2007 Mississippi State Preview - Defense

Posted Jul 30, 2007

Preview 2007 Mississippi State Bulldog Defense

Mississippi State Bulldogs

Preview 2007 - Defense

- 2007 Mississippi State Preview | 2007 MSU Offense Preview 
2007 MSU Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Mississippi State Preview 

What you need to know: The whole will be better than the parts. The Bulldogs couldn't hold down the better offensive teams last year, and things might not be better right off the bat with tremendous concerns all over the place after losing six key starters. There's plenty of speed and athleticism, but this is a young, inexperienced defense that'll have to force more turnovers and do a much better job of getting to the quarterback. End Titus Brown and defensive back Derek Pegues are All-SEC talents who have to be disruptive forces from day one. The line needs more pass rushers, the linebacking corps has to do more against the pass, and the secondary is relying on green corners so Pegues can play safety.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Jamar Chaney, 66
Sacks: Titus Brown, 7.5
Interceptions: Derek Pegues, 4

Star of the defense: Junior FS Derek Pegues
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore CBs Marcus Washington and Anthony Johnson
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Jamon Hughes
Best pro prospect: Pegues
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Pegues, 2) DE Titus Brown, 3) LB Jamar Chaney
Strength of the defense: Athleticism, young prospects, linebacker
Weakness of the defense:
Experienced depth, cornerback experience

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: The only returning starter to the defensive front, 6-3, 250-pound senior Titus Brown needs to be the steady pass rusher the rest of the line rotates around after making 38 tackles and 7.5 sacks. He's a former linebacker who bulked up over the last few seasons yet maintained his quickness. At 255 pounds, he's now a legitimate end and the one player opposing offensive coordinators will have to gameplan for. At the very least, he's good for a few big plays a game.

245-pound senior Avery Hannibal been a big hitter on special teams and good as a situational pass rusher, he has to prove he can handle the fill-time workload. More of a squatty end than a speed rusher, he still should be solid at getting into the backfield as a disruptive force with all the attention paid to Titus Brown on the other side.

It'll be up to  315-pound All-America JUCO transfer Jessie Bowman to be a major factor right off the bat in the defensive tackle rotation. Built more for the nose, he'll see time where needed after moving across the line for 83 tackles and 14 tackles for loss at Copiah-Lincoln Community College. The key to his game will be his weight, which he needs to keep at around the 300-pound mark to be at his best.

At left tackle, 6-4, 262-pound junior Cortez McCraney stepped up this spring and dominated at times. The Memphis transfer isn't all that big, but he's very strong, very active, and more than good enough to hold his own on the inside. He'll be part of a rotation, just because of his size, and he should be fresh throughout the year and one of the team's most disruptive interior pass rushers.

Projected Top Reserves:
300-pound sophomore Quinton Wesley has to live up to his limitless potential as major factor in the middle after having a variety of issues last season. He was supposed to be part of the rotation, but the year was cut short by an ankle injury and an off-the-field incident involving an alleged assault on an officer at a nightclub. He's back of the team after serving a six-month suspended sentence.

The idea was to redshirt sophomore Kyle Love, but he was pressed into action in his true freshman season after injuries hit in the middle and made seven tackles. At 6-1 and 320 pounds, he has good leverage and the body of a pure anchor on the nose. While he could play on either side of the line, his quickness makes him more useful on the defense. He could move over to the other tackle position if needed.

A major disappointment due to a shoulder injury after being considered for a starting role, 6-3, 262-pound junior Charles Burns is healthy again and needs to live up to his athleticism. The former linebacker has all the potential to be more than just a special teamer and a reserve, but he has to put it all together.

