STARKVILLE – Asked if his enigmatic sophomore defensive tackles are progressing through fall camp, Mississippi State University defensive line coach came up with the perfect answer.
“Well, it depends on the day to be quite honest,” Turner said bluntly. “If they come out with their minds right, they have pretty good days.”
And just with that 23-word answer by their position coach, the potential and the problem for MSU sophomore defensive tackles Quay Evans and Nick James. Both players were hyped to be the perfect defensive tackle duo coming out of the 2012 recruiting class as four-star prospects from within the state of Mississippi. Both players are now finding the adaption to the level of play, preparation and mental strength needed in the Southeastern Conference to be a much longer process.
“Both of those guys are talented but right now they just don’t have a clue in terms of effort and consistency,” Turner said.
Neither player was made available to the media Saturday as MSU media relations officials have restricted the duo from any interview sessions through the first two years on the roster.
Evans and James are trying to become valuable backups to the veteran starters of Kaleb Eulls and P.J. Jones on a defensive line looking to improve last year’s pedestrian sack and tackles for loss numbers.
Turner still came away from Saturday’s practice with the same fears of the start of fall camp that depth on the inside of the defensive line will become a problem if the talented youth don’t establish themselves.
“I feel we got some bodies but we’re going to have to mix and match with what we got,” Turner said. “We’re going to have to stay relatively healthy but we’ll work with probably four guys.”
Health has been a concern with Denico Autry suffering a injury that required his right hand to be placed in a cast and P.J. Jones still recovering from a severe left ankle injury in camp.
Evans was rated the top prospect in the state of Mississippi among all positions in the 2012 recruiting class by various recruiting services. The talent of the 310-pounder from Morton was able to pass through the normal system of red-shirting first-year players integrated by MSU coach Dan Mullen.
Evans chose MSU over Auburn University, University of Southern California, Florida State University, Louisiana State University, University of Alabama and University of Mississippi. He was quickly humbled by being on the third-string defense when he arrived in Starkville.
While he saw action in 10 games and recorded seven tackles, one forced fumble and a fumble recovery, he was not productive throughout the year after tallying three tackles, a forced fumble and a quarterback hurry against Jackson State University in his college debut. After his first game, Evans was seen as more of a situational player due to the depth in the Bulldogs defensive line.
James, a 345-pound prospect from Long Beach, has been already a handful for the coaching staff to control mentally, emotionally and physically. Physically the four-star recruit by all the recruiting services has been unable to get close to handle being a every down player. In the open practices of fall camp, James was seen wavering between the second and third-string defensive units and even seen getting into fights with offensive lineman teammates long after the whistle is blown.
James might be the prototypical three technique or nose guard defensive lineman but the Bulldogs don’t run that 3-4 system and are trying to get his skill set adapted to a 4-3 scheme where tackles are supposed to get up the field.
The veterans of the MSU defensive line has already noticed most of the talking comes from the the mouths of Evans and James but they’d like the production to balance out the noise in 2013.
“Individuals, those guys are true individuals that are just different,” P.J. Jones said. “They just express themselves differently than most people would.
In order to improve on pass rush that ranked 13th in the SEC with 19 sacks and a rush defense that was 11th in the league allowing 165.62 yards on the ground, Turner must find a combination of four or five defensive tackles he can rely on. James and Evans know their coaches must get contributions from them to not only see that potential they were recruited for but to just see more of the playing field in the 2013 season.
“At this point, we know it bothers some of the older guys but we know they’re going to talk, talk, talk but they need to get their work in,” MSU junior Curtis Virges said. “Sometimes it’s like well, if they’re just going to jaw, they’re just going to jaw.”