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2014 MSU Football Preview: Cornerbacks

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Going into 2013 everyone was worried about MSU's cornerbacks. Fast forward a year later, and it's one of the positions that everyone has the most confidence in.

Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

Going into the 2013 season, Mississippi State's cornerbacks were one of the least experienced position groups on the field. Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay had moved on to the NFL, and several young players would have to step up and fill their shoes.

The start of the season saw many struggles and learning pains. As the year progressed, however, it was obvious that coach Deshea Townsend was making his group better and better. By the time it was all said and done, MSU had one of the better cornerback tandems out there.

They will rely not only on those two guys again this season but also on a couple of other talented players that will provide good depth. The starters for cornerback are not set in stone. In fact, the race has been so close in fall camp that either of the first stringers could lose their job after the season starts rolling.

Much like every position on defense, the Dogs have a heap of depth at corner. Every starter and backup returns. This will be a position that they constantly rotate players in and out to keep everyone fresh. One injury bug has already bit in fall camp, but as a whole they have been able to stay healthy.

The good news is that when an injury does take place, Townsend has confidence that the next guy can come in and not miss a beat. That's the huge advantage to having good depth. If an injury does unfortunately happen this year, it won't sting as bad as it might have in the past.

The starters on opening day will likely be Jamerson Love and Taveze Calhoun. They solidified themselves as an elite combo last year. They have two different playing styles and body types but compliment one another nicely.

Love is one of the speedier players in the secondary. He uses his quickness to his advantage and over time has become one of State's best lockdown corners. While his tackles were down, he excelled in coverage which is just as crucial. He led the team with seven pass breakups last year. He picked off three passes and also recovered the notorious Bo Wallace face plant fumble to secure the Egg Bowl. If you're looking at who could be the turnover machine of the group in 2014, Love is probably the guy. This is his senior season and he will be looking to go out with a bang.

Calhoun, like Love, finally got his shot last year after sitting behind Banks and Slay his whole career. He also intercepted three passes and showed a little playmaking ability with the ball in his hands. He racked up 101 interception return yards, which was good for second in the league. His style is a little different than Love's. Taveze is not the fastest guy in the world, but he makes up for it with his body. He fits more of the J Banks mold: tall, long armed, and athletic. His best two games last year came against Bama and Ole Miss. He picked off AJ McCarron twice and racked up 11 tackles against the Rebels. Banks said himself a couple of years ago at SEC media days that Calhoun would be the next great corner to come out of Starkville. It looks that prediction is coming to fruition.

Calhoun has more NFL potential than Love, but both players will be key parts of a good secondary. ESPN listed each of them as top 10 corners in the SEC. But it won't all be on their shoulders. They will have plenty of help behind them.

The first player off the bench will be Will Redmond. After the NCAA took away his redshirt his freshman year and also made him sit out almost half of last season, he finally got on the field. Redmond showed why he was so highly recruited and why the extra mile was taken to try and land him. Judging by the eye test, he LOOKS like the best player in the secondary. His ceiling is the highest for sure. Whether or not that will translate into performance on the field for the whole season remains to be seen. He was still getting his feet wet last year in his first ever D-1 action.

Redmond is not only fast but physical as well. Receiver Fred Ross said he was the hardest player to block out on the edge. He looked amazing this spring and will likely earn just as many reps as Love and Calhoun. He could take either ones spot, although all three will be on the field in some situations. Redmond will see a lot of action as the nickel back whenever opponents go to five wide receiver sets.

Cedric Jiles will see plenty of action as well. Everyone raved about him as a freshman. Injuries have hurt him up to this point, and that continued this fall. He suffered a hamstring injury that will put him out for a few weeks. Once he gets healthy he will see a lot of reps. He got action in 11 games last year, even though he was stuck behind Love and Calhoun. His situation is similar to what theirs used to be. He's a great talent and would probably start for a lot of teams out there, but the competition in front of him is tough to get off the field.

It wouldn't be far fetched to say that Jiles and Redmond are two of the best backup corners in the league. The drop off from the starters to them is not steep at all, especially for Redmond. Townsend has four corners that he can confidently put on the field at any time.

Moving farther down the depth chart, the next guy I would keep an eye on is Tolando Cleveland. A lot of people were really surprised that he saw action as a true freshman. There were a lot of players at corner last year, especially with Justin Cox still being at that position. 99 percent of anyone you would have asked would have said that Cleveland would redshirt. He was used on special teams most of the time but also got playing time on defense late in games. He had two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. The coaches decision to play him as a true freshman when they didn't really have to shows how good they think he can be.

Jahmere Irvin-Sills rounds out the cornerbacks. He signed with Mississippi State in 2013 one day after signing day. By all accounts the Dogs got a steal. He stood out among newcomers last fall. That's why a lot of people were surprised when he redshirted and Cleveland played. With all the hype there has been about him, he's the one I'm most excited to see out of the players who haven't played yet.

While it's unlikely that six cornerbacks will all see a lot of playing time, it's safe to say MSU has six that they're either confident in playing now or in the near future. Banks and Slay laid the foundation and showed these guys the work ethic an NFL corner should have. It's also a huge bonus having coach Townsend, a former NFL player himself. The sky is the limit to what this group can accomplish.