September 14, 2018 10:33:49 AM
STARKVILLE -- All the chatter surrounded what was returning, and Mississippi State's defense had plenty to offer in that regard. It had a pair of All-Southeastern Conference defensive linemen plus its interceptions leader, the latter being one of many returning defensive backs.
The one loss at linebacker was its most important: its signal caller, its middle linebacker and brains of the operation, Dez Harris.
The search for his replacement was no battle ground; it was a preordained grooming. Through two games, No. 16 MSU (2-0) is feeling good about its selection: Erroll Thompson.
The sophomore from Florence, Alabama, was handed the reigns of Bob Shoop's defense in the spring and has showed no signs of slowing down. He was demonstrative in coordinating MSU's defense in the win over Kansas State, all while tallying seven tackles himself, and MSU expects even more 6:30 p.m. Saturday (ESPN2) against Louisiana-Lafayette.
"He, Mark and John do a lot of the communication piece for us, and he enjoys it," Shoop said. "He's composed, he doesn't get rattled. He stepped in when Dez got hurt and I thought he played pretty well. To me, I think he's ready to take the next step, I think he's earned the respect of his teammates.
"I don't think he's the alpha dog that Johnathan Abram or Jeffery Simmons are, personality-wise, but he's a good commander. He communicates clearly, communicates loudly and once the ball turns over, he can play the game pretty good."
Shoop goes out of his way to make sure, as Thompson's acumen becomes his most celebrated quality, that Thompson's physical talents do not get lost. Shoop thinks Thompson is a good blitzer and he's proven that opinion with his willingness to unleash Thompson. Thompson got his first sack of the season at Kansas State and has a quarterback hurry to his name as well.
"Erroll Thompson's a guy flying a little under the radar that deserves some credit," Shoop said.
Still, Thompson knows his biggest impact can be cerebral in nature. In that department, he is his own worst critic.
Thompson said his transition to signal caller is going, "alright." He gives himself a B+ or an A-. He says he is growing more confident in making every call, but wants to see more so he can prepare for every situation.
His coaches don't have that hesitation. Shoop sees Thompson, "commanding the team." Head coach Joe Moorhead already looks to Thompson as a, "steadying influence on a defense that plays with a tremendous amount of confidence and emotion."
Thompson gives the credit to his predecessor, who actively groomed Thompson while he was injured.
"The way he sees things, the way he commands things, the way he gets guys lined up," Thompson said. "You have to study a lot outside of practice, get with Coach Shoop and (linebackers) Coach (Tem) Lukabu.
"That's my job: getting the guys lined up, communicating, getting the right call. Johnathan Abram and Mark McLaurin do a great job of communicating, we all get it done together."
With the Ragin' Cajuns (1-0) coming to town, Thompson's new role will be more under the microscope than ever before.
"That's one of the keys this week: these guys have a lot of formations, very unorthodox formations whether it be empty, unbalanced line and they'll use any and all of them," Shoop said.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson