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2009 Mississippi State Preview - Defense
Mississippi State LB K.J. Wright
Mississippi State LB K.J. Wright
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jun 3, 2009


CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Mississippi State Bulldog Defense

Mississippi State Bulldogs

Preview 2009 - Defense

- 2009 CFN Mississippi State Preview | 2009 Mississippi State Offense
- 2009 Mississippi State Defense | 2009 Mississippi State Depth Chart
- 2008 MSU Preview | 2007 MSU Preview | 2006 MSU Preview

What you need to know: Defensive coordinator Carl Torbush only gets five starters to work with, but there won't be much of a drop-off, it any, from a D that gave up 328 yards per game. The addition of JUCO transfer Pernell McPhee at tackle and Chris White at linebacker will be an instant boost, while the return of MLB Jamar Chaney from an ankle injury, to go along with K.J. Wright, might give MSU the SEC's best starting linebacking trio. CB Marcus Washington is the only starter returning to a fast and promising secondary that should surprise with good safeties in Charles Mitchell and Zach Smith to get excited about. The key will be to find a sure-thing pass rusher after the D finished last in the SEC in sacks. Last year's veteran secondary was helped by the lack of passing teams on the slate, but this year's defensive backfield will need more help from the front seven.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: K.J. Wright, 72
Sacks: K.J. Wright, 4
Interceptions: Karlin Brown, 2

Star of the defense: Senior LB Jamar Chaney
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior DE Brandon Cooper
Unsung star on the rise: Junior DT Pernell McPhee
Best pro prospect: Junior LB K.J. Wright
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Chaney, 2) Wright, 3) McPhee
Strength of the defense: Linebacker, Defensive back speed
Weakness of the defense: Proven pass rusher, Backup tackles

Defensive Line

Projected Starters
:
While last year's line went through some major growing pains in hopes to come up big this year, the best player on the defensive front is a newcomer. The top prospect in the first Dan Mullen class wasn't necessarily recruited by this coaching staff, but he was sold on sticking with his verbal commitment. Pernell McPhee was a lightly recruited tackle prospect coming out of high school, originally signing with Southern Miss, and then he ended up going to Pahokee CC where he was unstoppable for two years as an interior pass rusher. All of a sudden, everyone wanted him from coast to coast, but the 6-4, 275-pounder chose MSU and now he's about to be special. The junior was too quick for everyone on the Bulldog interior this spring wreaking havoc in practice after practice. Now he'll get the starting job at right tackle.

Back at the other tackle spot is Kyle Love, a 6-1, 310-pound run stopper is back after starting two games last year, and playing in all 13 games, making 13 tackles with two sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. He has had problems with foot injuries, but he's expected to be fine this fall and he'll be one of the team's most experienced linemen. While he can get into the backfield, he's worth mostly as a block against the run.

Sean Ferguson is the lone returning starter after getting the starting nod from day one as a true freshman. The 6-3, 245-pound sophomore only made 12 tackles with a tackle for loss, and now he has to use his speed and athleticism to become a pass rusher. Far bigger than the skinny 217-pounder who came to the program last year, he should be able to hold up.

Working in a rotation on the right side, in place of Tim Bailey, will be Brandon Cooper, a 6-1, 255-pound junior who's an athletic speed rusher who made ten tackles with 1.5 tackles for loss. He was expected to do far more going into last year, but he struggled to consistently produce. Now he'll be used mostly as a pass rushing specialist.

 
Projected Top Reserves: Combining with Cooper on the right side will be Trevor Stigers after spending last year hitting the weights. The redshirt freshman, who was a superstar high school pass rusher who spurned Ole Miss for MSU, added 30 pounds to get up to 255 pounds on his 6-4 frame. Very strong and very quick, he has the potential to be a breakout star.

Trying to finally stay healthy and come up with a big final season is 6-1, 275-pound senior Charles Burns after starting four times on the end and finishing with 13 tackles with 1.5 sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss. He'll be a quick, undersized tackle working in a rotation with Kyle Love on the left side. Versatile, he'll be a key backup all across the front four.
 
