Co-offensive coordinators Billy Gonzales and John Hevesy along with defensive coordinator Geoff Collins met with the media Saturday at Mississippi State’s annual on-campus media day. The trio broke down their respective sides of the ball as well as their individual position groups during their 45 minutes at the podium.
To watch Gonzales, Hevesy and Collins speak, simply click on the video link here. There is also a transcript of some of their highlighted talking points below.
Co-Offensive Coordinator Billy Gonzales Quotes
“First and foremost I want to start off and say how excited our offensive coaching staff is to get back around our football players. As coaches, we love to get around our players, to be around them and to help teach them fundamentals. You take a look at our staff and they’re all great teachers. They communicate exceptionally well with their players. We have an exceptional group of coaches who do a great job of teaching.
“Whenever you get a group of players you’re trying to develop, you have to have a coaching staff that knows how to work with each other. It’s kind of a neat deal, coach [John] Hevesy, coach [Brian] Johnson and I, we all kind of have that bond. We were all together at Utah at one point in time, and coach [Greg] Knox has been in this conference for a long time, close to 20 years.
“Our strength staff did a great job. Their job is to get those guys ready so we can get going during the fall camp, and they came back in great shape. We’re extremely excited to get going and get moving forward.
“One of the first things we did as an offensive staff was get together, pull our players in and not talk about schemes during our first meeting. We didn’t talk about blocks or releases or drops. We talked about coach [Dan] Mullen’s plan to win. We express that to our players, the importance of following the plan to win. Obviously, one is to play great defense. For us, how does that translate on the offensive side? Well, we’ve got to get two first downs. We told our team, in order for us to play great defense and to help our defense out, we’ve got to be able to control the ball. We’ve got to be able to win the battle of field position by being able to get two first downs and prolonging our offensive drives.
“Two, we’ve got to be able to win the turnover battle. How do we win the turnover battle? Offensively, it starts up front on the offensive line. We’ve got to make sure we do a great job on the first level of pass protection. We’ve got to be fundamentally sound and understand our checks. Whether we are going to slide the line one way, or redirect it the other, or if we’re going side adjust in our pass game. Wide receivers have to be able to understand how to pass protect. How we help out on the offensive side is we’ve got to be strong to the ball. We have to make sure that if we’re side adjusting, are there any hot routes? Are there any built in routes that we need to adjust for split situations?
“The first two areas of success are to play great defense and to win the turnover battle. Third is the red zone scoring. We have to get better in this area. We want to put a high level of increased practice time into this area. I think there is always room to improve at that level. We’re going try to practice red zone more than any other team in the country, and I think if we do that we’ll see the results.
“We have to make sure we win the special teams’ battle. That’s the fourth part of the plan. How does that correlate with our football team? We averaged 29 snaps per game on special teams last year. If you correlate being able to put your best players offensively, defensively and special teams on the field to get the production that you want, you’re going to have percentage chances go up.
“We’ve told our players to understand that if you’re a starter on offense at a skill position, you’ve got to be a starter on special teams. We’ve talked about those four areas in the plan to win. Before we did anything else, before we started installing a blitz package or formations, what do we want to get across in two-a-days with our players right now?
“We want our players to be able to work extremely hard. They have to understand these are two-a-days and they can’t get bored with the fundamental part. The fundamentals are where you’re going to come back and you’re going to win the fourth quarter. If we can be excellent right now with our players in teaching those fundamentals, and we’ve got a veteran group of players right now, that would be great.
“The first couple of practices out there have been night and day difference from last year. You have a group of guys who have been around the program and they understand what coach Mullen wants. They understand the speed, the tempo and being able to run from one point to another and executing at a high level of intensity.
“The great thing about that is that we have some young freshmen who came in with this new recruiting class on campus. The only thing they are ever going to learn right now is what the upperclassmen are doing. What’s Dillon Day doing? If I’m a young offensive lineman and I see Dillon Day running from drill to drill and working at a high level of intensity, that’s what I am going to learn. If I’m a young wide receiver, if I’m Jamoral [Graham] or Jesse Jackson and all of the sudden I see Robert Johnson or Jameon Lewis practicing at a high level, that’s what I am learning to do.
“So right now we’re on that process. I’m extremely excited about our group of guys coming back right now. They’re working extremely hard and if they continue to progress and we can stay injury free, we’ve got a chance to be pretty good on the offensive side of the ball.”
