Arguably one of the strongest positions for the Mississippi State Bulldogs, the linebacker position group features a wealth of talent and actual in game experience. There’s plenty of young guys that the Bulldogs will rely on in this position group too, but that’s the same as just about every other position on the field.
Peter Sirmon is the perfect guy to coach this group. As a former linebacker in college and the NFL, Sirmon was previously out in Los Angeles coaching the USC Trojans. But he’s come to town and is set to lead the Mississippi State defense.
With the change of defensive schemes, there’s a lot to look forward to in 2016. And if Peter Sirmon can build his defense around all of the talent at linebacker, the Bulldogs are set for a big year defensively.
Notable Losses: Beniquez Brown, Zach Jackson
Key Returners: Richie Brown, Gerri Green, J.T. Gray, Dez Harris, Kelan Chairs, DeAndre Ward
Big Additions: Leo Lewis (redshirt), Traver Jung (redshirt), Erroll Thompson, Tim Washington (redshirt), Josiah Phillips (former walk-on that has played a lot of positions including quarterback)
Other Players Worth Noting: A.J. Jefferson, Anfernee Mullins, Marquiss Spencer
Richie Brown is the first name that should always be said when discussing this group of linebackers. The former four star recruit has developed quite nicely into one of the SEC’s best inside linebackers. In 2015, Brown totaled 109 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, and 6.5 sacks. Brown was nearly an unstoppable force at times and he’s proven his worth in his career. He was the leading tackler for the Bulldogs in 2015 and tallied enough tackles to be the SEC’s 5th leading tackler.
The “VIPER” position will be an interesting one for Bulldog fans to keep an eye on. Essentially, the position is the hybridization of a defensive end and an outside linebacker and there’s several guys that will play that role throughout the season. Don’t be surprised if Gerri Green and Traver Jung flourish at the spot. Their size and speed will allow them to seamlessly transition between rushing passers and getting back to cover passes.
But they’re not the only guys that will likely play that role. There’ll be plenty of opportunities for guys such as A.J. Jefferson, Anfernee Mullins, and Marquiss Spencer to line up there and provide some matchup issues all depending on what the opposing offense tries to run.
Leo Lewis hasn’t played much up to this point, but all signs show that he has the potential to be a great linebacker for the Bulldogs. As a four star recruit, Lewis wowed coaches with his physicality and tackling. Now he’s set to do the same in the SEC.
J.T. Gray is a small linebacker at 6’0” and 197 pounds, but he’s quick and athletic, allowing him to cover receivers well in space. His size isn’t much of a limiting factor for how he plays as he was 4th on the team in total tackles a year ago. His ability to cover receivers in space makes him valuable for this defense.
Add in solid backups like Dez Harris, Kelan Chairs, DeAndre Ward, Erroll Thompson, Josiah Phillips, and Tim Washington and the Bulldogs have plenty of depth at every position for the linebacking corps. There’s no shortage of guys that are capable of seeing the field for Peter Sirmon’s group.
The Bulldogs have a lot of unproven guys here, but then there’s also guys like Richie Brown and J.T. Gray that have performed incredibly well in SEC play. Mississippi State is loaded with talent at linebacker and it’s definitely a position of strength for the Bulldogs as they head into 2016.