2010 Mississippi State Preview – Defense
Mississippi State LB K.J. Wright
Mississippi State LB K.J. Wright
Posted Jul 24, 2010

CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Mississippi State Bulldog Defense

Mississippi State Bulldogs

Preview 2010 - Defense

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What You Need To Know: The defense might have finished tenth in the SEC in yards allowed and 11th in points allowed, but it was a good year overall that had a few rough patches. New defensive coordinator Manny Diaz will turn up the heat with more swarming and a more aggressive style of play, and he has the young athletes to do it. There's a nice base of veterans to keep things steady with Pernell McPhee one of the SEC's better pass rushers, K.J. Wright a terrific linebacker, and Charles Mitchell a burgeoning star at safety, but the talent is in the sophomores with at least 13 underclassmen expected to play big roles. Overall, the defense has to get into the backfield more and has to start hitting the quarterback, and Diaz should do a good job of making that happen with his energy and his demand for his players to fly all over the place.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: K.J. Wright, 82
Sacks: Pernell McPhee, 5
Interceptions: Corey Broomfield, 6

Star of the defense: Senior LB K.J. Wright
Player who has to step up and be a star: Sophomore DE Nick Bell
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman S Nickoe Whitley
Best pro prospect: Senior DE Pernell McPhee
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Wright, 2) McPhee, 3) S Charles Mitchell
Strength of the defense: Young Talent, Linebacker
Weakness of the defense: Clutch Plays, Pass Rush

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: The line might be the team's biggest strength, and senior Pernell McPhee is the best player up front. The 6-4, 285-pounder was a big-time JUCO transfer who stuck with his commitment when Dan Mullen took over and paid immediate dividends making 56 tackles, five sacks, and 12 tackles for loss. Not a great high school prospect, he first signed on with Southern Miss before going to Pahokee CC where he was unstoppable in two years as an interior pass rusher. All of a sudden, everyone wanted him, and now he's a possible 3-4 NFL defensive end prospect and a star in the MSU 4-3.

After a great spring, 6-3, 265-pound sophomore Nick Bell will get the first look at taking over the starting job on the right side. While he struggled early on last year in his first season, he ended up starting against Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech finishing the season with 15 tackles with 2.5 tackles for loss. He's strong, can play inside or out, and he's quick off the ball. He'll benefit from being on the other side of McPhee.

Looking to hold up in the middle again after starting four times down the stretch, sophomore Fletcher Cox is a nice, rising prospect at right tackle with phenomenal speed and quickness for his size. Able to be a whale of a 3-4 defensive end of a dangerous interior pass rusher as a tackle, he's one of the team's most versatile linemen and he's just scratching the surface. He made 29 tackles with a sack and 3.5 tackles for loss last year, but he could triple his numbers in the backfield.

6-3, 295-pound sophomore Josh Boyd isn't all that big on the inside, but he plays strong and has a world of upside. The had a nice first year starting three games and seeing time in every contest making 17 tackles, but he has to do more to be an interior pass rusher. He goes full-bore on every play and will work his way into stops on hustle.

Projected Top Reserves: A spot will be carved out right away for the team's top recruit, JUCO transfer James Carmon . The massive 6-7, 345-pound sun-blotter was terrific this offseason and should be the anchor up front against the run sooner than later. He isn't going to get into the backfield on a regular basis, and he's not former Alabama DT Terrence Cody, as some have speculated he could be, but he's a very tough, very big body who'll eat up everything that comes inside.

After being suspended for pot possession, junior Sean Ferguson will be back in the rotation this fall on the end. The spot starter got the call in four games in the second half stretch and wasn't bad making 25 tackles with a sack and 5.5 tackles for loss. He bulked up big-time getting up to 250 pounds after starting his career as a 217-pounder just a few years ago, but now he'll have to fight with Nick Bell taking over the right tackle job.

Sophomore Devin Jones might get lost a bit in the shuffle with so many other good tackle prospects, but the 6-0, 270-pounder is a feisty young defender who always goes all out and makes up for his lack of size with great hustle. He bulked up a little bit, but he doesn't have the girth to be an every down tackle. However, he always produces when he gets his chance making 14 tackles with 2.5 sacks last year.

Serving as the understudy behind Pernell McPhee, and with the talent to be a pass rushing specialist, redshirt freshman Johnathan McKenzie is a great-looking prospect. The 6-6, 265-pounder goes 100 miles per hours all the time and doesn't take a play off. He's not the best athlete on the line and he'll make plays more on want-to than skill, but he'll be in the backfield whenever he's in.

