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2008 Mississippi State Preview - Defense
Mississippi State LB Jamar Chaney
Mississippi State LB Jamar Chaney
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted May 2, 2008


CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Mississippi State Bulldog Defense

Mississippi State Bulldogs

Preview 2008 - Defense

- 2008 CFN Mississippi State Preview | 2008 Mississippi State Offense
- 2008 Mississippi State Defense | 2008 Mississippi State Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Mississippi State Preview | 2006 CFN Mississippi State Preview 

What you need to know: There might not be many all-stars, and there might not be much in the way of a steady pass rush, but the defense will be among the best in the SEC again with eight starters returning led by the safety combination of Derek Pegues and Keith Fitzhugh. The linebacking corps gets three of the top four tacklers back with Jamar Chaney and Dominic Douglas a strong 1-2 defensive punch, but there's little depth behind them and the third spot is a question mark. The tackles are excellent and the ends can stop the run and make plays in the backfield, but there has to be more sacks after finishing last in the SEC with just 19.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Jamar Chaney, 89
Sacks: Jimmie Holmes, 2
Interceptions: Derek Pegues, 5

Star of the defense: Senior FS Derek Pegues
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore LB K.J. Wright
Unsung star on the rise: Senior DE Jimmie Holmes
Best pro prospect: Pegues
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Pegues, 2) LB Jamar Chaney, 3) LB Dominic Douglas
Strength of the defense: Athleticism, young prospects, linebacker
Weakness of the defense:
Experienced depth, cornerback experience

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: Originally, junior Kyle Love was supposed to ease into his career and have time to develop, but he was thrown into the mix early on did a decent job. Now all his experience, with 21 games under his belt, should shine through as he's ready to become a special run stopper at left tackle. At 6-1 and 320 pounds, he's a strong, physical wall who made 17 tackles with three tackles for loss. While not much of an interior pass rusher, that's not going to be his job.

Returning at right tackle is 6-1, 305-pound senior Jessie Bowman, who made 26 tackles and five tackles for loss after coming over from the JUCO ranks. His biggest issue, his weight, has been kept in relative check, and as long as he stays around 300 pounds, he'll be effective. He's build like a nose tackle and will work with Kyle Love as the anchors of the defense.

6-3, 240-pound
sophomore Brandon Cooper came on at the end of last year finishing with four tackles, but he's an athletic speed rusher who'll be a decent first option in the rotation. He'll be the quick end with Cortez McCraney bringing the size.

6-3, 241-pound senior Tim Bailey has been a key reserve over the last few years at both linebacker and end, and now he has to replace Titus Brown. The former JUCO transfer fought in Iraq for two years before joining the Bulldogs in 2006, and he started to come on at the end of last year as one of the line's steadiest performers with 25 tackles and three tackles for loss. Now he has to prove he can become a pass rusher.
 
Projected Top Reserves:
6-4, 272-pound Cortez McCraney started out at end, moved to tackle for a stretch after transferring over from Memphis, and now is a full-time end after making 24 tackles as a quick option on the inside. He bulked up a bit, but even at his bigger weight he's far better suited at end after getting pushed around a little too much by the bigger, stronger interior offensive linemen. With the potential to be a good pass rusher, the senior needs to make it happen.

While the tackle situation is solid as is, it would've been better if 315-pound junior Quinton Wesley was back on the team. He was kicked off the team after getting charged with aggravated assault. He had 21 games of experience even with his 2006 season cut short by an ankle injury, to go along an off-the-field incident involving an alleged assault on an officer at a nightclub before the one that got him booted for good. He was back of the team after serving a six-month suspended sentence and made 19 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss.

Seeing time at both tackle positions, with most of the time on the right side, will be 6-1, 290-pound sophomore LaMarcus Williams, who made two tackles with a foot injury ruining his true freshman season. Now he should grow into a top all-around playmaker with his foot right, and he should become the interior pass rusher the line desperately needs.

The Bulldogs need production from the reserve ends, with senior Jimmie Holmes making 21 tackles last year, but at 6-3 and 235 pounds, he's a bit light and he hasn't been much of a pass rusher.