Watch Out For ... McPhee. If he can bring it for a full 12 game season like he did this offseason, he's going to be an All-SEC performer. He might maintain a permanent residence in opposing backfields.
Strength: Quickness all across the front. While this group didn't do anything to get into the backfield last year, and did next to nothing two years ago, there's plenty of athleticism to go along with decent size. The potential is there for there to do far more.

Weakness
: Proven production. This was supposed to be potentially strong line last year, and it wasn't. No one emerged on the end and there wasn't enough production on the inside. While there's experience returning, there's little to count on after the problems of last season.
Outlook:
Defensive line coach David Turner did what he could last year, but there wasn't any one thing it did well finishing 11th in the league in run defense and last in sacks and tackles for loss. If McPhee is the real deal and becomes the star to work around, there could be an instant improvement. Now the line needs a pass rusher who can make someone worry.
Rating: 6


Linebackers

Projected Starters: The linebacking corps could be the strength of the team helped by the return of Jamar Chaney, a fifth-year senior who got an extra season of eligibility after having problems with his ankle. The 6-1, 245-pound man in the middle led the team with 89 tackles two years ago, but was limited to just one game of action last year, making 12 tackles against Louisiana Tech. Able to play inside or out, he's back and healthy with all-star potential as the leader of the front seven.

Back on the strongside will be K.J. Wright after making 72 tackles with a team-leading four sacks and nine tackles for loss. The junior got a lot bigger after being a lightning fast 215 pound special teamer to start his career. Now, the 6-4, 245-pounder, will be used as a pass rusher and should be even stronger against the run. As experienced as he is, he's just scratching the surface with NFL upside if he can be a bit more consistent. 

Taking over the full-time job on the weakside will be Chris White, at least until everyone gets healthy. The excellent JUCO transfer is big for the position, checking in at 6-3 and 245 pounds, and he's ready to start right away. One of the team's best all-around athletes with tremendous strength and 4.52 speed, he was a JUCO All-American with 204 tackles in two years at Mississippi Gulf Coast CC. He'll be an instant playmaker. 

Projected Top Reserves: While White has looked like a potential star on the weakside, junior Karlin Brown will be a part of the rotation after getting four starts over the second half of the season and finishing with 34 tackles with two interceptions. Way undersized at 5-8 and 200 pounds, he gets by on his speed and quickness and toughness.

Working in a rotation with Brown on the outside will be sophomore Terrell Johnson after making 20 tackles with 1.5 tackles for loss. The 6-2, 205-pounder is built like a safety and has the speed to move like one on the weakside. He's also a tough tackler who could be a pass rusher if needed.

Bo Walters started the final two games of the year on the weakside, but he'll start out in the middle behind Chaney. The 6-0, 240-pound sophomore made 15 tackles and a sack, and with his size and 4.46 speed and tremendous strength, he'll be used now as a key backup linebacker and at times as a pass rushing end.
 
Watch Out For ... White. While Chaney and Wright are the sure-thing returning starters, White could be the best of the bunch. He's big, quick, and he doesn't miss a stop.
Strength: Size. This isn't the typical SEC linebacking corps full of smallish, fast athletes. Chaney, Wright, and White are all listed at 245 pounds and they can all hit.
Weakness
:
Pass defense. The linebacking corps will be required to stop the run and they will need to be used as pass rushers, but they aren't going to do too much against the pass. They'll hold their own on the short patterns, but coverage won't necessarily be a strong suit.
Outlook: Former North Carolina head coach Carl Torbush will handle the linebackers along with his duties as defensive coordinator, and he has a loaded group. The return of Chaney will be a huge plus, while the addition of White will make a good situation fantastic. Wright will earn all-star honors and will soon get an NFL paycheck. The backups have potential to be great if they get time to develop.
Rating: 8.5


Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: Step one will be to try to replace free safety Derek Pegues, the do-it-all star who had an underwhelming final year, but was still a key to a terrific secondary. 5-11, 200-pound junior Zach Smith starting two games finishing with 43 tackles. Mostly a star on special teams, he's an aggressive hitter with good smarts and athleticism for the position. He'll make plenty of stops against the run and will be all over the field against the pass.

