senior is originally from Montreal, Canada.

Breaking out: The Bulldogs lacked a big-play threat in the passing game last season. They simply didn’t have a guy who could consistently stretch the field and keep defenses honest. Redshirt freshman Joe Morrow might be that guy in 2012. At 6-4 and 205 pounds, he’s a big target with speed, and should be a nice complement to senior receivers Chad Bumphis, Arceto Clark and Chris Smith.

Don’t forget about: Chris Wilson’s defense played its best football toward the end of last season. This will be his second season in charge of the Bulldogs’ defense, so look for them to get off to a better start in 2012. The big loss was All-SEC tackle Fletcher Cox, who gave up his senior season to turn pro. But Autry should add some pass-rushing pop from his end position, and even though Evans is just a freshman, he’s somebody who should be able to help in the middle. Johnthan Banks returns as one of the top cornerbacks in the country, and there’s a lot of depth, period, in the secondary. All in all, it’s a defense that should be able to hold its own if the offense takes a while to find its identity in those first few games.

All eyes on: It’s Russell’s show now that Chris Relf has moved on, and it sounds like that show is going to be tailored around Russell’s ability to throw the ball from the pocket. Mullen said Mississippi State’s offense will look different with Russell under center. There was more of a run element to it last season, certainly from the quarterback position, with Relf starting the majority of the season. Russell’s forte is getting the ball down the field. He needs to show more accuracy and more consistency, but the Bulldogs are going to play to his strengths.

Lunchtime links

September, 20, 2011
9/20/11
12:10
PM ET
We're hitting some SEC links while you dive into that brown bag to nibble on that soggy tuna sandwich.

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