March 29, 2013 10:10:27 AM
Matthew Stevens - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- Who knew sliding inside a few feet would represent a different world for Kaleb Eulls.
The Mississippi State University defensive lineman is spending the spring football season learning everything about how to play in defensive tackle. In his first three seasons at MSU, Eulls has been allowed to roam on the outside as a pass rushing defensive end. He also has been asked to duties to drop into coverage in the flat. The area of responsibility has ranged 20-30 yards from the line of scrimmage.
This season, Eulls' focus has been on becoming an expert in dominating the few feet of real estate in the tackle box as he tries to protect his gaps as a defensive tackle.
"My concern about playing defensive tackle is just being able to handle a double from lineman in the Southeastern Conference," Eulls said. "Coach (David) Turner makes sure to simplify everything so the gaps are the same and I feel I know the playbook, but I'd like to think I can do what I did last year even though I'm in a more confined space."
With former East Mississippi Community College transfer Denico Autry, junior Preston Smith, sophomore Ryan Brown, and sophomore John Harris all competing for playing time, Eulls was asked to switch from end to tackle. After starting 26 games at defensive end, Eulls transformed from a 250-pounder at Yazoo City High School into an athletic 290-pound defensive tackle. He joked last summer he didn't recognize himself.
"I would get on the scale and say, 'Wow I can't believe I was able to get this big,' " Eulls said. "From two areas it's shocking. One is that the idea I'm able to put on that kind of muscle tone with the help of my coaches is amazing, but the other aspect of seeing a number close to 290 on me is I don't feel slow. You'd like with all that weight, I'd be slower or less confident I can move but it's the exact opposite."
As a redshirt freshman, Eulls saw time at defensive tackle and defensive end. He was the only defensive freshman to start all 13 games in the Southeastern Conference in 2011. Eulls was named to the 2011 All-SEC freshman team in a vote by the league's coaches, but he still didn't have a solid position.
Last season, Eulls appeared to be a "tweener" who alternated between a position he seemed more suited for (defensive tackle) and a position (defensive end) MSU needed him to play. Eulls started 13 games but he didn't have a sack.
With the departure of defensive line coach Chris Wilson, who took a similar position at the University of Georgia, Turner has instructed Eulls to focus on defensive tackle.
"It's a real simple philosophy for me and our staff. We're trying to find the best four lineman to put up front," Turner said. "To do that, we think Kaleb is best suited to play inside at tackle."
Former MSU standout Fletcher Cox transformed into a 290-pounder at Starkville and used his athleticism to be named MVP of the Music City Bowl. The Philadelphia Eagles drafted Cox with the No. 12 pick in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft.
"I don't know if there's a specific player in mind they'd like me to emulate, but I'd like to play in the NFL like Fletcher Cox, and I know that's going to take a lot of improvement and work on my part," Eulls said.
The good news is Turner said Eulls hasn't shied away from hard work and working hard to master his new position.
"The spring for Kaleb, just like any other player is being able to be taught, and he's slowly getting what we're telling me everyday," Turner said. "We're not trying to play an opponent at the end of the spring, so just being better than you were yesterday is the goal. Kaleb Eulls is accomplishing that for the most part while he's out here."