Along with the loss of Pegues, the departure of leading tackler Keith Fitzhugh, who made 116 stops, will hurt. True sophomore Charles Mitchell was a key backup making 31 tackles, but he didn't do much against the pass. At 5-11 and 205 pounds, he's not big but he can move. The Mississippi Gatorade Player of the Year in 2007, he runs a 4.56 and can jump out of the stadium. Now he'll be a starter at strong safety for the next three years.

The only returning starter to the secondary is senior Marcus Washington, who stepped into the lineup when injuries gave him a shot and finished with 44 tackles and an interception. At 5-10 and 190 pounds, he has good size along with plenty of experience. He's also one of the team's best all-around athletes with the ability to stay with any receiver. Now he has to come up with more big plays as the team's top cover option.

On the other side will be sophomore Damien Anderson after making six tackles in a limited role. At 5-11 and 195 pounds he's one of the team's biggest corners, and he can run with 4.5 speed. He's still learning how to be steady in coverage, but he has the skills to be fine with a little more work. 
 
Projected Top Reserves:
While Anderson has locked down a corner spot, 5-10, 180-pound redshirt freshman Louis Watson got time this spring with the ones and held his own. One of the team's fastest players, he has no problems with speed receivers and has the strength to be fine against the tougher ones. With his speed and quickness he could be used as a nickel back and a kick returner.

Wade Bonner was originally a running back, but he moved over to the secondary, his more natural spot. He was a great high school corner with lightning speed in a 5-9, 200-pound frame. With his range, he should grow into a top backup behind Smith at free safety, but he could play corner any time he's needed.

Watch Out For ... Mitchell. A superstar recruit for the program a few years ago, there's a reason everyone wanted him. He's a great athlete with tremendous upside, and now he should be a fixture in the secondary for the next three years.
Strength: Speed. Give the old regime credit; it didn't mess around when it came to bringing in fast defensive backs. Everyone can move and there won't be any issues with range or getting to the ball.
Weakness
:
Experience. Washington is a good veteran who knows what he's doing. Smith has seen a wee bit of time as a spot starter. That's it. There's a lot of good potential, but compared to last year, this group is all but starting from scratch.
Outlook: After a fantastic year, at least statistically, the MSU secondary needs to hope for all the good-looking athletes to turn into steady producers. The speed is there, and this group should be even faster than last year's secondary, but it might take a little while to find the right combination. Washington is a good place to start, while Mitchell and Smith could surprise and be fantastic right away.
Rating: 7

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Gone is Adam Carlson, who connected on 7-of-13 field goals, and while junior Sean Brauchle is new to the mix after coming in from the JUCO ranks, he could be a weapon with a huge leg and the experience of kicking 19-of-25 field goals for Gulf Coast CC. He nailed a 57-yard bomb in practices.

Blake McAdams had a rough year punting the ball, so it shouldn't take too much for Heath Hutchins to improve the net yardage. MSU netting 31.8 yards per try last season and should do far more with the JUCO transfer showing off a huge leg throughout spring ball.

After a disappointing year from Derek Pegues as a kick and punt returner, it'll be up to junior Leon Berry to take over. The JUCO transfer was a star this spring as a receiver, and now he'll try to better 6.6 yards per punt return and 22.8 yards per kickoff return Pegues came up with.

 
Watch Out For ... bigger bombs. Carlson and McAdams were experienced, but they didn't have the legs that Brachle and Hutchins will bring. Consistency might be a problem, but there will be more bombs.
Strength: Big kicking legs. Carlson's longest field goal was from 42 yards out, while McAdams' crushed a 72-yard punt, but didn't air it out on a regular basis. 
Weakness
:
Everything. There will be some major improvements this year mainly because nothing worked. The return game was among the worst in America, the net punting was the worst in the SEC, and the coverage teams didn't show up.
Outlook:
A stunning disaster last year, the special teams will be starting from scratch at all the positions. All the coaches will have a hand in making things better, and it shouldn't take too much to improve by leaps and bounds with a bit more attention.
Rating: 6