"I think we came pretty close to meeting our objectives. We wanted to input this defense. And we wanted to set standards as to what we expect from each individual as far as how he acts off the field as well as on the field. The discipline that it takes to be a champion has to be developed off the field and placed in a man's heart and desire so that he can carry it on the field of battle. Adversity in games allow a man to give in, so we have to start building that discipline in the kid from day one."
You and Coach Cooper have the same type of philosophy as far as discipline is concerned.
"I was raised by my mom and dad to instill a lot of discipline. That is the most important key to a young man being successful in life and on the field. You are what you act and show. Sometimes, out of habit, a young man may be out there and do some things that are not acceptable. It is important that we set the standards of this football team so that these young man do the right thing at the right time. To me, the definition of character is what you do when nobody is looking. So, there has to be a fear factor that you had better do what is right or somebody will find out."
Did they adjust to that this spring?
"They had no choice. A lot of times you can't give a kid a choice. You give certain young kids choices, they might choose the wrong choice. I've always thought about what can happen or how it could affect someone else if a young person makes a bad choice. What we have tried to instill in these kids is what you do not only affects you, but someone else. When parents send their kids to Mississippi State they also send them to carry on that discipline they tried to instill when they were at home. You make sure you say what you mean and mean what you say.
"We make sure when we let our players go and let them loose on the field, they know this way is the right way and the right way will make them successful."
How about talking about your individual players.
"We accomplished a lot this spring and it is something that we have to carry on to the summer and fall. We established some guys who will start the fall representing the first unit but we always say that we will have 22 first unit guys. I am going to rotate 7 or 8 defensive linemen. Normally, I don't want my second four to be more than a step away from being a starter.
"(Defensive end) Tommy Kelly has tremendous upside. Tommy has a lot of natural ability but I have to make sure to channel it and make sure he understands what it means to be a great player. Like Tiger Wood, Wayne Gretzky and Michael Jordan, it takes a certain commitment and standard of how you practice and go about your business to be a great player. I was fortunate to coach five or six of those guys with the Dallas Cowboys. I really believe Tommy has a chance to be very good. I wish I had Tommy two or three years ago. There's no telling where he would be right now.
"Another thing I like about him is he is a yes sir, no sir, kind of guy. Tommy has a lot of respect for his elders
"Ronald Fields is going to be an outstanding defensive tackle.
"These guys have improved a lot but if you ask them, they will say that, 'coach is hard on us, we have a long way to go', but deep down inside they know that they have made tremendous improvement. We have a little ways to go but we can pick that up in two-a-days."
Did you notice that your players had problems getting off blocks where you first started working with them? I ask that because, in the past, that has been discussed in their pro evaluation prior to the NFL draft.
"Their scheme was a different scheme when Joe Lee Dunn was here. He is an excellent, excellent football coach but he had a different scheme, a different philosophy about playing defense. His deal was to penetrate, don't play the block, just go get after people. Like in the NFL, we teach a technique where you play the guy over you; you come off the ball, create a new line of scrimmage, get off the block and make plays."
Talk about your scheme in a little more detail.
"We play four down linemen. Our job is to create a lot of pressure in the running game, creating a new line of scrimmage in the running game as well as get after the quarterback. What I mean by that is we have to get to the quarterback without always having to blitz. We have to get after them one-on-one with our pass rush."
I can see why you will need 7 or 8 guys, your guys will be expending a lot of energy every play.
"Right, we are going to really run to the football every play and create havoc when we get there. The energy that is going to be exerted to play the type of football that I like to teach and have been a part of all of my career requires a young man with a lot of endurance and stamina."
Were you able to build up endurance in them during the spring?
"It's hard to do that in spring ball because you spend so much time teaching. When you are implementing a new offense and defense, there is a lot of teaching going on. You have to slow it down and teach. We were in good enough shape to execute in scrimmages and get after each other and fly around."
Talk about your other players.
"Kamau Jackson and Lennie Day are really neck and neck right now. I thought that Kamau came out and did some exciting things and really got after some people. Lennie Day, who played quite a bit last year and is committed to getting that position back, came on the last of the spring and played pretty good. One thing about competition is it brings the best out of you. Then you have Willie Evans who is an outstanding defensive end. Will weighs 262 but is very strong. He has natural things that he does to get off blocks in pass-rush. He is a very astute player. So, we have five guys who could start for us.
"Then, we have the young kid, Roosevelt Tate, who I think will be an outstanding player, behind Tommy Kelly. He has to get stronger. He's strong but not of the magnitude I would like where he can dominate players.
"We also have Markell McKinley, a redshirt freshman that has a lot of talent. I have to push him quite a bit and teach him how to practice, teach him the tempo it takes to play at the level it takes to be a dominate defensive lineman.
"Another player is Jadice Moore who has been around a long time but hasn't played much. He has some ability, but lacks some speed and quickness. But those are things you can work on. The thing that he has is size. The things that he needs to do during the summer is work on a lot of foot quickness and do everything at a fast pace. We need to create that mindset in him so that it comes more natural to him.
"I thought that Robert Spivey played really well and really helped himself. He needs to gain 10 or 15 pounds of muscle mass to go up against the run. Curtis Stowers is behind him.
"I like the young kid, Stephen Arant. Arant has an outstanding attitude. He also has the frame but is about a year away in the weight room. But he does everything right and with tremendous effort. His future is bright. He just needs to put on more weight."
You mentioned that you have five guys who could start but you also said that you want 8 guys in your rotation. Does that mean Tate and McKinley may play some next year?
"They are going to play. They will get experience in two-a-days and hopefully, by the third or fourth game, they will get better. I think they will get better. Nothing is better than game experience. We just have to get them ready to go in the game and really be sound. Once they are familiar with the scheme, then they can really turn loose."
Because they are freshmen, will you be selective as to when you will use them in games?
"I'm not giving them excuses. I tell them to get their tail ready to play every down and every situation. In my mind, I might have some things that I plan on doing with each individual depending on their strengths and weaknesses. I have a chart for them. If I find any weakness in their game, then we work on that weakness and make it stronger."
Thanks for your time, Coach Blake.
Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. The URL for Gene's Page is http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com. You can contact him by emailing email@example.com.