‘Go out and prove it’: Media day snub serving as motivation for Mississippi State’s Jett Johnson

STARKVILLE — Mississippi State senior linebacker Jett Johnson admitted he received tons of messages last month when the preseason All-Southeastern Conference media teams were announced following media days in Nashville, and his name was a notable omission.
“You try not to pay too much attention to it,” Johnson told local reporters following Saturday’s fall camp practice. “I had people blowing me up saying that I was robbed and stuff. But it is whatever and fine.”
Despite tallying an SEC-leading 115 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss and two sacks last season, the SEC’s media contingent did not see Johnson as one of the conference’s best linebackers heading into the season.
Fellow MSU senior linebacker, Nathaniel Watson, was picked as a second-team defender.
Watson, from Maplesville, Alabama, finished second in the SEC with 113 tackles last season, as well as a team-leading 12 tackles for loss and five sacks. Last week, Watson was also selected to the preseason Bronko Nagurski Trophy Watch List, given to college football’s best defensive player.
“I think Bookie was too low,” Johnson said. “He should be, without a doubt, first-team.”
Watson and Johnson were the only pair of teammates from Power Five conferences to finish No. 1 and No. 2 in tackles in their league.
Some, however, believe Johnson still has things to show on the field, beginning with the Bulldogs’ season opener against Southeastern Louisiana on Sept. 2 at Davis Wade Stadium. And at the very least, his July snub will serve as motivation for Johnson to prove his doubters wrong.
“It is preseason, it is fine,” Johnson said. “It is on paper, so we got to go out there and prove it day-in-and-day-out and win some games.”
Competition growing in MSU’s wideout room
As the Bulldogs continue to get accustomed to their new offense under first-year coordinator Kevin Barbay, their wideouts are finding that practice is building competition within the group.
One downside of not running the Air Raid offense, as MSU did the past two seasons under former head coach Mike Leach, is fewer passing attempts in practice.
“It amps up the competition a whole lot,” senior wideout Jaden Walley said. “You get less reps to prove yourself. I feel like that will make our room a lot better.”
Walley, who caught 34 passes for 348 yards and three touchdowns last season, instantly became one of MSU’s top-returning wideouts this season after Rara Thomas, who led the team with 626 receiving yards and seven touchdowns, Rufus Harvey, who caught a team-high 53 passes last year and Caleb Ducking, who finished with a team-high eight touchdowns, all left the program.
Thomas transferred to in-conference foe Georgia, while Harvey, a Starkville native, is still weighing his options in the transfer portal after missing spring ball with an injury.
As one of the few returnees, Walley said he is taking his newfound leadership role amongst MSU’s receivers very seriously.
“I just hope I don’t slip up,” Walley said. “You slip up as an older guy, the young guys follow right behind and take that is what is supposed to happen. As far as being a leader, just try to come every day and do the right things and do the small things right.”
The Bulldogs also return one of college football’s most dangerous return specialists in Lideatrick “Tulu” Griffin, who tallied 400 receptions for 502 yards and four touchdowns in 2022.
Griffin, who is adjusting to working in the slot and having to block safeties, corners and edge rushers in MSU’s new offense, said he is already using his leadership skills by taking freshman wideout Creed Whittemore under his wing.
“It is a lot because if I get open on a play, he will ask me how I did (that) and set (defenders) up,” Griffin said Saturday. “We talk almost every play.”
MSU showed a willingness to get creative with Whittemore, a high school quarterback from Gainesville, Florida, by attempting a wideout pass with him Saturday that was snuffed out by the Bulldog defense.
Another wrinkle that MSU’s wideouts are dealing with is the addition of the tight end position into the offensive scheme.
Though that means another potential target taking away reps and passes from wideouts, Walley said the position is a welcome sight in the offense.
“You got a big guy that (defenses) won’t know if he is going to run out for a route or block,” Walley said. “It’s just good to have them.”
Summer practices helping keep Rogers up to speed
As senior quarterback Will Rogers continues to gel with his new offensive unit and coaches, he has been able to lean on offseason work to keep him in a groove.
“I think it has helped having those OTAs (organized team activities) and the summer has really helped,” Rogers said.
Rogers said the added value of OTAs helped him pick up the minute details of how Barbay and first-year head coach Zach Arnett want MSU’s offense run, especially with variations of formations and motions the Bulldogs will be using this fall.
“Having a coaching staff that will meet with you freely whenever or install whatever it may be,” Rogers said. “Our coaching staff has done a great job with that.”
Saturday Standouts:
The highlight from the final portion of Saturday’s practice was a deep touchdown pass from Vanderbilt transfer quarterback Mike Wright to Walley, who got behind the defense down the middle of the field.
Simeon Price had a couple noteworthy catches out of the backfield from Will Rogers before going down with an apparent injury that looked like a cramp. Jo’Quavious Marks did not take any reps at running back during the media-viewed 11-on-11 portion of practice.
Corey Ellington also briefly needed medical attention following a pass breakup. He, along with Shawn Preston Jr. and Khamauri Rogers each tallied pass breakups.
John Lewis showed some flashes getting in the backfield on passrushes from the linebacker position. Nic Mitchell also caught some eyes working with the first-team linebacker group, mixing in with Johnson, Watson and J.P. Purvis.
“He is having a good camp,” Johnson said of Mitchell. “He is bright, athletic and eager to learn. He’s going to have a good year.”
Deonte Anderson and Jaden Crumedy each stood out on the defensive line, too.
Justin Frommer is the Mississippi State sports reporter for The Dispatch.

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