JM: Good afternoon everyone. [We are] Eight days into camp and I think we have been progressing nicely. Scrimmage number one is this evening and it is a great opportunity to get out on the field without all of the coaches [on the field] and let the kids play and compete and have some opportunity to evaluate.
Q: Eight days into camp, how would you asses where your starting quarterback competition is?
JM: I think it is progressing nicely. I think the battle has elevated the urgency and execution of the entire unit. We grade and evaluate every snap, and chart everything they are doing. I think it is headed at the pace that we anticipated.
Q: You have a lot of underclassmen that are in the rotation at defensive tackle, what do you want to see in those reps at the position that will ultimately decide the snap counts for everyone?
JM: Losing Jeffery [Simmons] and Braxton [Hoyett] and the three primary backups that makes that position one where we have to reload in a hurry. With some of the older guys who maybe didn't have a primary role last year - Kendell [Jones] and Lee [Autry] - moving James Jackson over and all of the young guys, they just need a ton of reps. Aside from those reps, the physicality of the position and the ability to play the run and the pass. I think coach [Deke] Adams is doing a really nice job with them.
Q: I know every meeting room has its leader, has anyone stepped forward in [the defensive line room] to take that leadership role?
JM: I would say in a certain sense [the leadership in that room] is by committee. That is one of the things we have talked about with the guys. You don't necessarily have to have a "C" on your jersey to be a captain. I think some of the guys on the defensive side of the ball have picked up the slack from that perspective. Of everyone [in the defensive line room], Lee is the guy that kids are taking their keys from.
Q: You said you chart every throw that [the quarterbacks] make. How much will the scrimmages help you determine who will be your quarterback?
JM: The scrimmage performance plays a role but is not necessarily the only measuring stick. It is completion percentage, touchdown-to-interception ratio, explosive plays created and how the team is rallying around you. There are a bunch of different things, but certainly the scrimmages will play a big part of it, but really want you want is their body of work to paint a picture. We talk about our ability to improve our passing game with a respect to the efficiency and explosiveness, while still protecting the football and gaining the confidence of your teammates. They are both showing they can run the ball capably, but at the end of the day it will come down to which of those two throw the ball the best.
Q: What are your thoughts on your freshman class?
JM: We are very excited about them. I think, like anything, the first few days of exposure to SEC West football is a little bit eye opening. It's not just the speed and physicality of the game, but the relative complexity of the instillations and how they stack on top of each other, then taking the information from the meeting room and applying it on the field. I think from a pure physical standpoint, that what we believed in the [recruiting] process [was true]. I think we got bigger, I think we got stronger and I think we got more athletic and explosive. Now it is a matter of them getting adjusted to the speed of the game.
Q: How would you describe a Michael Johnson wide receiver and what kind of identity do you expect out of that group?
JM: The two words I think of when I think of Michael are knowledge and positivity. I don't think I have ever seen the guy have a bad day. And, when you have experience at the collegiate level and in the NFL, as the guy who coached Michael Vick and all of those great receivers with the Baltimore Ravens, he brings instant credibility to the room. The adage is "they don't care how much you know until they know how much you care," I think Michael has done a really good job forming a personal relationship with the guys. When that occurs, they are willing to go to bat for you. You see a more mature group [in the wide receivers room].
Q: You've talked about hiring some new staff this year, but between Tony Hughes, Marcus Johnson and Joey Jones, you have a number of guys with former head coaching experience, how much does that help you as a second-year SEC head coach?
JM: Coach [Andrew] Breiner and Coach [Bob] Shoop have been head coaches prior, as well. I think that any time you have the ability to bounce ideas off of people who have sat in that chair, because there really is not a manual for it, [is important]. You can prepare for being an assistant coach or being a coordinator and do your best to put the plan in place, so to speak. [As a head coach,] There are always things that pop up. You may have an idea on how you want to do it, but to be able to ask one of those guys who have done it, they have all been great resources.
Q: With the numbers and talent you lost on defense, how do you keep the standard where it was at from last year to this year?
