Mississippi State Bulldogs
Preview 2008 - Defense
2008 CFN Mississippi
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2007 CFN Mississippi
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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.
Tackles: Jamar Chaney,
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
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,
Weakness of the defense:
Experienced depth, cornerback experience
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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:
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.