Watch Out For ... the tackles. It was supposed to be Love and Wesley on the inside, but McCraney and Bowman were lights out this spring and earned the starting jobs. A concern going into the off-season, the interior should be solid.
Strength: Tackle rotation. With the emergence of McCraney and Bowman, there's a good rotation with plenty of depth. With three 300 pounders, and a talent like McCraney, the Bulldogs will be tough.
Number two end. Brown is a star, and now Hannibal has to prove he can take advantage of the lack of attention on the other side. He has a good motor and tries hard, but he could be the weak link early on.
It's not going overboard to call the MSU defensive front four the key to the team since it's one of the few areas without a ton of experience. A major strength last season with a veteran crew that was solid against the run and great at getting into the backfield. Three starters are gone, but the teams best pass rusher, Titus Brown is a good piece of the puzzle to rebuild around. The pressure will come from the outside, so the focus all off-season will be on the middle. By the end of the year, this could be one of the team's biggest strengths.
Rating: 6.5


Projected Starters: A strong performer from day one of his freshman years, senior Gabe O'Neal has 103 career tackles and 16 games of starting experience to rely on. A nerve problem in his shoulder limited his play over the first part of last season, but he took over a starting role by the midpoint and now should be one of the team's steadiest defenders in on the strongside. Despite only being 220 pounds, he's a solid tackler against the run.

After a good freshman year on the weakside, Jamar Chaney grew into a good all-around playmaker for the defense as a sophomore finishing third in tackles with 66. While he has good quickness and speed on the outside, he was a bit out of position over the last two years; he more of a natural for the middle. At 236 pounds, the former Georgia Bulldog will be a big, experienced hitter on the inside in place of Quinton Culberson.

More than just a special teamer as a freshman, 6-1, 236-pound sophomore Jamon Hughes played past a hamstring injury to be a good reserve on the outside making 17 tackles. While he didn't get too much time over the second half of the year, he showed enough promise to be the first option on the weakside going into this year. He has the athleticism, and the size to be a force against the run.

Projected Top Reserves:
It'll be a little bit of a shock if 217-pound junior Dominic Douglas doesn't take over a starting spot at some point this season. The JUCO transfer is one of the team's fastest linebackers with defensive back speed on the outside. He'll start out behind Gabe O'Neal on the strongside, but he might be a perfect fit for the weakside if he can prove to be decent in pass coverage.

One of the most interesting stories in college football, 6-3, 241-pound junior Tim Bailey missed two football seasons because his National Guard unit was sent off to Iraq. He came back to be decent special teamer and part-time linebacker, and now he'll play a big role in the middle behind Jamar Chaney. He's the team's biggest linebacker and should be one to watch after being limited by a knee injury.

After dominating as a scout teamer, 6-2, 225-pound junior Anthony Littlejohn has come on to be a jack-of-all-trades for the linebacking corps getting a little bit of work at both outside spots making 19 tackles. He's more suited for the weakside, but MSU generally goes against type and played smaller on the strongside where he's made the biggest impact. He'll start out behind Jamon Hughes, but will see time where needed.

Watch Out For ... a decent rotation. The depth might not have any appreciable experience, but there's a world of potential with the three junior reserves all promising enough, and athletic enough, to start if needed.
Strength: Measurables.
Speed is at a premium in this group, and unlike the last few years, there's more size to rely on with Chaney,  Hughes and Bailey to play bigger roles.
Sure-thing number one playmaker.
There isn't a Quinton Culberson to clean up everyone's messes and there's not a whole bunch in the way of proven pass defenders, so finding the players who fill a niche will be vital early on in the season.
Outlook: In time, this should be a good group with a great rotation and plenty of big plays made in all phases. Doing more against the pass would be nice, but the focus will be on stopping the run, and this group should do it. O'Neal is a good player, while Chaney is on the verge of being an all-star. 
Rating: 7

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: The home run hitter on the defense with two interception returns for touchdowns last season, junior Derek Pegues has All-SEC written all over him. After playing corner his first two seasons, and making 32 tackles with four interceptions last year, he'll use his speed, 5-10, 196-pound size, and experience at free safety, at least to start the season. With his abilities as a kick and punt returner, along with his versatility, he'll have a big decision next off-season about whether or not to turn pro early.

The team's most important defensive reserve with 24 tackles and two picks last year, now junior De'Mon Glanton will see time as both a safety and a linebacker and will likely start at strong safety. While only 6-1 and 190 pounds, he hits like a ton of bricks and can be an intimidating force. He has the range to be all over the field with good speed and the smarts to always be in the right spot.

