Mississippi State fans often talk of the days of dominate defense.
The Bulldogs have been pretty salty on that side of the ball throughout the school’s history.
This season Mississippi State will have a defense that will rival some of the best State has put on display on select fall Saturdays. In fact, not since the days of defensive coordinator John Lee Dunn have the Bulldogs had this much depth along the defensive front.
“This is the largest group of guys that I’ve had at one time that can really play out there,” said defensive coordinator and defensive line coach Chris Wilson.
This season MSU will carry 17 defensive linemen on the roster, 10 of which have played collegiate football and four additional freshmen could see action this season.
Senior Josh Boyd is the most well-known of the guys up front and is expected to have a breakout season after playing in the shadow of first-round National Football League Draft selection Fletcher Cox.
Entering the season, Boyd has 92 tackles and 15.5 tackles for a loss to his credit.
Behind Boyd are several names State fans will find familiar, including Devin Jones, P.J. Jones, Kaleb Eulls, Preston Smith, Dewayne Cherrington, Denico Autry, Shane McCardell, Quay Evans, Nick James and A.J. Jefferson. This list of talented athletes leaves Wilson with a daunting task of deciding who gets the snaps this season.
“Our depth chart changes daily. It depends on who is being consistent, who is beating guys out,” said Wilson. “The worst thing you can do is make an assessment after the season, by then it is too late. We look at it on a daily basis, evaluating who the guys are that give us the best chance to win a football game.”
The depth gives State the opportunity to do what they had in mind when it builds the defensive philosophy and that's create problems for the opposition.
“I’d like to move (Eulls) around," Wilson said. "In certain packages, I like him on the end and in certain packages I like him inside. You want your best players to create matchup problems for guys and we’ve got guys who can do a lot of things. That’s really what you want. You want defensive ends who can be linebackers and you want defensive tackles that can be defensive ends. We are kind of multiple in that regard.”
Wilson said his thought process is relatively simple, “I’d play my momma if she could get me a sack. I don’t care who it is. If I can find a guy who can get off the edge, apply pressure to the quarterback, we’ll use him.”
Several newcomers will make their MSU debut this fall with junior college All-American Denico Autry leading the way.
“He has never mentioned his stats and what he has been able to do,” said Wilson of Autry, who helped East Mississippi Community College earn a national title last season. “He is a really humble kid. He is really a Mississippi State kid. Being from North Carolina, he is humble, tough, works his behind off. He just fits exactly who we are as a program.”
The arrival of Autry has forced guys like McCardell to take a step forward to fight for playing time.
“From the standpoint of looking over and seeing a guy that is talented with a high motor, I think it has helped Shane,” said Wilson. “He has a lot of knowledge of our system and he has really become a more physical football player.”
As for the freshmen who will compete for playing time this season, two names immediately step to the forefront in Quay Evans and Nick James.
While Wilson would prefer to have them watch during their freshman season, their athleticism may dictate that they get into the mix.
“I think the worst thing we can do when a guy comes in highly touted, thinking he is the next Fletcher Cox, is let him think he is Fletcher Cox," Wilson said. "Fletcher Cox wasn’t Fletcher Cox when he first got here so when you look at a guy like Quay or Nick, they have different talents. They are different, but they are just 18-years-old and trying to find out what dorm to go to. Talent-wise, they are very different.
“We had really rather play them late than early so we will just keep going along with that process.”
Mississippi State continues their fall camp on “The Farm” this afternoon as they prepare for the season opener against Jackson State on September 1.