On Gabe Myles moving to the offensive side of the ball…
“He’s a great worker. He has a great work ethic. He also has great speed and is quick. He’s a guy who played quarterback in high school so he understands the concepts of the offense and what we’re trying to do. He’s picked up the game pretty fast right now. He’s an explosive guy. He’s one of those guys who you want to recruit.
“Coach Mullen has done a great job in the recruiting process of getting some guys who, if you toss them the ball, they have the ability to make you miss. Gabe has that make-you-miss ability as well. All in all, an extremely smart football player with great work ethic.”
On the play calling dynamic this season…
“I think it will be kind of like we did last year to be honest with you. You know, it’s part of being the co-offensive coordinator. I’m going to stay down on the field and communicate with my players. I’ve always been on the field. I love being able to look into my players’ eyes and get a chance to see what they are doing and see how they are reacting.
“As far as I know, coach Hevesy will still be upstairs, kind of like we did in the past. And coach Mullen will still be the guy that is going to be calling the plays. You look back at the transition and the growth, and what we’ve done as a staff and there are no egos on our offensive staff. There are no egos on the entire staff. And that’s a great thing.
“When you have no egos on a staff, everybody understands what his role is. Part of being the co-offensive coordinator is that I’m in charge of the pass game and my goals and responsibilities are to make sure that pass game is completely aligned. Whether that it is run action or drop back to fit against the opponent we are getting ready to play, I have to get it aligned.
“Coach Mullen, in my opinion, is one of the best play callers around. He has been calling plays for almost 10 years now. He has won two national championships doing it, and he’s one of the winningest coaches in the history of Mississippi State University football at this point in time. So, if it’s not broke don’t fix it. I think as a team and as a staff we’re all on the same page.”
Co-Offensive Coordinator John Hevesy Quotes
Opening Statement …
“We’re getting ready for the season. Along the offensive line, we have only been out here for two days, but we’ve had great competition. There are a lot of guys here who have stepped up and obviously that means we have had a great summer learning techniques and fundamentals. That is what it is all about.
“The younger guys are learning the plays and fundamentals, but these two days haven’t shown much since we have not put pads on. We’ll do that tonight and we will learn more about them. Right now, I’m just looking at the guys who played last year. The younger guys who are coming up, both redshirt freshmen, true freshmen and one junior college transfer, have impressed me the first two days of practice just with what they have done and carried over from spring. But, until we put pads on today, it doesn’t mean much to me. It’s not really football until we have pads on.”
On looking at a prospect and how he projects him …
“I’ve learned a lot over the years of recruiting and there’s always the media perception of what kids are. First thing I want to find out is who they are. You have the film of a kid so you can see his athletic ability is.
“Next, you want to find out his toughness. I want to find out if the kid wants to be great. What do they want? There are a lot of kids around America people have been telling they are great, whether it is the media or their family or their friends, whoever. Then you get a kid who is 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds who wants to be great. He is going to be in the weight room everyday and in the classroom everyday. He will strive to be great at everything he does. And when you find that kid, like Jamaal [Clayborn], who had a different upbringing, going through the history of what he was, and how he did what he had to do to get himself to J.A. [Jackson Academy] academically, you see a kid who pushes himself for success.
“When you see that in a kid, like Dillon Day, you want to recruit him. When I met with him and his family and coach, I learned he loved football. He loved everything about it. And when you see those kids who love football, they love to work and they love the weight room. Everyone loves Saturday afternoons in the SEC. There isn’t a person who doesn’t. But how many of them love February 23 at 5 a.m.? That is when you’re going to find out the guys who want to be great.
“That isn’t what you get from the high school coach, so I always go find the guidance counselor. I go ask someone else who doesn’t have a direct line to the kid, who will have something to get out of the kid. So, we ask the guidance counselor. We will say ‘Hey, how is Dillon Day?’ and if they flinch you know something is wrong. If the smile and say ‘Wow, great personality’ you know you got a great character trait.
“The things we ask them to do and the things we do with them need great character and great work ethic. You have those kids who want to be successful. That to me is what is important. What everyone says of a kid I’ll look at every once in a while, but you have to do your homework. We are investing in these kids for success.”
