What you need to know ...
MSU's defense had a whale of a season considering the offense
provided no support whatsoever. Nine starters return from a
group that more than held its own last year finishing 29th in
the nation in total defense. One of the losses is a big one with
All-SEC DE Willie Evans gone leaving a huge pass rushing void.
The secondary should be excellent as long as the starting
corners stay healthy, and the D should be great up the middle
with a deep group of tackles and Quinton Culberson back at
middle linebacker. This isn't a big defense, but everyone can
Michael Heard, 3.5
Interceptions: Jeramie Johnson, 4
Star of the defense: Senior LB Quinton Culberson
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore
LB Jamar Chaney
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore CB Derek Pegues
Best pro prospect: Pegues
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Culberson, 2) FS
Jeramie Johnson, 3) DT Deljuan Robinson
Strength of the defense: Tackles, overall speed
Weakness of the defense:
Size, cornerback depth
The Bulldogs are strong here even with the
loss of All-SEC star DE Willie Evans. The tackles are deep and talented
with veterans Deljuan Robinson and Andrew Powell backed up by
experienced reserves Antonio Johnson, Corey Clark and Avery Hannibal to
form an excellent rotation. The ends are former linebackers looking to
make more plays in the backfield, but there has to be some concern that
there's not a sure-thing pass rusher who can guarantee 6-9 sacks.
The key to the unit: Finding a steady pass rush to
replace the 15 sacks and 21 tackles for loss left by Evans.
Defensive Line Rating: 8
- DE Charles Burns, Soph. - 2 tackles
The 265-pound Burns saw most of his action on special teams as a true
freshman, but he saw enough time as a backup end to be considered a
potential star coming into the season. He's a phenomenal athlete with
linebacker quickness in the body of an end.
- DT Deljuan Robinson, Sr. - 29 tackles, 1 TFL
Robinson has been a consistent factor on the inside for the past three
seasons, and now he's poised for All-SEC honors. The former end
maintained his quickness after moving inside and has the experience and
strength to be the anchor of the run defense. He's 6-4 and 295 pounds
occupying two blockers at a time at tackle allowing the rest of the line
Antonio Johnson, Sr. - 15 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 3 TFL
The former JUCO transfer stepped in and became a solid reserve right off
the bat. At 6-3 and 299 pounds, he's a big presence on the nose and
should turn into a key starter in a rotation with Andrew Powell after a great final month of the year.
- DE Michael Heard, Sr. - 35 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 5.5 TFL
A broken leg limited Heard and kept him from having the breakout year
expected of him, and now he'll try to be the number one pass rusher on
the line while taking the heat off of Titus Brown. He's a former
linebacker who had a fantastic end of the 2004 season, but he wasn't
able to fully take advantage of having Willie Evans on the other side.
The sky's the limit now that he's healthy.
DE Titus Brown, Jr. - 30 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 5.5 TFL
Brown was a good-sized linebacker who bulked up and turned into
defensive end. He's not huge by SEC standards at only 240 pounds, the
hope is for him to grow into a quick pass rusher on the left side. He
won't be a great replacement for Willie Evans, but he should be
productive when he sees one-on-one blocking.
Andrew Powell, Sr. -
39 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 6 TFL
A true run clogger on the nose, Powell has been a rock over the last two
seasons making 79 tackles to go along with eight tackles for loss. He's
a bowling ball at 6-0 and 298 pounds, but his frame gives him good
leverage and makes him tough to move. He's the unsung playmaker on the
- DE Avery Hannibal, Jr. - 6 tackles, 1 sack, 1 tackle for loss
A reserve from day one, he's made his biggest impact on special teams.
He's only 246 pounds, so the former linebacker is used solely for his
quickness on passing downs.
Three experienced starters return led by leading
tackler Quinton Culberson in the middle. It's all about speed in this
group and while there aren't any true burners, the entire corps can
move. The only downside is the lack of size with no one hitting the
240-pound mark, so there needs to be a steady rotation to keep everyone
fresh. Anthony Littlejohn is an emerging defender, but there isn't a
whole bunch of quality depth to rely on.
The key to the unit: Developing the young backups and
getting more plays from the outside linebackers.
Linebacker Rating: 7
- Gabe O'Neal, Jr. - 34 tackles, 2.5 TFL
The 223-pound O'Neal didn't build on a good freshman season like he was
supposed to, but he has the experience and athleticism to become a major
playmaker now that he knows what he's doing. He's not all that big to be
a top run stopper on the strongside, but his safety speed makes up for
- Quinton Culberson, Sr. - 78 tackles, 1 sack, 1.5 TFL
The experiment worked. Culberson has been moved around from the start of
his career going from cornerback to safety to middle linebacker, and his
speed helped make him a whale of a tackler once he got closer to the
line of scrimmage. He bulked up and is now more of a linebacker-like 239
pounds while maintaining his 4.5 speed.
