Mississippi State junior defensive end A.J. Jefferson fielded questions for the first time this fall.
The following is a transcript of Jefferson’s time with the media…
Q: How do you feel the defensive line is shaping up for the season?
Jefferson: “I’m pretty confident right now, especially with our backups. I know Ryan (Brown) is going to go out there and handle his business and Chris (Jones). Nick (James) has made big improvements. Nelson (Adams) played a lot last year with me. Johnathan Calvin has come a long way with Will Coleman, Braxton Hoyett and Cory Thomas. I really feel confident with these group of guys right here.”
Q: What’s the biggest improvement you’ve made?
Jefferson: “The biggest improvement I’ve made is working on my pass rush. I feel like with me trying to stay on the edges- like running right down the man – I’ve made big strides from last year with that.”
Q: Coach (David) Turner has talked about you taking on a leadership role. Is that something you’ve really focused on in the offseason to be that go-to guy the rest of defensive linemen can lean on?
Jefferson: “Since last year, every day that we go out there Coach Turner always tells me ‘four-seven, you’ve got to bring some juice and energy to the group’. That’s just my personality. I’m a goofy guy and I love to play. He knows when I go out there, I love to play football. I try to make it fun for everybody. I really don’t think it’s more of a difference, but I feel myself having to be more of a vocal leader this year now that Kaleb (Eulls), Preston (Smith) and P.J. (Jones) are gone.”
Q: Three starters are gone on the defensive line. Do you think the depth will still be there where you can rotate eight or nine guys like you did last year?
Jefferson: “Yeah, I think we’ll be able to do that. With Will Coleman and Johnathan Calvin coming along the way they’re doing and as far as them knowing the plays and what to do, I feel like we won’t have to worry about that. We don’t have to question their effort. I know if I or Ryan comes out of the game, I trust that Johnathan Calvin is going to go in there and give 110 percent. As far as Cory Thomas and Braxton Hoyett, I feel pretty confident about those guys too.”
Q: You based the front seven’s identity last year about stopping the run. You lost a lot of those run stoppers with Benardrick McKinney and Matt Wells gone too. How do you guys do that going forward?
Jefferson: “I feel pretty good about the front seven too. Beniquez (Brown) and Richie (Brown) are coming back. Gerri Green is just a step behind Benardrick as a redshirt freshman. I don’t think we’ll miss a beat. J.T. Gray is freaky good. Some of the stuff I watch him do, I’m like ‘dang, is this this same kid who just came here last year?’ I don’t think we’ll miss a beat right there.”
Q: What are some of the specific things you worked on your pass rush?
Jefferson: “Keeping my outside hand out of pass rushes. I watch guys like Ryan or Johnathan Calvin because everybody has something that they’re good at. Me, I think I’m a good counter rusher. Johnathan Calvin is a good speed rusher. Sometimes he won’t even let the tackle get an outside hand on him. It’s just him running, getting to the spot and dipping. I pretty much just watch and copy those guys and stealing what I can from them.”
Q: With the improvements Nick James has made and the job Chris Jones is doing in the interior, how does that free you and Ryan up to make plays on the edge?
Jefferson: “I think that’ll free us up a lot. I preach to Nick every day to just run off the ball and knock somebody back. I mean, 340 or 330-pounds moving forward fast like that at full speed, I’m pretty sure he’ll cause some havoc. I’m pretty sure they’ll slide and give him double teams so that’ll give Ryan and I a chance to show what we can do on the edge.”
Q: How much are you looking forward to this first game against Southern Miss since it’s in your neck of the woods?
Jefferson: “I’m excited. It’s an hour away from me and I almost went to school down there. I’m excited to get to play them.”
Q: Is it hard to scout Southern Miss with so many new players and it being the first game?
Jefferson: “I’m not going to say it’s going to be hard. It’s going to be something to look forward to. I’m anxious to see what happens.”
Q: What’s your mentality having practiced so many times. Are you guys chomping at the bit to finally get to play in a game?
Jefferson: “Yeah, but the whole mentality for the defensive line is not to get bored doing the same things. We come out there and do the same things every day from hand placements, to coming out of your hips to just everything. That’s our whole mentality right there. We’ve been at it, grinding and just got out of camp. Our main goal is to just stay focused and keep doing what we’ve got to do.”
Q: How do you not get bored and stay focused on those little things?
Jefferson: “Coach Turner will bring up things like a couple of years ago against Troy when they rushed for 200 or 300 yards against us. He’ll pull up the little cut up and show us that this is what getting bored looks like. We can’t let anybody crease us. You have to be where you’ve got to be and keep doing it.”
Q: What are your impressions of some of those younger freshmen defensive ends that came in this year?
Jefferson: “Fletcher Adams has a motor. As far as technique, I didn’t expect any of them to come up here looking like Ryan Brown does right now, the technician man. But (Adams’) motor is unbelievable. Anfernee Mullins, the strong man, he honestly doesn’t know how strong he is. He’ll come off the ball and put both hands on the offensive tackle and just throw him down just like that and keep running. Kendell Jones played defensive end in high school and they moved him inside. He’s still trying to feel his way around but I like the way he’s going right now. Keith Joseph is fast, freaky fast. During the summer, we had him running with the skill guys and he’d beat most of them. It’s a lot of good stuff to look forward to with the young guys.”