On losing two starters, but still having experience…
“The big thing with losing Justin [Malone] last year in the first game and having Ben [Beckwith] forced into that role was we had two kids, that when you looked at them, you see one. When you look at Gabe [Myles], what the kids see when they are around him is work ethic. He’s another example of how you work to be successful.
“We aren’t replacing Charles [Siddoway] in the tackle situation. The great thing is Justin [Senior] played in an SEC game last year, [Damien] Robinson played in a few games last year, Justin Malone played tackle and Cole Carter had a great offseason. You see those kids, like Rufus Warren that move from tight end to tackle. There are four or five bodies that are in use.
“Between now and August 30, who is going to take that job? We’d be fortunate to have two or three of them, but that’s the fight, the competition. Having competition in my room, I tell them, is great. It makes you show up everyday to practice. Because if you don’t, one day you are sitting in that front row as a starter and the next practice you may be sitting in the second row as a back up. It’s just competition.”
On Jocquell Johnson …
“It’s hard for me to tell because he did have a labrum surgery in December. We did not ask him top do much, so we have only seen two days of him and that is without pads. But in the first two practices, he has done some good things. To me, I’m looking forward to going out there tonight and seeing what they do with the shoulder pads and helmets on. What does he do then? We will see more. He’s going to be one of those kids, who in a sense, is a true freshman. I haven’t seen what he can do. So, really the next 25 days is a big thing for them. How far do they want to go?”
On when the starters will be determined …
“Game day. Right now we run with four deep, with four bodies. To me over the years, I know I need eight ready. Ultimately I have two centers, three guards and three tackles. To me, to prepare for a game, in this league or anywhere, is to get nine, 10, 11, 12, or 13 ready. Having 13 kids knowing exactly what to do is hard, especially for the offensive line.
“The right guard and that center need to work together. They need to get a feel of what the right guard and center need to do. In combinations, and with all the ones we have, that is huge for them to work together. Last year in the first game, even though Ben [Beckwith] had a lot of reps, Justin Malone got the last two weeks in before the first game. Those reps and, at the time, Charles [Siddoway] and Dillon [Day] made the decision for us in the third quarter. There was a little bit of a skip there for a second, but that is what is hard about getting 13 guys to keep rotating.
“The offensive line needs to get a feel for who is playing with you and how they do things, such as how they get into double teams, how they communicate and how fast they are. That is why to me, that third guy is a rotator. If I’m fortunate enough to have nine, 10, 11 or 12, I’ll be the happiest man in the world.”
On how close he is to having 10 offensive linemen ready at any time …
“I’ll be able to tell you in about three weeks. Right now, with only two days of practice and no pads, I’d love to say I had 10, 11 or 12. But, the guys who have played, like Justin [Malone], Jamaal [Clayborn], Ben [Beckwith], Dillon [Day], Blaine [Clausell], I feel like I have them. Everyone else has to catch up to them.
“I tell those guys, ‘You set the bar. We are not lowering the bar, they have to get to you.’ We aren’t giving in, because we have to have an eighth guy. If I have seven who can play, then someone will have to double or triple up somewhere. Ben is one of those guys who can really play as a left guard, right guard, or center. Archie Muniz has done a great job at backup center. But, Ben is the guy that stood out, so he has to have snaps.
“Who are the guys you trust to play? We take a test every Friday and I ask them, ‘Who do you trust to play in a game?’ During a game, I’m on the sideline. They have to go out there on fourth-and-one on the road somewhere and trust the guy next to them. So I have to ask them, ‘Do you trust them? Who do you trust to play in that game?’ And they have to answer the question.
“If they don’t trust the guy, then I’m going to take note of that. I need to have a feel of what they are saying. They tell me, ‘Coach, he didn’t do this and isn’t doing this.’ I have to trust them, because they are going to war out there. And they don’t want you to send them out there and them not trust their guy. They need to trust who is out there.”
On Justin Malone’s position …
“He’s going to be at right guard after being at left last season. He’s done a great job running the course and he’s done a great job in the offseason in the training room. He’s done a great job returning from last season’s surgery and getting into shape and staying in shape. He’s 330 pounds and 6-foot-7. He’s a big kid. He’s in shape and has done a good job this summer keeping his weight down, even when he couldn’t run after his surgery. We will see how we does. Fortunately for them, it has been 75 degrees every day we have practiced. But, today when we put pads on, it’ll be 95-100 degrees. We will see how he does in the next couple of days.”
