September 22, 2017 11:18:42 AM
STARKVILLE -- There wasn't much carryover for Mississippi State's safeties to work from as it approached this fall. New position coach Ron English was coaching a position given different responsibilities in the system of new defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, and it all came as a crop of new players entered via position changes and junior colleges.
The transformative figure in the upheaval has been Johnathan Abram.
Abram's on-field impact has already been apparent with 11 tackles and a pass break-up, but how he changes the dynamic of the MSU (3-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) secondary may be more important. His high-energy attitude is almost certain to be on display when he takes on his former team, 3-0 Georgia, 6 p.m. Saturday at Sanford Stadium (ESPN).
"He brought all of his energy," MSU cornerback Jamal Peters said. "I'm so proud to be on a team with him."
Safety J.T. Gray added, "He's one of the smartest ones on defense. If I need help on the defense, he's right there, he's got my back."
The vote of confidence from Gray from a system knowledge perspective is not the only one; that aspect of his play may be what's impressed coaches the most. MSU defensive coordinator Todd Grantham sees in Abram a person, "obsessed with being a great player."
"He asks a lot of questions. He spends a lot of extra time working out," MSU head coach Dan Mullen said. "He's always in the office, studying the game and asking questions. I think a lot of the younger guys can learn from him, because a lot of times newer players are nervous to ask questions. John's not. He's going to ask questions to make sure that he's certain of the answers, which is the right thing to do. So it is a great example for the younger kids."
Having the command that Abram has is easier said than done given Grantham's affinity for, "cross-training," players to use them in multiple positions. Abram has done just that depending on the defensive package MSU is in and showed the traits of a true safety, going from run-stopping to press coverage in seamless fashion.
Abram's dedication to the defense comes from the high standard he maintains for himself.
"I mean, if you're going to do something, you might as well be good at it, right?" Abram said. "I just took the time and put everything I had into knowing the whole defense."
That high standard showed in how he evaluated playing for English. Abram said he liked how detail-oriented English is and added, "that's something most coaches aren't," a jarring evaluation of an entire profession that's famous for sweating small details.
Grantham's favorite aspect of Abram's thirst for system knowledge is that it's contagious.
"I think anytime you get guys like that, it can feed into other guys, particularly in that room," he said. "I think his influence has shown up with those guys, with the way he's done."
This week in particular, MSU is pleased he's doing so for it instead of Georgia. The Columbia native starred at East Marion High School where he was both a quarterback and safety. Abram transferred from there to Jones County Junior College before ending up at MSU, where Peters said he should have been all along.
Mullen has chosen not to dig too far into Abram's Georgia roots. Mullen said he asked Abram in recruiting why he left Georgia as he gathered information on him, but has not asked him for more this week. He added since he's been at MSU all he's seen is a player with, "a great demeanor and work ethic."
As for Abram, he said he's heard from his former teammates, but most of it has been simply expressing excitement to see one another again. Come Saturday night, Abram's plans on playing with the same attitude that's take over MSU's safeties group.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter, @Brett_Hudson
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