 
Watch Out For ... the coaching staff to sell out more to get to the quarterbacks. Out of necessity, the Bulldogs will have to manufacture a pass rush with no sure-thing speed end who'll get to the quarterback on a regular basis. However, Holmes is expected to become the necessary pass rusher now that he's been around the program for a year.
Strength: Tackle rotation. Love, Bowman, Wesley and Rodney Prince can all play forming a strong rotation that should be excellent against the run. Love and Bowman are anchors. Making the situation even stronger will be
Templeton Hardy, the team's top recruit.
Weakness
:
Pass rush. The Bulldogs got nothing, absolutely nothing from all four spots when it came to generating pressure with a mere 19 sacks and finishing last in the SEC in sacks. That was with Titus Brown, who came up with eight of the sacks.
Outlook:
The defensive front might lose Brown, but it could end up being better with fantastic tackles and good potential on the ends. Getting to the passer will be job one, but the line, and the defense in general, was terrific at coming up with tackles for loss, leading the SEC averaging over seven a game. All that's missing is a fearsome end and the line will be one of the most productive in the league.
Rating: 7


Linebackers

Projected Starters: Back as the front seven's top playmaker is 6-1, 236-pound senior Jamar Chaney, who led the team with 89 tackles, with 14 coming against Arkansas, and four tackles for loss on his way to second-team All-SEC honors. Able to play inside or out, the former Georgia Bulldog found his niche in the middle and should be in for a big season with a good line in front of him and the experience to keep the mistakes to a minimum.

Returning on the weakside is senior Dominic Douglas, a 6-2, 227-pound guided missile who came in from the JUCO ranks to finish second on the team with 78 stops and 8.5 tackles for loss. While he's built like a safety, he didn't do too much for the pass defense and didn't rush the passer. However, he used his tremendous speed to get in on seemingly every play highlighted by a nine-stop day against LSU and a ten-tackle game against UAB.

The one new starter in the corps is sophomore K.J. Wright on the strongside after spending most of last year on special teams. A true sophomore, he's still learning on the fly after burning his redshirt season to make seven tackles with a recovered fumble. At 6-3 and 215 pounds, he has to prove he can consistently handle Gabe O'Neal's old spot and be almost as steady.

Projected Top Reserves: Jamar Chaney is the main man in the middle, but time will be found for 6-0, 230-pound junior Jamon Hughes, who was fourth on the team with 65 tackles with 5.5 tackles for loss despite starting just one time. He showed great promise as a freshman only to struggle through a hamstring injury, but he came back to become one of the team's best reserves. Athletic enough to play on the weakside if needed, he's better suited for the inside. However, he has to get back in the team's good graces after being suspended for violating team rules. He's able to return to the team as a walk-on.

Outside of Hughes, it'll be a roll of a dice when it comes to the rest of the reserve linebackers. 6-2, 210-pound redshirt freshman Terrell Johnson will back up K.J. Wright on the strongside, but will mostly see time on special teams. 6-0, 215-pound redshirt freshman Jamie Jones will start out on the weakside but could see time at any of the three spots.
 
Watch Out For ... a rotation of players on the strongside. Chaney and Douglas won't come off the field, and a spot has to be found for Hughes, so watch for Wright, Johnson, and others to rotate in on the weakside depending on the situation.
Strength: Returning production. Three of the team's top four tacklers return with Chaney, Douglas and Hughes combining for 232 stops. There's plenty of experience and just enough talent to consistently clean up everything the good line doesn't stop.
Weakness
:
Veteran depth. There's almost no depth whatsoever. Wright is still a prospect on the weakside, and there's nothing out side of Hughes to count on if a slew of injuries strike. The real problem could be the depth with only two players, Chaney and Hughes, over 230 pounds.
Outlook: There might not be any superstars here, but there are three strong tacklers in Chaney, Douglas and Hughes who'll make this a rock-solid corps that'll be among the most productive in the SEC. Even with several young players the size of defensive backs, there's not much production against the pass and there isn't a pass rushing threat in the group. Even so, there's a nice mix of established veterans and good young prospects.
Rating: 7


Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: A good NFL prospect, all-star free safety Derek Pegues decided to return for his senior season after making 50 tackles five interceptions and with seven broken up passes. He's not all that big at just 5-10 and 196 pounds, but he's tremendously quick with a nose for the ball, and the big play. After starting at corner in his first two years, with two picks for touchdowns as a sophomore, he moved to safety where he took one interception for a score. He came up with two interceptions in the bowl win over UCF and came up with a big interception in the win over Alabama, and now he's become dangerous enough to force opposing quarterbacks to always go away from him. Along with being one of the SEC's best defensive backs, he led the team with a 22.7 kickoff return average and a 9.9 punt return average taking one for a touchdown.

