It may seem as if it just began, but spring is now over at Mississippi State, at least for the football team. Spring practices concluded this weekend with the annual Maroon-White scrimmage in Davis Wade Stadium, meaning we’ve got a long few months of waiting and speculating before fall camp begins in August (still summer, if you ask me or the sun).
Things will certainly change between now and then, and they will surely change some more between the start of camp and the first game of the season at Southern Miss, but we learned a lot about where MSU stands over the course of the spring, so we’ll break it down by position with some general observations and thoughts from coaches.
We covered the offense yesterday, so we’ll hit the defense today.
Coach David Turner has a lot to replace in this group, but he’s got a lot to work with, too. Senior Ryan Brown is, technically, the only returning starter, but juniors Chris Jones and A.J. Jefferson have had as many as reps as anyone, despite coming off the bench the last two years. Those three and fellow veteran Nelson Adams, a junior tackle, make up the starting four, but there’s talent aplenty behind them.
320-pound junior Nick James appears ready to be a consistent contributor for the first time and has earned a share of first-team reps, as well. Redshirt freshman tackle Cory Thomas was, to me, one of the most impressive players of the spring anywhere on the roster. He’s big, strong and incredibly talented; he just needs experience. On the outside, senior Torrey Dale has made big strides, according to both Turner and my eyes, while junior college transfer Jonathan Calvin looks like he’s going to push everyone for a starting position. Junior end Will Coleman and freshman tackle Braxton Hoyett deserve mention here, as well.
There’s a lot going on with the line, but Jefferson may have been the most attention-garnering member through the spring, culminating with his highlight-reel play in the spring game when he not only tackled the running back behind the line, but brought down the 6’6” tight end blocking for him, too.
That’s What He Said: David Turner on A.J. Jefferson – “He grinds and he’s kind of sneaky good. You don’t realize what he’s doing and how good he is until you stop and watch the tape. He has the ability to make a lot of plays. A.J., he loves football. He plays violent, he plays strong and he loves football. He’s a guy that should be the alpha dog of this group, kind of the bell cow of the group.”
The only position on the team with a new coach in defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, this unit also has to replace two out of three starters in the departed Benardrick McKinney and Matt Wells. However, plenty of talent remains.
MSU knows what it has in presumptive starters Beniquez Brown, Richie Brown and Zach Jackson, a versatile and experienced trio. The story of the spring here, though, surely has to be redshirt freshman Gerri Green. He’s the next in line following McKinney and K.J. Wright of big, long and strong linebackers at MSU, and he’s ready to play after redshirting his first year on campus.
Green finished his spring by showing out in the spring game, including an interception, and will force coaches to put him on the field. Presently, he’s working behind Richie Brown in the middle, but it wouldn’t be a shock to see Diaz move guys around to get Green and the two Browns on the field at the same in certain packages.
That’s What He Said: Dan Mullen on people comparing Gerri Green to Benardrick McKinney – “He is his own player. Benardrick didn’t look like that when he was a freshman. Gerri does look like that. He has such a great work ethic. He’s got one of the best work ethics I’ve been around.”
After quarterback, this is probably the most steady, safe position on MSU’s roster. Seniors Will Redmond and Taveze Calhoun both return as starters and the duo ought to be one of the best in the conference.
The story here has been the return of Cedric Jiles. The talented junior has been hamstrung by injuries throughout his career, but he’s finally healthy and showing what he’s capable of. I still remember hearing former MSU corners Corey Broomfield and Johnthan Banks rave about him after his first week of practice a few years back, saying he was a sure-fire future NFL player. In 2015, it looks like he’ll finally get the opportunity to show off that talent.
That’s What He Said: Cornerbacks coach Deshea Townsend on Cedric Jiles – “He’s just a guy that’s had reps, has played in the SEC and has that experience and the confidence that you need. Another body that can run. The physical type of corner you need in the SEC.”
Where QB and cornerback have their starters in place from last year, safety is exactly the opposite, where zero percent of the starters are back from 2014 after the graduations of Justin Cox and Jay Hughes. It would seem safeties coach Tony Hughes has his work cut out for him, but he’s actually got a very talented group in place, and one which will be bolstered when the 2015 signees arrive this summer.
One of the coaches’ favorite young players on defense is redshirt freshman Brandon Bryant, a guy who easily could have played last year. One of my picks for breakout new player in 2015, Bryant is a hard-hitter who (pardon the cliché) has a nose for the ball. He’s always in on the action it seems and has a real knack for finding the pigskin.
Some combination of Bryant, junior Kivon Coman, junior Deontay Evans and senior Kendrick Market (out for the spring with injury) will likely enter fall camp as the No. 1s and 2s, but it’s not unreasonable to think they could be pushed by players on the roster now or freshmen coming in.
That’s What He Said: Tony Hughes on Kendrick Market – “He’s our leader. Not just a leader in the safety group but of the whole defense, the whole team. When he talks, everybody just shuts up and listens.”