Defensive Coordinator Geoff Collins Quotes
Opening Statement …
“I saw Christian Holmes walking in the building and promised I’d give him a shout out. Christian is having a phenomenal camp so far. I’m excited about him going forward this season, his senior year. He’s a great kid, a great leader and has really worked hard with [strength and conditioning coach] Rick Court this offseason.
“I’m excited to be up here, excited to start this preseason camp. One of the biggest things that has me excited is how close this team is. On offense, defense, special teams and everybody from the linemen, to the linebackers, to the defensive backs. We’re a very close team. And I think if you look, you’ve seen us over the summer at costume parties, being around each other and being together.
“We genuinely like each other as a coaching staff. Now, when we get out on the practice field, we compete. We get after it. Kids see that. Afterwards, we’re dapping each other up and getting excited for each other. I think the kids feed off that, and how close we are as a coaching staff blends in to the team. We have 20 of the 22 who played in the [2013 AutoZone] Liberty Bowl back on defense. That’s a lot of good players. Then we have Jay Hughes coming back; he didn’t play last year. We’re excited about some of the young kids who redshirted last year. Just real excited, having fun with this group of guys as a coach. Some of the freshmen have really stepped up and done some good things in the two practices that we have had.”
On the installation philosophies of the defense …
“The big thing we do on defense around here is install as a unit. Everything we do is as a unit. And it’s not just corners running this, or safeties running that, but we all learn the defense together. I told them going in, we are going to install fast. We might have seven blitzes going in today and four new coverages. I’m teaching that to the older guys as well.
“Benardrick [McKinney] has been here three years. I’m going to coach at his level, and then it’s their job to bring the younger guys along. That’s a nice thing to have. I put up eight boxes of adjustments that we have to know; I’ll do it in thirty seconds.
“They look at me like, ‘Coach, I know,’ and then they go out and execute and do a great job. Then they teach the younger kids the little nuances of the defense in their words. And I think that’s been very good for us.”
On Benardrick McKinney …
“We’ll I’m biased because I get to coach Benardrick [McKinney] every day. I’ve coached him every single day since he’s been here, and I can’t say enough about him. He’s 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds. He runs a 4.5-second 40-yard dash, jumps 41 inches, and he is a better person than he is athlete. All he cares about is being a great teammate, getting other people around him to play better. He doesn’t care about stats. He doesn’t care about accolades. All he cares about is being a great teammate. And I’m lucky that I get to coach him.”
On working hard each day …
“Lot of potential. The big thing is getting better every day. And we talk about that all the time. We learned a lot last year as we went through [the season]. One of the biggest things we talk about is: circumstances, scoreboard or opponent, nothing matters when we’re playing defense. We can be as good as we want to be. We just have to go out there and execute and perform on a daily basis and get better.
“There are two things you can always improve on defensively: tackling and pursuit. Every day we are talking about relentlessly pursuing the football and tackling. If we do that and get better throughout the season, at the end of it, I think that we’re going to have a pretty good year.”
On Chris Jones …
“I think Chris [Jones] has a world of potential. You know every single day he comes out there with [defensive line] coach [David] Turner and tries to get better. I think the thing about Chris is that there are a lot of external expectations. Internally though, he has to manage those and go out to improve his fundamentals every day, improve his technique every day, and become a great teammate, in the mold of Benardrick McKinney, Preston Smith, and Kaleb Eulls.
“I think he’s doing that. Block out external expectations, focus on what you can control each and every day, and then let God-given potential develop. And I think that’s his mindset, and if he can continue that, he’ll be a special player.”
On movement along the defensive line …
“Here’s the thing with coach [David] Turner. I think Coach Turner does a phenomenal job, one of the best defensive line coaches I’ve ever been around. He believes a three-technique is the same as a five technique is the same as a nine-technique is the same as a shade. And that two eyes is the same as a four-eyes is the same as a six-eyes. Regardless of where you’re lined up, you’re playing that technique.
“There are certain situations in which Chris [Jones] will be a three-technique (a defensive tackle); there are other times that he’s going to be a nine-technique (a defensive end), but you’re playing the same technique and playing at a high level.
“Preston Smith last year, and I don’t know if any of you know this, played nose guard. He played nose guard and Chris played end. Then the next snap, Chris is playing nose guard and Preston is playing end. So we’ll move all the guys around.”
