Let's be honest: Mississippi State's defensive line is receiving a lot of hype heading into this season. MSU DL coach David Turner has a veteran unit featuring a fair amount of star power, both on the field and in past recruiting rankings, and the Bulldogs' have traditionally been known for having big, bruising DLs. It seems like every year an opposing school's coach remarks on how Mississippi State may have not won many games, but you always woke up on Sunday morning knowing you played a physical team the night before. Well, the Bulldogs should be big and physical again this year, but a highly-touted DL is being counted on to boost the team's win total.
This is probably the deepest position on the Mississippi State team. Seniors Kaleb Eulls and PJ Jones anchor a DT unit that should be stout against the run, and all-world sophomore Chris Jones figures to be a wrecking ball whether lined up at DT or DE. Eulls is never going to put up great stats, as TFLs aren't really his thing, but he is good against the run and played very well down the stretch last year in his first season playing DT. It helps he is routinely mentioned by coaches and players for his leadership qualities and character. PJ Jones is an interesting case and a guy who could be poised for a big year. After a freshman season that saw him earn significant playing time and showcase an ability to get in the backfield, PJ's last two seasons have been shortened or slowed by injuries and suspensions. Fully healthy this year, he may ready to break out and remind Bulldog fans of what he is capable of.
Chris Jones, who is kinda good at this football thing, is both the star of the group and its most versatile player. A five star prospect from right up the road in Houston, Miss., Jones made an immediate impact as a Bulldog last year as when he finished with seven TFLs, three sacks and 10 QBHs as a true freshman. He can be as good as he wants to be, and the MSU faithful are expecting him to have a monster season this year. Along with Jones are Curtis Virges, Nelson Adams and the talented yet mercurial Nick James, who can apparently sing as well as throw hay. Virges is a senior who has played a lot of football, while Adams is a promising sophomore who will rotate between DE and DT. is the wildcard of this group. Next to Chris Jones, he is probably the most talented person on the DL. But he still has a ways to go before he is a major contributor to the team.
In all, this is an extremely deep unit that features one future high draft pick and a plethora of other solid, experienced players. With so many quality players at DT, I expect freshmen Cory Thomas and Braxton Hoyett to redshirt.
Strong against the run; a work in progress against the pass. As has been the case for the better part of a decade at MSU, there isn't a potentially elite pass rusher at DE for the Bulldogs. For all the hype this unit has received, and much of it well-deserved, no one the roster had more than 2.5 sacks last year. While this isn't a huge deal considering the talent elsewhere on defense, there has been focus this off-season on putting to the QB more often.
Senior DE Preston Smith figures to headline the Bulldog DEs for the seond straight year. At 6'6 270lbs, Smith is large enough to play outside or inside, as he did at times last year. Coming off of a solid season in which he finished with 6.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks and nine QBHs, Smith looks to have a breakout season as he works on improving his draft stock. Playing opposite Smith will be the combo of Ryan Brown and AJ Jefferson. Brown is a workmanlike player who has improved throughout his time at MSU, and Jefferson surprised many last year with his ability to make plays in the backfield. Both Brown and Jefferson earned rave during spring training and have continued to be praised by Coach Turner so far this fall. With JUCO transfer Will Coleman being forced to sit out this year due to some issues with his transcript, Nelson Adams appears to be in position to be the fourth DE. A "converted" DT, Adams will is versatile and will see time at both tackle and end.
With the exception of Chris Jones, who is a freak, there aren't any true stars along the Bulldog front. But there doesn't have to be. You can't win in the SEC if you can't stop the run, and this group played a big part in MSU doing that well last year. With another year of experience and even more depth, the Mississippi State DL will again be salty. What this unit lacks in elite talent, Jones and James notwithstanding, it makes up for with plenty of established veterans. When it comes to the DL, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. And the parts are pretty damn solid.