- Jamar Chaney, Soph. - 31 tackles
Chaney grew into the job on the weakside getting the starting nod three
times in his true freshman season. He started out hot with 14 stops in
his first four games, but then cooled off in the rotation before playing
well late in the year. At 6-2 and 229 pounds, he's a tall, big player
who can also run.
- Anthony Littlejohn, Soph. - 22 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 4.5 TFL
The former scout team star played a big role as a reserve last year.
He's a bit small at 217 pounds, but size isn't at a premium for MSU's
strongside linebackers. His speed makes him a valuable option behind
- Timmy Bailey, Soph.
At 241 pounds, Bailey is the team's biggest linebacker and a potential
playmaker in the middle. He won't steal too much time for Quinton
Culberson, but he'll be groomed to be a starter next year..
Somehow the pieces all seem to fit. The
Bulldogs had a fantastic pass defense last year allowing a mere 195
yards per game, but it got picked apart by accurate short range passing
attacks. This is a very fast group, but there's not a big intimidator at
safety even though all-star Jeramie Johnson packs a wallop. The main
concern is at corner where Derek Pegues has to live up to his prep hype
and become a star number one coverman. There's no corner depth
whatsoever, so Pegues and average veteran David Heard have to be ironmen
early. The rating is assuming Derek Pegues and Keith Fitzhugh will be
back in the mix this fall after being arrested and charged with simple
assult of a police officer.
The key to the unit: Developing the cornerbacks and
making more plays against efficient passers.
Secondary Rating: 7.5
- CB Derek Pegues, Soph. - 14 tackles, 1 interception, 2
broken up passes
MSU's star recruit of a few years ago will be looking to grow into a
shutdown corner on the left side if he doesn't have a problem after
being arrested for assaulting a police officer. Recruited by all the big names, he has
the type of next-level athleticism that should make him an All-SEC
caliber player before he leaves. He'll take over for solid starter Kevin
Dockery adding more speed.
- FS Jeramie Johnson, Sr. - 64 tackles, 4 interceptions, 11
broken up passes, 2 forced fumbles
The All-SEC safety is back four his fourth year in the secondary with
140 career tackles and 15 broken up passes. He was a star recruit for
the program who was a disappointment before last year, and then he lived
up to his potential finishing second on the team in tackles and growing
into a superior ball hawk.
- SS Keith Fitzhugh, Soph. - 13 tackles, 1 interception, 1 broken
Used mostly as a corner in his true freshman season, the 5-10, 213-pound
sophomore will get the first look at strong safety to start the season
if he's able to see the field after being involved in an off-the-field
incident with a police officer.
He has all the skills to blossom into a star with linebacker strength
and 4.5 speed. He'll need time to develop, but he has too much promise
and too much hitting ability
to keep off the field.
- CB David Heard, Sr. - 37 tackles, 4 broken up
The 6-0, 190-pound Heard is a good-sized corner with experience after
starting 16 straight games. He's not a special player and isn't a true
lockdown corner, but he's an effective tackler and a good number two
corner as long as Derek Pegues can grow into the number one spot.
- SS Demario Bobo, Jr. - 38 tackles, 2 broken up
Bobo will be in a battle with Keith Fitzhugh for the starting strong
safety job. He isn't as big, fast, or strong as Fitzhugh, but he's
experienced with 12 career starts. He's more of a corner playing safety,
but he knows what he's doing. Knee surgery will keep limit him a bit,
but he'll be back in the rotation by the start of the season.
- FS De'Mon Glanton, Soph. - 14 tackles, 3 broken up passes
He won't replace Jeramie Johnson at safety, but he'll be one of the
stars of the secondary next year. He's a smart, very fast defender with
a cornerback body, but his range makes him an ideal safety. He played
strong safety at the end of last year and will now spend most of his
time at free safety.
The kicking game has the potential to be special with the
return of big-legged Keith Andrews from a groin injury and the emergence
of Blake McAdams as a top punter. However, Adam Carlson might be the
placekicker after getting a shot with Andrews down. The return game needs to be better
after finishing near the bottom of the SEC averaging a mere 6.38 yards
per punt return and 19.67 yards on kickoff returns.
The key to the unit: Get more pop to the return game
and better coverage on punts.
Special teams rating: 7
- PK Keith Andrews, Sr. - 5-8 FGs, 11-11 PATs
It's not like Andrews has had a lot of chances to shine in the average
MSU offense. He has a booming leg with good range hitting five of his
eight field goal attempts from beyond 30 yards, but he saw his solid
2005 season get derailed by a groin injury. After a slow start to his
career, he has to battle with Adam Carlson, who held the number one spot
- P Blake McAdams, Soph. - 69 punts, 2,891 yards, 41.9 average,
14 inside the 20
McAdams had a fantastic freshman season finishing third
in the SEC in punting and holding up well under all the pressure of
punting 69 times. He could stand to put a little more air under the
ball, but that's nitpicking for the future All-SEC kicker.