Off-field issues take center stage as Dan Mullen defends Jeffery Simmons decision

Mullen 'thrilled' to have Jeffery Simmons at Mississippi State (0:49)

Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen defends the decision to enroll Jeffery Simmons at Mississippi State and look forward to having the chance to work with him. (0:49)

HOOVER, Ala. -- While Monday provided a very cold open to SEC media days, Tuesday was consumed with off-field storylines.

Georgia, Mississippi State, Tennessee and Texas A&M all scrambled into the Wynfrey Hotel with additional problems that turned most of the day's attention away from the actual game of football.

The most controversial issue entering Tuesday centered on Mississippi State's decision to allow freshman defensive end Jeffery Simmons to enroll on campus following the disturbing video of him punching a woman several times during a fight in March. Simmons was given a lenient one-game suspension and will be evaluated by professionals at student counseling services as well as be required to complete any program prescribed by that office.

Naturally, the school met harsh criticism, which followed head coach Dan Mullen to Hoover, as he defended Simmons' enrollment.

"It was very uncharacteristic of the personality of who he is, of the person I've known before and after," Mullen said of Simmons. "He's a young guy that was involved in a family street fight that made a very, very poor decision. But part of our process is, within our program, to help them learn how to make good decisions in their life. That's what we need to do."

Mullen also said that while Simmons is listed as No. 36 on the school's website, he isn't guaranteed to wear the number of the late Nick Bell, the former Bulldog who died of cancer in 2010 at age 20. No Mississippi State player has worn the number full time since then. However, Mullen does want someone to wear it.

"I want to get numbers of players back in play," he said. "I think you're better at honoring people by having the number be worn by somebody than having it disappearing altogether."

New Georgia coach Kirby Smart addressed the eight player arrests that have occurred since he was hired in December.

"It's obviously concerning," Smart said, "but I also know what it's like to be a student-athlete and to be a student-athlete at the University of Georgia and to deal with these issues at other places. ... It's not something that's new. Now, it's not something I'm proud of, nor that we condone.

"We have got to do a better job educating our players and making sure we get the right players to make the right decisions. Ultimately, a couple of these are just dumb, bonehead decisions. They're not disease or issue, they're just dumb decisions, and we can't have kids make those because they reflect [on] the entire program."

Tennessee coach Butch Jones also said that the recent settlement in the university's Title IX lawsuit wasn't a "relief" because of the serious nature of sexual assault and how it affects many college campuses. Jones added that the program has had approximately 70 speakers meet with the team over the past couple of years about issues such as sexual assault and sexual violence.

"It's something that we'll continue to educate our players on and develop our players on," Jones said.

While it has a been a relatively quiet offseason for Texas A&M, the Aggies still saw two starting quarterbacks -- Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray -- transfer, and enigmatic receiver Speedy Noil will miss the opener due to his two-game suspension handed down before the bowl game. Still, coach Kevin Sumlin and receiver Ricky Seals-Jones both agreed that the team isn't fazed by past issues.

"I don't think they're distractions at all," Seals-Jones said. "People make mistakes. You have to own up to them, but you also have to learn from them and move on."

Where did that guy come from? That’s the question senior A.J. Jefferson is asked when he’s shown video of a tackle he made during Mississippi State’s spring game. In it, the 6-foot-3, 265-pound defensive lineman demolishes his teammates, wrapping up and lifting tight end Dontea Jones into the backfield before taking his left arm and reaching around his would-be blocker to tackle wideout Deddrick Thomas on the jet sweep.

“It was just something that happened,” Jefferson said after watching the replay at SEC media days. “I had seen Deddrick the whole time. He was a younger back, so I figured, why not? Why not lay both of them out?”

Sounds simple, right?

Well, apparently not. Jefferson tried the maneuver earlier during spring practice and failed. At the time, then-defensive line coach David Turner “fussed” at him, Jefferson said, because he was supposed to stay outside and instead put his head down and the back ran right by him. Jefferson laughed it off and told himself he’d try again.

“I told him, ‘Coach, I got it! Game time, I’ll make the play,’” Jefferson recalled. “He said, ‘All right. You make the play, my butt. Get it right.’

“But during the spring game, he was coaching on the opposite team, so when I did it he really just stared at me for a long time and I kept pointing up and talking noise to him. After the game, he came and said, ‘That was a grown-man play.’”

His teammates noticed, too.

Fred Ross, State’s leading receiver, was on the sideline recovering from a groin injury when the play unfolded. It’s a good thing he didn’t aggravate his condition when he saw what Jefferson did.

“I jumped,” Ross said. “I flinched. I’m used to seeing that out of him. He’s a strong guy.”

Jefferson, who had five sacks last year, is “capable of that every play,” Ross said. And with cornerstone defensive ends Ryan Brown and Chris Jones gone, the Bulldogs need that kind of production.

“He’ll surprise you,” linebacker Richie Brown said. “He’s really good, really talented. He has a lot of explosion. When he gets the chance, he’ll lay the wood down and hit you.”

-- Alex Scarborough

Best hair: Fred Ross, Mississippi State.

Best dressed: Ricky Seals Jones, Texas A&M.

Best quotes

“The bottom line is he’s an Aggie. He’s always going to be an Aggie. At Texas A&M, we take care of each other.” -- Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin on former quarterback Johnny Manziel.

“The thing about leadership is, leaders eat last.” -- Tennessee coach Butch Jones in reference to senior linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin.

“All of the 17-, 18-year-old guys are going, 'Who is that old man? Didn't I see him on TV playing for Oklahoma?'” -- Kevin Sumlin on starting quarterback Trevor Knight.