JM: I think Coach Shoop and his staff have done a nice job acknowledging the fact that we lost a lot of talent and certainly a lot of production, but at the same time, we are not lowering the expectation level of the standard with which we want to perform. If you look at the different positions across the board, it's kind of a little bit different. At linebacker, we bring most of the guys back, including two of the top players in the country. At other positions, we have talent that requires experience. The base foundation of our scheme remains the same. Coach Shoop has done a good job with offseason studies and things we are going to tweak and install. In certain aspects, it's not about plays, it's about players, and you want to hold true to your system, but at the same time you don't want to ask kids to do what they're not capable of doing. Within our scheme, there is enough flexibility that if you lose a bunch of lineman, you can just make adjustments in the second level to try and mitigate some departures.
Q: In terms of Chris Marve, where does he rank in terms of energy level, where does he rank among other assistants you've had?
JM: Where does the Energizer Bunny rank? If he's a 10, then [Marve] is a 10. I don't know if he still has any eligibility left or has hopes of going to the next level, but if you watch him coach kids during individuals, he is drenched in sweat by the end of period two. I think the kids in that room are really adapting to his personality and coaching style. Like Michael, he's a very positive guy and pushes the kids. He's done a good job of working with our kids as people, as well.
Q: Beyond the energy, what has Marve brought as a football coach?
JM: I think he's a tenacious and tremendous recruiter. He does a good job there and really works hard in that aspect. I mentioned it before, if you do this for enough time, I have year 21 coming up, you get a sense of people who have the opportunity to become future coordinators or head coaches and think Chris is one of those guys. He has the credibility of playing for four years in the SEC and being an All-SEC performer. He's very intelligent and communicates well. He has great passion. And, his relationship with Coach Shoop, all those things have added up to a real slam dunk hire.
Q: You have several guys who grew up here or just up the road. How unique is it to have several guys that are a key part of your team who grew up here? Amongst Willie Gay Jr., Marcus Murphy and some of those other local guys, have you sensed a pride of playing for the Golden Triangle area and their home?
JM: Very few players at the high school level have the opportunity to play Division I football, even less in the SEC, even less in the SEC West, and even less for the team that they grew up rooting for. For those guys to be able to stay at home in front of their family and friends and be able to share this experience with them during their college football journey. They get to show other kids around the area and around the state that you don't have to go anywhere to achieve all your goals and dreams. That's what makes it special for those guys. I have parents who text me to ask if scrimmages will be open to families. To have people from all around the area who are here to support them, I think it makes it good for those guys.
Q: You have a group of guys that like to dance. What do you think of that and do you join in?
JM: I won't say I did, but I won't say I didn't either. You can ask them that. Deddrick [Thomas] is pretty good. Tommy Champion. Michael Story. Fletcher Adams jumped up the other day. The guys wanted [Esaias] Furdge, so he has jumped up there. We start every team meeting off with music and I let them select it, and I don't get started until one of the guys jumps up there and gets going. When Fletcher jumped up there, the room went nuts. It was good. It's always fun to start a meeting with that kind of energy.
Q: Going back to the freshmen, who stands out to you and maybe has a chance for playing time this season?
JM: [Garrett] Shrader has made some really nice strides. He was a mid-year [enrollee], but he has stepped up his game in the last few practices and done a nice job. Lee Witherspoon has been getting a bunch of reps at running back. Nick Pendley has stood out with his motor and physicality...You could list all of them. At different times, it's different guys stepping up. Their reps are limited right now because of depth and getting used to the speed of the game. During the course of seven practices, they have all had their moments. I apologize to any of them if I missed their name, they can come see me later.
Q: You have several junior college guys on the roster. How valuable can that experience be to your team and the younger guys on the roster?
JM: I had limited amounts of experience recruiting junior colleges prior to coming to Mississippi State. I think it's an invaluable resource for us. The most interesting thing to me are kids [in Mississippi] who have FCS or Group of 5 offers, bypass that to choose to go to junior college because they have hopes and aspirations of playing FBS or in the SEC. To have so many in this state who are great players and well coached, it allows you to fill a hole or a void left in one of the classes with a guy that can step in and play immediately. I think we have been able to do that well so far and continue doing that in the future.