On Benardrick McKinney’s leadership …
“I think the big thing about him is that he did try to embrace it [being a leader] last year. The big thing is being a sophomore is a lot different than being a redshirt junior. He has a lot of street cred with the team. He’s so selfless. He has to get everybody on the defense lined up. He takes great pride in that.
“If Kaleb Eulls is lined up and able to play fast and execute, Benardrick takes a lot of pride in that. Every single day he develops that and works on that. I’m not sure you guys get to see it out at practice, but just around the team, you can see what a leader he is.
“I heard Brian Johnson, who’s a phenomenal addition to the coaching staff by the way, great guy, do a speaking engagement. He was talking about Dak (Prescott) . Who Dak is as a person, who Dak is as a leader and what a great character kid Dak is. I agree 1,000 percent with every word Johnson said, but as he was saying that in my mind I’m thinking, ‘If you had just put Benardrick McKinney in that same sentence, you could’ve said the exact same thing.
“That’s huge when you have two players at key positions of leadership on your team, who are two of the best players, two of the hardest workers, two of the biggest leaders. That speaks volumes for what Coach Mullen and this staff have done developing these kids.”
On rushing the quarterback …
“Priority is always on pass rush. We want to do that, but the biggest priority for us is stopping the run. We are going to stop the run. That’s the basis of each week’s game plan. We want to stop the run. We do want to increase our sack total; I know coach [David] Turner has put emphasis on it. The kids have put a big emphasis on it, but we don’t want to ignore stopping the run. That is a priority for us to get that number up.”
On the two-deep chart …
“One of the big things is, and I’m sure that you’ve all heard about this, everybody talks about having the two-deep. Who’s the starter? Who’s the backup? Who’s the starter? Who’s the backup? We don’t have that.
“We talk about being above the line. If you’re above the line, you are going to play on Saturdays for us. That’s just a line on the board of who’s going to play, and we’re going to rotate them in. We call them the 1-A’s and the 1-B’s.
“We will rotate them in based on how you perform that week in practice. Practice to us is everything. Improve tackling, improve pursuit angles, work hard and then your reps will increase. We want to play eight-10 defensive linemen every game and just roll them through. Hopefully they’ll be fresh and able to execute at a high level.”
On being able to coach college football …
“I just love what I do. I really do. I love being a college football coach. I love being around the players and getting to have fun with them. They keep me young. I just really truly love what I do. I love impacting young men’s lives. I am helping them become better on the field and off the field. Every day we go out there, we get to compete. I get to wear shorts and tennis shoes and run around like a wild man. Who wouldn’t love that?”
On Cedric Jiles …
“Cedric [Jiles] has had a great offseason. We played him early last year; played him young as a redshirt freshman. We lost Johnthan Banks; we lost Darius Slay. There were lots of question marks on how we were going to be at cornerback. We just did the same things we did with those guys, rotated them through.
“Right now we think we have five cornerbacks who can play in this league. We’re trying to find the sixth, but we definitely know we have five. Cedric is one of those five. He is a hard worker and relentless competitor. I’m excited he’s on our team.”
On turnover circuits …
“What we do on defense are a lot of circuits. We do turnover circuits. We do five-zone circuits and blitz circuits. Today, we’ll do a turnover circuit. We have four different turnover stations. I have the pleasure of having the ‘Nickoe Drill.’ We have a drill that’s actually called the ‘Nickoe Whitley Drill.’ It is teaching them how to rip a ball out of somebody’s hands.
“There are a lot of things you can call it: club, crunch, rip, whatever, but we call it the ‘Nickoe Drill.’ All of the kids, they’ve seen what Nickoe did by basically winning two games for us in a season at the end of the contests. When we get to the ‘Nickoe Drill,’ they want to do that; they want to replicate that.”
On who could surprise in the secondary …
“Will [Redmond] played that nickel back position for us all last season and did a really good job for us. Taveze Calhoun, Jamerson [Love], who everybody knows about, are tremendous players. If you ask those players, they would say Will Redmond.
“He’s had a tremendous offseason with [strength and conditioning] coach [Rick] Court. Will is a tremendous talent. Rick should post the ladder drill videos that he does. They say Will stays out there twenty to thirty minutes after every workout on his own doing different ladder drills and footwork drills. So we’re excited to see him this season and how he’s progressed.”