I remember a class I took while at Mississippi State where a grey-bearded man wearing tweed told me about cognitive dissonance. As much as I thought half the stuff he was spewing was a bunch of bologna, I found this theory to be true...and I've tried to examine my opinions thoroughly so I don't fall victim to it too often. After the news of Chris Wilson accepting the DL coaching job at Georgia came around, I began to question, all of the sudden, whether or not he was actually a good position coach. And the more I think about it, the more I feel like it is true - Wilson wasn't getting the most out of this unit, and it's not just me trying to convince myself of it.
I'm not going to deny Chris Wilson's recruiting prowess. I had hoped he'd stay on MSU's staff if for nothing less that alone. So I won't begin to say I think we're better off without him. But I will question whether or not he was actually a good defensive line coach.
Right off the bat I'll concede Pernell McPhee and Fletcher Cox who thrived under Wilson. But other than that, I'm really not seeing much.
Look at what we had coming into the 2012 season:
- 5* DE Juco transfer Denico Autry
- 4-year DT starter Josh Boyd
- Talented sophomore DT's Curtis Virges and P.J. Jones
- Highly touted 4-star true freshman DT's Quay Evans and Nick James
- 2-year starter, So. DE Kaleb Eulls
- 5th year senior DE Shane McCardell
- Talented underclassmen DE's Preston Smith and John Harris
The loss of any 1st round draft pick is going to hurt unless you are Alabama or LSU...but with the perceived depth for this unit it appeared as though there would be a step back. There was, however.
Of course, with the five star rating Autry had there were a lot of expectations. But coming from junior college straight into the fires of the SEC is an adjustment for even the most talented players. While Denico seemed to be quiet during the first half of the year, there was a noticeable improvement as the year went on. I think he excelled fine, and the comparisons to Pernell McPhee's junior season are accurate.
Where is Kaleb Eulls? For a guy who was a 4-star coming out of high school, redshirted his true freshman year and has started every game since, he has been pretty quiet. I was looking for a step up for him in 2012, but I think we got a step down. He has 1 sack in 2 years. At 280+, he is not what we need at DE, and I hope to see him at tackle next year. But why is he regressing?
Shane McCardell did fair. Considering he is a converted WR I didn't expect him to be a world-beater. Preston Smith had a nice stat line with 4.5 sacks, although a few of those were in garbage time...still he did better than Eulls.
Overall I guess you could just say the defensive ends were really young and so that is plenty of reason for their performance. But that raises more flags about why there wasn't pressure brought from elsewhere if we can't get a pass rush from the ends. But just in the vacuum of the DE's, I guess I could be okay with it, although Eulls under-performance has me wondering.
Josh Boyd was supposed to be the anchor of this line, and you could say he was. Out of everyone, he was out there the most, but he didn't have the impact that was expected. The absence of Fletcher Cox certainly put more pressure on him, however, only getting 2.5 tackles for loss isn't something to write home about.
In the first game vs. Jackson State, P.J. Jones was suspended and Curtis Virges didn't make it onto the field because he was forgotten about (apparently he didn't think to approach the coaches to get some PT). Jones ended up being suspended for 4 games and never really got it going all year. He was talented enough to play as a true freshman in 2011, but was hardly a factor this year. Virges didn't do much either.
If you had told me before the year Quay Evans and Nick James would have as much playing time as they did I'd say that is about as expected. But if you told me they'd be riding the pine while Dewayne Cherrington and Devin Jones are out there I'd say something is wrong. I'm sure those two worked really hard to get where they are but why are much more talented youngsters on the bench for these seniors who aren't getting anything done? These guys being in the games in lieu of Jones, Virges, Evans and James has me wondering why Wilson can't coach 'em up enough to be ready to play.
Maybe Dan Mullen can use this opportunity to get a really good D-line coach who will get these talented underclassmen on the field quicker and performing up to their potential. Again, I'm not going to say I'm glad Wilson's gone, but maybe he wasn't the greatest position coach we could've had.