5-11, 206-pound senior Keith Fitzhugh is one of the team's most versatile defensive backs, able to play either safety spot, and will get the call at strong safety after earning four starts and finishing fifth on the team with 58 tackles to go along with two interceptions and three broken up passes. A terrific run defender, he's improving as a pass defender and is ready to shine now that he'll be a full-time starter.

Until Anthony Johnson is back from his broken leg, junior Marcus Washington will step into the right cornerback job. Hardly a newcomer, he made seven starts with 44 tackles and an interception after spending the first part of his career mostly on special teams. One of the team's best all-around athletes, he makes up for his average coverage skills with his speed and quickness.

On the left side will once against be Jasper O'Quinn, a nice JUCO transfer who proved to be physical and steady with 37 tackles and an interception. While he's not the coverman Anthony Johnson is, he's a fantastic athlete with plenty of experience and confidence. Unlike mane corners, O'Quinn is hardly afraid to hit, providing a safety-like pop with his 5-10, 185-pound frame.

 
Projected Top Reserves:
Eventually, sophomore Anthony Johnson will return as the team's No. 1 corner after making 53 tackles, breaking up eight passes and picking off three passes, taking two for touchdowns, before suffering a broken leg. At 5-10 and 194 pounds, he's a physical corner with fantastic quickness who'll make some All-SEC noise before his career is done.

Starting nine times last year, senior De'Mon Glanton is a strong veteran who can fit in at either safety spot and will rotate with Kevin Fitzhugh at strong safety. At 6-1 and 190 pounds, he's built like a corner but he hits like a ton of bricks making 47 tackles with two interceptions and seven broken up passes.

Growing into a nice reserve corner is 6-3, 185-pound junior Tay Bowser, who made most of his early impact on special teams before stepping in for Anthony Johnson. Bowser suffered a knee injury of his own in the middle of the season but still finished with 13 tackles and an interception.

Watch Out For ... this to be the SEC's best secondary if Anthony Johnson is healthy again. There's talent and returning production at all four positions, and there's a superstar in Derek Pegues to work around.
Strength: Tackling. The corners can certainly cover, but the difference between the secondary being good and being special is its tackling ability. Johnson and Washington aren't afraid to hit anyone, and O'Quinn is strong in the open field.
Weakness
:
Safety size. It's nitpicking, but there isn't a 6-2, 215-pound thumper in the secondary who'll scare anyone. There's a lot of big-hitting going on from all four spots, but there isn't the Ronnie Lott-time intimidating force.
Outlook:
The secondary struggled in 2006 to find the right combination and came out roaring in 2007 finishing seventh in the nation in pass defense and 20th in pass efficiency defense. Led by Pegues, this is a ball-hawking group that produced despite a lack of steady pass rush up front, and it should be among the most productive in the nation again if Johnson is the same corner he was before breaking his leg.
Rating: 9

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Senior Blake McAdams is back for his fourth season as the starting punter, and now he has to regain his freshman form when he average 41.9 yards per kick. His average has been, well, average, dipping below 40 yards on 214 kicks, but the net numbers are misleading since he's been fantastic at putting the ball inside the 20 doing it 47 times in three years. He has a big leg, shown off with a 73-yard blast against Auburn.

Senior Adam Carlson took over two years ago when injuries struck and was mediocre hitting six of 12 field goals, and then he was a weapon as a junior nailing ten of 13 attempts including a 48-yarder against Ole Miss. Two of his missed came early on in a win over Tulane, and his other miss came in the win over Gardner-Webb. After that he hit all six attempts and punted a little bit. He doesn't have a huge leg, but he can be counted on from 40 yards and in.

Along with being the team's top defensive player, Derek Pegues is an elite kick returner averaging 22.1 yards per kickoff return for his career, and 11.7 yards per punt return with two touchdowns. Redshirt freshman Wade Bonner will handle most of the kickoff returns, but Pegues will still be the punt return man.

 
Watch Out For ... teams to do everything possible not to leg Pegues get the ball in his hands. Bonner will see plenty of chances considering Pegues averaged 22.7 yards per return and MSU still finished 116th in the nation in kickoff returns averaging 18.19 yards per try.
Strength: Pegues. He's special. Few players have his burst, vision, and now, his experience.
Weakness
:
Punt coverage. McAdams can stick the ball deep and he can air it out, but he hasn't gotten much help.
Outlook:
The special teams are loaded with veterans at all the key spots with McAdams, Carlson and Pegues, and now they all have to be a bit better. McAdams needs a bit more blast, Carlson needs a bit more range, and Pegues, well, he's just fine as is. The return teams have to be much, much better.
Rating: 6.5

 

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