Being that Mississippi State has been and is a staple for talent at the defensive line, this year’s group shall not disappoint. Each of the four projected starters bring experience and an edge. Montez Sweat (end), Jeffery Simmons (nose tackle), Cory Thomas (defensive tackle), and Gerri Green (defensive end), are all sure to bring a swagger of their own the the SEC spotlight. It goes without saying that the conferences’ offenses are top notch, as it will take a formidable d-line to stop them.
But how will offensive savant Joe Moorhead be able to oversee a defense as such? While it may not be all about experience on the defensive end, Moorhead’s attitude is perfect for these troops. All upperclassman, he will expect the best as players and leaders on and off the field. Each of the four have an ability to set the tone and singlehandedly take over a game, which will fulfill expectations.
They will have to adjust and stop the brightest offensive minds. With powerhouses in and out of conference on the schedule, the lineman must show up. The Bulldogs have the experience and talent at the line, where if on their game, could be one of the best in the country. A bit more on the four in the defensive trenches.
Standing at 6’6”, Sweat is already a disruption to any offense. His height combined with a quick first step of the end is fit for today’s game. The Michigan State transfer shined for the Bulldogs last year, with season highs seven solo tackles against Kentucky along with 2.5 sacks at Arkansas.
Having played in arguably the nation’s two best conferences, the Big Ten and SEC, Sweat is well familiar with what a d-line means to the game. His ability to set the edge must be there, as the Bulldogs will be facing quick backs as well as mobile qbs. If able to do so and take away offensive schemes that run east-west, Sweat will be a headache and then some for coordinators.
How important is a nose tackle? Ask Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz about former star Bulldog Fletcher Cox. While Simmons has shown flashes, he will have his chance and is expected to show out come fall. Now an upperclassman going into his junior year, the bar has been set higher for Simmons as he is coming off a 2017 with 60 total tackles, five sacks, and two forced and recovered fumbles, one of which was returned for a touchdown.
Simmons’ frame is made to push the picket. His hard nosed attitude is there, but he must put in the work. Simmons can be an x-factor that turns into a superstar if he shows up game after game. With NFL talent and a skillset comparable to Cox, Simmons can take his game to another level, as coach Moorhead and defensive coordinator Bob Shoop will make sure the full motor is on display.
Also able to push the pocket and rattle any offense, Thomas’ skillset is wide-ranging. It is not often that a defensive tackle has the knowhow of his caliber. His sophomore season was one not to be forgotten, as Thomas’ 24 total tackles and four sacks spoke volumes. Though his junior year was not nearly as impressive, it was clear that Thomas have his share of minutes as a senior.
He and Simmons will share the load inside, as both are fearless and willing to take on anybody. They play with a competitive edge and lift their teammates. But there are question marks with the two, as the question remains whether or not they can show up for all 12 games and more. Like Simmons, Moorhead and Shoop must be on Thomas, and if so, the Bulldogs may just have something brewing at defensive tackle.
Last but not least, we have Green, the leader of the line. Having represented Mississippi State at media day, he has become the line’s face throughout his years as a Bulldog. Green has the Bulldog mindset and has grown over the years. He must, must, must, take on the leadership role, as the other three need his presence on and off the field.
His 38 total tackles, five sacks, one interception, three passes defensed, and three forced prove his versatility. If Green puts forth his best season, teammates will feed off the energy and work ethic. He is vocal and just wants it. If Mississippi State wants any chance at a national championship, Green will have to be at the top of his game.
As mentioned above, all four must show up for a successful season. While there are questions, most are sure to be answered for the better under the Bulldogs’ staff. Whether it be Green’s leadership, the potential dynamic duo in Thomas and Simmons, or Sweats’ one of a kind talent on the end, Mississippi State’s line has a bullseye on their back, ultimately having to live up to expectations in and out of Starkville.
Davis Wade stadium will be filled to capacity and rocking. It can get loud enough to be an intimidating environment when those cowbells get going, and if this group shows up, they can take that noise up a notch. Imagine that stadium at night, enough said.
Position Group Grade:
Why an A-? Because we don’t know if and when there will be consistency. That said, there is talent and potential upfront. But consistency is difficult in football. For a winning season, consistency says everything on the line.
Expect an immediate impact from Sweat, Simmons, Thomas, and Green. With the attitude and work ethic, consistency will emerge. These guys are no joke and college football knows it. Look for Mississippi State to rise and this group to be a huge of a promising season.