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Mississippi State Preview 2006 - Defense
Mississippi State Bulldogs
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Aug 8, 2006


Mississippi State Bulldogs Preview 2006 - Bulldog Defense

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 run.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Quinton Culberson, 78
Sacks: 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

Defensive Line
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

Projected Starters
- 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 to flourish.

- NT
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.

Top Backups
-
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.
-
NT 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 line.

- 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.

Linebackers
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

Projected Starters
- 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 his size.

- 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.

Top Backups
- 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 Gabe O'Neal.
- 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..

Defensive Backs
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

Projected Starters
- 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 up pass
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 passes
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.

Top Backups
- SS Demario Bobo, Jr. - 38 tackles, 2 broken up passes
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.

Special Teams
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

Projected Starters
- 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 throughout spring.
- 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.

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