Sherman Timbs was buried deep.
When the Indianola Academy product began his career at Mississippi State, he was one of 18 defensive linemen on the Bulldogs’ roster.
“I was just this kid from private school coming in and just trying to stay alive out there,” Timbs recalled Tuesday.
But the freshman found himself under the wings of players light-years above him on the depth chart. Jeffery Simmons and Montez Sweat — now NFL stars — were some of the Bulldogs who helped Timbs acclimate to Starkville as the young player redshirted in 2017.
“I came in with a group of studs there at D-line,” Timbs said.
Now, four seasons later, Timbs is still learning. The fifth-year senior has been converted to a SAM linebacker from defensive end, and he’s learning from players like senior Tyrus Wheat while taking old habits into his new position.
Timbs said Mississippi State’s coaches began to develop him as a linebacker around last year’s Egg Bowl in Oxford, and he’s worked through the fall and into the spring to become comfortable in the new spot.
Timbs said he’s not the only one who has improved, either. Being able to hold practices and scrimmages after last spring fell victim to the COVID-19 pandemic has been miles better for the team than congregating through Zoom.
“Since we’ve had the fall and now the spring, you can see a great difference between the recognition of what’s going on with the defense and the team,” Timbs said.
Timbs spoke well of strength and conditioning coach Tyson Brown for preparing the Bulldogs physically. Brown came with head coach Mike Leach from Washington State and has earned rave reviews so far in Starkville.
“Every day we go in there, they always push us to do more, to work harder and everything,” Timbs said. “Just the way he and his staff just kind of take everybody in and work with you on a personal level has been kind of a great thing with him.”
Zach Arnett, an import from San Diego State, is also in his second year with the Bulldogs. The defensive coordinator was brutally honest about the state of Mississippi State’s defense last week, and Timbs said he enjoys playing under Arnett.
“I like the way he just goes about this defense like it should be,” Timbs said. “Mississippi State’s always been a defensive school. Everybody knows that about us, and he’s really taking that in and pushing us and making us strive to live up to that. I like him a lot for that.”
Watson settling in at MIKE
Timbs isn’t the only Mississippi State linebacker beginning to settle in.
Redshirt junior Nathaniel “Bookie” Watson has been tasked with the Bulldogs’ MIKE linebacker slot, and he said Tuesday he’s feeling comfortable in the position — thanks to his time spent learning from Erroll Thompson Jr. and Tim Washington. Watson said he’d still like to learn all three linebacker positions but knows that will come with time.
“I just caught on to their role, so I’m just following in their footsteps,” Watson said.
While he praised his team’s defensive line, Watson said the Bulldogs aren’t yet sure where they stand overall on defense. He knows expectations are high at Mississippi State, so Saturday’s Maroon and White spring game will be an important litmus test: Is the Dawgs’ defense where they want it?
“We’re going to see,” Watson said. “We’re going to see this Saturday.”
Ruiz hopes to ‘put on a show’
Brandon Ruiz knows what he wants to do come 11 a.m. Saturday when the Bulldogs take Scott Field at Davis Wade Stadium.
The redshirt senior kicker wants to “put on a show” — knocking long field goals through the uprights and making his family proud.
“I want to perform perfectly,” Ruiz said Tuesday.
In 2020, the Arizona State transfer was close to it. He made 10 of 12 field goals for the Bulldogs and performed well on kickoffs as well, a strong performance that served as part of the reason he chose to return this season.
“I thought I had a great year,” Ruiz said. “I finished fourth in the nation in touchback percentage, which is something that I always wanted to do. It would be great to be No. 1.”
He praised freshman Aidan Martin for his performance so far in spring camp and said the kickers as a group have done well.
Special teams coordinator Matt Brock has had his players chart their attempts this spring, and Ruiz said he’s noticed progress.
“This is really the time of the season when we improve our mechanics and everything, so I can really tell a lot of people are doing a lot better,” Ruiz said.