Cowbell Corner Q&A Part 1: MSU D-line coach Jeff Phelps talks the 3-3-5 and discusses the Bulldogs along the front

Joel Coleman

Earlier this week, Cowbell Corner caught up with Mississippi State defensive line coach Jeff Phelps. Here is the first part of that discussion, edited slightly for clarity. The final part of the chat will be posted on Sunday.

Cowbell Corner: What’s kind of the feel right now in the building amongst you coaches? Is there an optimism this season will get going in a few weeks?

Phelps: Yeah, there’s a lot of optimism. There’s obviously a lot of planning being done and guys are taking care of business and doing the things they need to do. i think everybody is pretty optimistic about it. We’ll see. You know the powers that be have to come down and make the final decisions. We’ll see what they decide. But yeah, everybody is kind of going with the idea that we’re going to be going and be full-go and ready to roll.

Cowbell Corner: I know you, like everyone else, hasn’t gotten to really see your guys in action other than on film. So are you currently able to have a feel for what you have in your defensive line room or is it kind of a guessing game for you until you all can get out on the field and actually practice?

Phelps: Nothing can take the place of getting out in spring practices and getting the chance to see the players run the defense and see how it all kind of fits and see what their comfort level is as far as the things you’re asking them to do. So with that, not having that opportunity, it (hurts). But everyone was in that scenario. You kind of roll with the punches so to speak. You watch what they were able to do in winter conditioning parts and film from last year as far as what they did from an athletic standpoint and you start to make decisions based on that.

Cowbell Corner: Changing over to defensive coordinator Zach Arnett’s 3-3-5 style, will that change a lot for the defensive line as far as what they’ve been asked to do the last couple of years under former defensive coordinator Bob Shoop?

Phelps: It changes a little bit personnel wise. Some of the guys had to come down and whether they stood up to be the Sam backer or maybe you moved in to be a (defensive) tackle. Those are the things we’ll continue to sort out to get the best 11 on the field. But really, from a defensive line standpoint, from a hand-in-the-ground standpoint, the way we kind of teach it is really the same whether you’re a shade, a (three-man front), a (five-man front), a (four-man front), the techniques are pretty simple as far as what we’re asking them to do. Then from there, we’ll continue to work on the technique of it. It still comes down to getting in line to get off the ball and attacking gaps and penetrating through the gaps. Like I said, no matter whether you’re going to catch a double team or you’ll be on the edge of a single block is really the big difference.

Cowbell Corner: I want to ask you about several of your guys starting with a couple of seniors, Marquiss Spencer and Kobe Jones. How big are those guys for you with the leadership they bring? What has been your impression of those guys?

Phelps: Well I’l tell you, they love the game of football and that’s very evident in the way they conduct themselves through workouts. They provide great leadership. They love Mississippi State. Those things, you can just see it in they way they carry themselves and the way they talk about the campus, the university and everybody that’s involved in it. When you have guys like that, it makes it that much easier. Especially in a transitional period where you have a new staff coming in and new concepts to be learned. It really comes down to those guys embracing it. Then that leadership trickles down to the underclassmen and them embracing whatever their role may be. It has been tremendous seeing those guys work and seeing the level of athleticism they have. Obviously they’re great students as well. Seeing that type of competitive nature in the classroom, you know it’s going to spill over on the playing field because I always believe that if you’re a competitor, you compete in everything you do and those true competitors get after it in the classroom, in the weight room, on the practice field – you name it, they’re going to compete.

Cowbell Corner: Last year, Nathan Pickering came onto the scene and had a big year. Has he impressed you guys in the early going?

Phelps: Yeah. He’s really a quiet guy. He’s a true outdoorsman-type of guy. He loves fishing and hunting and all that good stuff. It doesn’t take much for him. He’s just, ‘Where do you want me to line up? What do you want me to do?’ And then he goes out and gets it done. You love seeing that, especially out of defensive linemen. Those guys that are all about, ‘Hey, just put the ball down.’ It doesn’t matter what happened the snap before. It could’ve been good. It could’ve been bad. But he’s on to the next snap and ready for that ball to snap and ready to get out of his stance and cause some disruption in the backfield. He’s got some great strengths and great athleticism. He’s just now really coming into his own as far as developing into his body and understanding how his body works. I’m looking forward to seeing him continue to move in that positive direction once practices start up.

Cowbell Corner: Similar question, but a different guy. What’s your early impressions of Jaden Crumedy?

Phelps: Another athletic guy. I thought he was a senior the way he carries himself and the way he leads. I kind of had to do a double take. It’s fun to see these guys and see them work and see them interact with each other. It’s very clear they found guys that love the game of football. And when you do that, the sky is the limit. I inherited a great group of student-athletes in that defensive line group and I’m really excited about it. Jaden, he’s athletic and a big guy and he can run. He’s got it all. I’m really looking forward to seeing his production on the field. He’s a yes-sir kind of guy. You say, ‘Hey, I need you to do this’. He says, ‘Yes sir.’ He’s such a team guy and he puts the team ahead of himself. You can never ask for more than that from a football player.

Cowbell Corner: Seems like you have some guys that are new to Mississippi State that’ll contribute this year – Jordan Davis and Tre Lawson among them. Those two immediately come to mind. What are your thoughts on those two guys and has anyone else caught your attention as guys that could make an impact?

Phelps: (Davis and Lawson) are very athletic and they’re long and got great range to them. They’re going to be exciting to see rush off the edge and putting pressure on quarterbacks. You’ve got so many that are in that group. You’ve got Jack Harris. He had a tremendous offseason and it’ll be interesting to see how he comes into this year. Cam Young is coming off an injury, but he’s a big, strong, aggressive, athletic player. So I’m looking forward to seeing what he brings to the table. (Sherman) Timbs, he comes to mind. He just shows up and works and works his tail off each and every day. He’s finally starting to get it I think and starting to see, there’s a chance he can get on the field and make some things happen. That’s exciting. Then you’ve got Devon Robinson. He’s another kind of unknown that’s a big-bodied guy that is athletic that can move. That’s where you kind of miss the spring. You get so excited about seeing the guys as they worked out and the things they did in winter conditioning. Then you don’t get that spring to see it all come together for them on the practice field. But obviously the excitement is still there and the hope that things continue to progress and move forward in a positive direction as far as the continuation of playing football. That way you get those guys on the field and ultimately see what they can do and piece it all together and get ready to play a game.