Mississippi State's defensive line was dominant in the season opener and several Bulldogs up front continued that trend in Week 2, as well. But assistant coach Brian Baker also has some talent at that position via the scout team this year.
While injuries could change things, the Bulldogs are expected to redshirt a trio of defensive linemen in freshman noseguard James Jackson, junior noseguard Lee Autry and defensive end Chauncey Rivers, who is academically redshirting in 2017.
Jackson, a Pascagoula native, enrolled early at Mississippi State back in January. So he's been able to get a head start on his adjustment phase to college football.
"Things can change but for right now, we're hoping to save him for next year," said Baker of Jackson. "I really like his upside. He got better throughout the summer and as I challenged him, what he has to do is clean up his fundamentals. There are assignments in that part of it but certainly, every time he puts his hand in the ground he should be thinking about the things he has to do fundamentally to win that down.
"Sometimes that is hard for a freshman. Sometimes they get over there and just want to get through the day. So that is the thing he has to challenge himself with."
Jackson has also managed to make the transition in the weight room, too. And that was a major emphasis throughout spring practice and summer conditioning.
"No question it was big," added Baker on Jackson enrolling early. "I think in his case, the major benefit was the physical development. Coach Nick Savage and his strength staff did a great job of No. 1, expressing the importance of him getting his fitness together. And now he is probably 335 pounds."
And Jackson, added Baker, has shown glimpses of his future with the Bulldogs. But like most incoming freshmen, he still has some old high school habits to shake.
"Power and he is very athletic," said Baker. "For a guy his size, he's really athletic. He is flexible for a big guy and he has to use those tools. He tends to have those big-guy in high school habits of just being able to stand up and catch guys and throw them and make plays. Well, you can't do that here and that's the thing he is still getting out of. Even in our individuals I still see signs of it. So it is still a process with James."
While Jackson was expected to redshirt, the absence of Autry in the season opener was surprising. The former juco transfer enrolled in January, as well, and is the younger brother of former Mississippi State standout and current Oakland Raider Denico Autry.
Of course, Autry would love to be on the field this year but Baker noted he's handled the process well.
"Lee is further ahead than James, obviously," said Baker. "Knock on wood, if guys stay healthy and go through the season then we will be fine. And Lee understands the process. He is a fantastic guy and a phenomenal young man and he really wants to be great. What I am hoping James does on the scout team, there is no doubt in my mind Lee is there. He is over there working his tail off and doing what he needs to do to be the best he can be."
And in practice, Autry has displayed those abilities that made him a top priority in the Bulldogs' Class of 2017.
"He is really powerful," said Baker of Autry. "He is really physical and he likes beating people up and getting to the ball. That is a good trait for a tackle."
Rivers was actually getting first-team reps at defensive end during spring and later on in training camp. But after Mississippi State's waiver was denied by the NCAA, Rivers was notified that he must sit out this year and redshirt.
Naturally, that was a tough blow for Rivers, a former Georgia transfer. But so far, he's handled that disappointment well.
"Better than I anticipated," said Baker of Rivers. "The thing that is going to test Chauncey is whether or not he allows himself to drift away or whether he stays in the moment and really works on his craft. That is his challenge."
And with the additio of those three redshirts, Baker and the Bulldogs' defensive staff will have more talent joining the mix on the field in 2018. The key for Rivers, however, is to maintain that positive mindset and remain engaged.
"Well, it helps a tremendous amount," said Baker. "He wants to play well and loves playing well and the attention it brings and loves being known as a great player. But since he can't do that, he has poured all in on our unit being the best unit in the league. That is his goal and what he wants.
"You can see that on the sidelines. As soon as guys get to the bench he is whispering things in their ear. He is paying attention to what is going on the field. But the test is for him to be the same way in Game 12."