5-10, 180-pound sophomore Marcus Washington has to be a lock-down defender on the right side early on or there could be big trouble. Mostly a special teamer as a true freshman, he made a bit of an impact with two recovered fumbles and a touchdown. He's one of the team's best all-around athletes and should be devastating if he can get the ball in his hands. Unfortunately, he has almost no game experience as a defensive back. 

Thrown to the wolves as a true freshman, sophomore Anthony Johnson saw time in every game in both the secondary and on special teams making 12 tackles. He didn't start to make any sort of an impact until midseason, and now he has to go from being a promising reserve to a rock on the left side. With tremendous quickness, he has the potential to be one of the team's top new defensive stars.

Projected Top Reserves:
A strong safety who can also play free safety, 206-pound junior Keith Fitzhugh finished fourth on the team in tackles with 59 as a key run stopper. Now he has to prove he can make more plays when the ball is in the air and be more than just a fourth linebacker. While not a tremendous one-on-one coverman, he's great at providing help.

Former receiver Keon Humphries has spend the most time on special teams so far. Now he'll be tried out at corner to add a little bit more speed and athleticism to the mix behind Anthony Johnson on the left side. Injuries have been his biggest problem, so he has to prove he can hold up once he starts hitting.

Purely a special teamer so far after washing out as a receiver, junior Tay Bowser has to be a steady reserve on the left side behind Anthony Johnson and Keon Humphries. He has the size at 6-3 and 185 pounds, and speed is hardly a problem; he has to prove he can make plays when the ball is in the air. 

A corner playing safety early in his career, junior Demario Bobo will play behind Pegues at free safety after missing almost all of last year with shoulder and hamstring problems. He got a medical redshirt and should see plenty of action to get his 22 games, 65 tackles, and two broken up passes of experience on the field.

Watch Out For ... the corners to be the X factor on the defense. The safeties should be fine, but the coaching staff will have to pray Johnson and Washington are ready for primetime. You'll know things aren't going well if Pegues moves to corner.
Strength: Veteran reserves. Fitzhugh is good enough to start, while Bobo should flourish at free safety when he gets time. There should be a strong rotation and plenty of big plays made by all the safeties.
Backup corner. The starting corners are a question mark, much less the backups. It's never a plus when you have to move players from the other side of the ball to get a little bit of help.
The secondary took a step back last season having problems finding the right combination. That'll be an issue this year as well with plenty of shuffling sure to go on to make all the pieces fit. The hope is for the speedy young corners can overcome their mistakes with big plays. Stopping the short-to-midrange passing games would be nice. Pegues is a great one to work around, while the corners should come though in time. It just might take a while.
Rating: 6.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: A two-year starter, junior Blake McAdams had a spectacular freshman season and then fell off the map last year on his average with just 38.2 yards per kick. While he's good at putting the ball inside the 20, he only had one touchback, he could stand for force more fair catches. Since he doesn't have a booming leg, he has to be consistent. Junior Adam Carlson took over when Keith Andrews went down with an injury and hit six of 12 field goals. While serviceable, he has to be more reliable from inside the 40 after missing three kicks from 30-39 yards. He has a surprisingly accurate deep leg even though his range tops out at around 47 yards. If needed, he can step in and punt.
Watch Out For ... new special teams coach Reed Stringer to do whatever's needed to improve the all-around kicking game. Every team emphasizes the special teams, but now MSU will make a bigger attempt to be better.
Strength: Derek Pegues. The star defensive back is also an elite kick and punt returner averaging 14 yards per punt return and 23.7 yards per kickoff return.
Kicking. The punting game was abysmal, while McAdams were merely average. MSU can't afford to be average on special teams.
In a major surprise, the kicking game, which was supposed to be one of the team's strengths, was mediocre, while the return game, a supposedly glaring weakness, was tremendous thanks to a big year from Pegues. Carlson has to be better on the midrange field goals (interestingly enough, he didn't get an attempt inside 30 yards), while McAdams has to get back to his freshman form after an off year. Considering five games decided by a touchdown or less last year, special teams could be the difference throughout the season.
Rating: 6.5


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2007 Mississippi State Preview - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 30, 2007
2007 Mississippi State Preview - Depth Chart
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2007 Mississippi State Preview
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