Mississippi State Bulldogs
Preview 2009 - Defense
2009 CFN Mississippi
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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.
Star of the defense: Senior LB Jamar
K.J. Wright, 72
K.J. Wright, 4
Interceptions: Karlin Brown, 2
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior DE
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)
Strength of the defense: Linebacker, Defensive back speed
Weakness of the defense: Proven pass rusher, Backup
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.