Watch Out For … Carmon. The guy is really, really big. He's the type of player who can come in for about 20 plays per game and end the discussion for anyone's running game. However, it should say something that he was an elite recruit who could've gone almost anywhere, but he couldn't beat out Boyd and Cox for a starting spot.
Strength: Young talent. McPhee is the star of the show, and the senior will earn all-star honors, but the excitement surrounds the tremendous group of sophomores who'll be the building blocks of the team over the next few years. Cox and Boyd have all-star potential, and Bell stepped up his play in a big way this offseason looking great on the outside.
Weakness: Pass rush. McPhee is a pass rusher, and now everyone else has to get into the backfield. MSU was 104th in the nation in sacks and 89th in tackles for loss, and while the new, more aggressive defensive style should change that, it's still a must for the talented sophomores to come up with more big plays.
Outlook: The future is bright. The line had some great moments last year but showed its overall youth and inexperience when push came to shove. Now the Bulldogs have a foundation set with Cox, Boyd, and Carmon in the middle. Another pass rusher has to be found to help out McPhee on the outside.
Unit Rating: 7


Projected Starters: The star of the defensive show, Jamar Chaney, is gone from the middle after leading the team with 90 tackles, and now it'll be up to senior Chris White to be the main man in the middle. The 6-4, 250-pound former JUCO transfer spent last year on the weakside starting every game and finishing second on the team with 75 tackles with four tackles for loss, and now he'll have to hold up in the middle where he looked like a natural this offseason. He doesn't fly around to the ball, but he hits like a ton of bricks and he'll make every stop he gets to.

Former strongside star K.J. Wright, the team's second-leading tackler will take over on the weakside to get him in space to make more plays. The 6-4, 250-pound senior has the size to handle the interior, the speed to handle the outside, and he has the tackling skills making 82 stops with two sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss. He has NFL upside with tremendous speed and great range, but now he has to show he can hold up and become more of a big-play performer.

With Wright moving positions, 6-2, 225-pound sophomore Cameron Lawrence will get the starting nod after making 14 tackles as a decent reserve. While he's not big and he's not an athlete, he doesn't miss a stop and he goes full tilt with a big punch when he gets to the ball. He was a terrific special teamer and should be a valuable part of the rotation, but he'll have to fight to hang on to the strongside gig.

Projected Top Reserves: Redshirt freshman Deontae Skinner was a top scout teamer last year and will be an active and athletic strongside option this season behind K.J. Wright. The 6-2, 235-pounder can play either on the weakside or the strong, but he has the pass rushing ability to do more when he gets room to run. However, he has to prove he can cover someone.

Sophomore Brandon Wilson is a bit limited and doesn't have any range, but he has 6-0, 245-pound size and good thumping ability as a run stopper … in practices. He only made five stops last year as a backup in the middle behind Jamar Wilson, but he should see more time against the more physical running teams.

When he gets his chance, true freshman Chris Hughes should become a major playmaker on the strongside. While he's only 6-1 and 215 pounds and is built more like a safety, he can fly, is great in pass coverage, and has the ability to become a stat-sheet filler. Coming off an Achilles heel injury he still might need time, but he has the talent and the versatility to work in a variety of roles either at linebacker or in the defensive backfield.

Watch Out For … Wright to blossom. He was a great all-around playmaker for the defense last year, but he ended up taking a backseat to Chaney. Now the senior should have the spotlight all to himself and he should be an all-star.
Strength: Tacklers. This is a good-sized group that doesn't miss any stops. While it might hurt to lose a playmaker and leader in Chaney, there are more than enough options to fill the void with Wright and White picking up the slack and Lawrence a talented young player.
Weakness: Big plays. The linebackers came up with a few forced fumbles here and there, but they didn't get into the backfield enough and they mostly made tackles, but nothing else. The pass coverage could stand to be better.
Outlook: Wilson and White will be among the SEC's most productive linebacking duos combining for close to 200 stops, and the rest of the gaps will fill themselves. The key will be for the underclassmen to emerge to be ready to take over for next year as options for the strongside and middle will have to be found. It would be a big help if Wilson and Skinner turned into great backups right away.
Unit Rating: 7


Projected Starters: The secondary needed Charles Mitchell to step up his play, and he did. The junior strong safety finished fourth on the team with 64 tackles with four interceptions and two broken up passes as one of the leaders of the defense. The 2007 Mississippi Gatorade Player of the Year runs a 4.56 and can jump out of the stadium, but the 5-11, 205-pounder has to do a bit more when the ball is in the air. He's great at stopping the run and should once again put up big stats.

There will be a battle for the starting free safety job and a little bit of shuffling with Nickoe Whitley getting a long look at the job. The redshirt freshman has 6-0, 205-pound size and great speed and range, but he'll have to show he can hold up and he'll have to be consistent with several other options pushing for time. He has the skills to be a good one in some capacity for the next four years.

There will be a good rotation at corner with senior Maurice Langston likely to hold down one of the jobs. The 5-10, 180-pound veteran missed the first part of the last season getting over some legal problems and then returned to make 16 tackles with 2.5 tackles for loss. He's a lock-down, pure cover corner with good raw speed and the attitude needed, but he has yet to come up with a pick or a broken up pass. That will quickly change.

