March 22, 2014 11:46:48 PM
STARKVILLE -- Chris Jones got tired of telling everybody he is a defensive end. This spring, he intends to show everybody.
The scales were the first way the former five-star recruit decided to show he could be kicked outside to defensive end. Jones said Friday he weighs 290 pounds, which is down from 315 pounds he played at last season when he tied for the team lead in tackles for loss (seven). Jones made an impact as a freshman despite feeling overweight and, as he put it Friday, "not having any clue what he was doing fundamentally."
"Now that I have another year under my belt, I'm able to adjust naturally and not have to think about technique so much because it has been drilled into me," Jones said.
MSU defensive coordinator Geoff Collins had a different message for Jones before the team's practice Friday, its first in shoulder pads.
"Here's the neat thing about Chris, after the first two days he was playing very fundamentally sound and with a lot of effort, and last year he wouldn't always do as expected with young players," Collins said. "But (Friday) we all told him, 'Chris, let your personality come alive', and it's a huge personality from a huge man."
Collins granted Jones' wish when the Bulldogs went to a 3-4 alignment with Jones at one end, Nelson Adams inside at tackle, and Preston Smith. Just like last season, Jones said he and MSU coach Dan Mullen have talked about him spending more time rushing the quarterback at defensive end. The topic of Jones at defensive end has become a running joke among the players and members of the football team's staff.
"He's got such a big aura and persona that when he says something or does something, the team already feeds off his energy," Collins said. "We need him to play the way he feels comfortable because his talent is already there."
To accomplish that goal, Mullen sees a lot of technique mishaps Jones needs to correct in his first spring workouts.
"He did a lot of bad things when you look at his first year, and that's just being honest," Mullen said Saturday. "I say that because if he wants to take the next step to become a dominant player instead of just good he has to make sure he's getting everything out of this opportunity."
After losing only two starters from the 2013 defense, Jones feels the 2014 group needs to get more quarterback hurries and sacks to become an elite defense in the Southeastern Conference. Of the 22 starters who took the field in MSU's 44-7 victory against Rice in the 2013 Liberty Bowl, 20 are participating in spring drills.
"The sky is the limit for us, and we talk about our potential all the time," Jones said. "If we turn that potential into results, we can be as good a group as anybody in the nation. The chemistry is so much better because for the most part we all know what we're supposed to be doing."
Myles adjusting well to WR
In his first season at MSU, Gabe Myles learned one important thing: Backpedaling after the snap in the secondary wasn't for him. Thankfully, the MSU coaching staff recognized that in Myles' redshirt year. The former Starkville High standout -- and The Dispatch's Offensive Player of the Year -- has looked impressive at wide receiver with the second-team offense.
"He's a interesting athlete, and he's going through the stages of learning the wide receiver position, but the good news is we've got a lot of veterans he can watch early on in his career," MSU wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator Billy Gonzales said.
Myles, a 6-footer who played quarterback at Starkville High, worked with the defensive backs last year, but he also saw time last season as the scout team quarterback.
"It's OK right now if there's mistakes from the younger guys because we've got all eight guys back in my position group, so I don't expect any fundamental mistakes from the older guys," Gonzales said.
MSU looking for increased consistently from Bell
Devon Bell no longer will be responsible for placekicking. It's a move Mullen hopes will allow Bell to deliver big numbers as a punter.
In punt return drills this weekend, Mullen said Bell recorded a near 50-yard average on punts with a near five-second hang time.
"If he's doing that this spring, that's where we want him to be in games," Mullen said. "We just need more consistency from him, and we think taking kicker duties off of him will do that for him."
Sophomore Evan Sobiesk will handle field goal duties this spring. He was 3 of 6 last season. Bell was 6 of 14.
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.