The Freshman 15: Filling in for Fletcher Cox

Over the next several weeks here on the HailState Beat, we’ll be running a new football-related series each week, a series of series, if you will. We continue this week with The Freshman 15: counting the 15 (or so) ways the 2012 freshman class could impact the season.

Today in The Freshman 15: Filling in for Fletcher Cox

Fletcher Cox will have to be replaced in 2012.

Sure, losing Fletcher Cox to the Philadelphia Eagles in the first round of the NFL Draft is a hit to Chris Wilson’s defensive line. But if there was a position where Mississippi State could transition seamlessly after losing big-time NFL talent, it’s at defensive tackle, where the Dawgs are stacked.

And more help is arriving in the form of freshmen Quay Evans and Nick James. Between the two, Wilson welcomes 12 feet, seven inches and a conservatively-estimated 645 pounds of tackling machines to his defense.

James enrolled in classes this summer, and Evans, as you may know, was able to get in school early in January and already has a full spring under his over-sized belt.

MSU already has a slew of talented tackles ready to replace the production of Cox, including the already-successful senior Josh Boyd, as well as players like P.J. Jones, Curtis Virges and DeWayne Cherrington.

However, despite that heavy competition at the position, Evans was able to work his way into the playing rotation along the defensive front by the end of spring practice. The highlight of his first semester on campus came in the Maroon-White scrimmage when the 305-pound tackle racked up six tackles and three sacks in front of the crowd at Davis Wade Stadium.

Between the two big tackles coming in, Evans better fits the profile of Cox in size and style, possessing surprising athleticism and speed for someone of his giant frame. And while I’m certainly not guaranteeing Evans ends up as a first-round pick, he’s much farther along as a true freshman than Cox was when he got to Starkville.

Cox was the power-rushing side of the duo last year and Boyd was the space-eating run stopper of the pair who arrived at MSU together. Just as those two joined forces harmonically, Evans and James ought to do the same, with James playing space eater at 6’4” and close to 350 pounds.

James will naturally be behind the early-arriving Evans, but he has all the size and natural talent to catch up, and he can do it quickly. Much like Evans, James is more nimble than his mammoth frame would suggest.

Neither can replace Cox as true freshmen, and it’s unlikely that either will crack the starting lineup by September 1, but Evans and James were two of the highest rated defensive tackles in the country when they signed with the Bulldogs. Both will get their chances to make an impact in their first year on campus, and each of them has the ability and talent to capitalize on their opportunities.

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