When Corey Broomfield gets back from a shoulder injury, he'll get back his starting corner job. The 5-10, 180-pound sophomore led the team with six interceptions – taking one for a score against Ole Miss -- with four broken up passes and 19 tackles in his debut, but he'll still end up in a rotation until he proves he's back to 100%. He's a willing tackler, but he worth is in coverage.

Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Johnathan Banks will likely start somewhere. The team's top free safety last season made 33 tackles with four interceptions and three broken up passes, but he's far better suited at corner where he'll combine with Corey Broomfield for the job. However, the 6-2, 180-pounder would make for a whale of a nickel and dime defender and could move around to be used in a variety of ways. He's not great against the run and is better when the ball is in the air.

Senior Zach Smith almost quit due to lingering concussion problems, but he's still in the mix and should be a key part of the safety rotation. The 5-11, 195-pounder made 26 tackles with a sack and two broken up passes, but he has to show that he can still keep up his same physical style considering his problems. He's not a pass defender and would be better at strong safety, but he'll start out in the free safety mix.

Junior Wade Bonner has moved around starting out as a running back before moving over to safety. The quick 5-10, 200-pound junior made 20 tackles, but despite being a great high school corner with excellent speed he's not a great pass defender and is at his best against the run and on special teams.

Junior Damien Anderson made 16 tackles with a pick, but he has the potential to do far more as a playmaking corner. At 5-11 and 195 pound he has decent size and he moves extremely well, but he needs more time on the field and needs as many reps as possible. With his size, 4.5 speed, and range, he could be used more as a nickel or dime defender.

Watch Out For … Whitley. His emergence as a factor has allowed the secondary to do a variety of things. Now Broomfield can be used as a veteran corner or as a nickel back, and the safety situation become far better. Whitley should shine next to Mitchell.
Strength: Speed. The old coaching staff went all out to bring in fast defensive backs, and this staff is doing more of the same. This might not be the most consistent group around, and there's a lot of polish that needs to be applied, but everyone can move.
Weakness: Consistency. The secondary got picked apart by the better passers other than Tim Tebow. The pass defense held the Gators to 127 yards through the air, but got lit up by Ryan Mallett and Arkansas for five scores and gave up 434 yards and four scores to Houston's Case Keenum. The pass defense allowed ten touchdown passes in the final three games after allowing eight in the first nine dates.
Outlook: The MSU secondary is full of promise, but it needs a few stars to emerge. Mitchell had a mediocre spring, but if anyone is going to stand out, it's him. There should be a nice rotation at all four spots with the versatility of Broomfield allowing the coaching staff to play around with the lineup as needed. This won't always be a rock of a pass defense, but it'll have its moments and it should help MSU pick off about 20 passes.
Unit Rating: 7

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Sean Brauchle came in from the JUCO level and was decent right away hitting 6-of-9 field goals with two of his misses coming on his first two kicks against Jackson State from 38 and 37 yards out. While the huge-legged senior will get every chance to take over the job by himself, senior Derek DePasquale was also a key factor taking over midway through connecting on 10-of-12 field goals including a 48-yarder against Ole Miss. Whichever one is the most consistent will get the bulk of the work.

Senior Heath Hutchins was a disappointment as he came up from the JUCO ranks and averaged just 39.72 yards per punt. Even though he was inconsistent, he forced 22 fair catches and put 11 inside the 20.

Receiver Leon Berry will be the main return man again after averaging an impressive 26.7 yards per kickoff return, but a mediocre 7.7 yards per punt return. Fellow receiver, Chad Bumphis , will also get some work after averaging nine yards on his five punt returns and 23.9 yards per kickoff return.

Watch Out For … a battle for the starting kicker job all year long. It's still there for the taking between Brauchle and DePasquale. Both are good options and they could end up splitting the duties with DePasquale taking the long ones and Brauchle handling the short putts.
Strength: Berry. Combining with Bumphis, Berry gives the Bulldogs a much needed shot in the arm when it comes to field position. They can each take it the distance and the can each change a game around.
Weakness: Coverage teams. The punting game needs to be far better, but as long as Hutchins is decent on his placements, he'll come around. The coverage teams are the bigger problem overall allowing a whopping 13.3 yards per punt return and 22 yards per kickoff return. MSU can't lose the field position battle.
Outlook: After a disastrous 2008, the Bulldogs pulled up out of the nosedive after starting from scratch. The coaching staff makes a concerted effort to make the special teams shine, and now there are good veterans returning to hope for more production. Once the kicking situation is settled, the special teams could even turn out to be a strength.
Unit Rating: 7

- 2010 Mississippi State Preview | 2010 Mississippi State Offense
- 2010 Mississippi State Defense | 2010 Mississippi State Depth Chart
- Mississippi State Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006