STARKVILLE — Talented, yet young and inexperienced last season, the Mississippi State defense will have things simplified this year.
Under new defensive coordinator Manny Diaz and defensive line coach/co-defensive coordinator Chris Wilson, reads will be simplified with an attack first mentality.
Mississippi State ranked 11th in the Southeastern Conference in both total defense and points allowed last season, but with just two starters (middle linebacker Jamar Chaney and tackle Charles Burns) graduated much is expected from the defense as the Bulldogs open spring practice at 3:45 p.m. today.
Late collapses against Auburn and Arkansas last season overshadowed the play-making ability of the defense, which ranked third in the league with 17 interceptions and returned a Southeastern Conference-best five for touchdowns.
“The first thing [Wilson] told us is not to think about reading and attacking; he told us to attack then read,” senior end Pernell McPhee said. “So we”re not worrying about blockers. If a blocker gets in our way we”re going to scrape through them. We”re learning new steps as we”re getting off the ball. Just simple football.
“It”s going to be different because we can make one call and the whole defense lines up off just that one call. I feel like we”ll play real comfortable then.”
Still, Mississippi State”s pass rush proved inconsistent at times last season as the Bulldogs registered just 18 sacks. In an effort to create more turnovers, the Bulldogs will focus on creating more pressure, senior strong side linebacker K.J. Wright said.
“So far it”s looking good,” Wright said. “We”ve put in a couple of new installs recently and the one thing I notice about [Diaz] is we”re going to be real aggressive. We”ve got some real good blitzes and I think we”ll be able to make some plays this year. Everybody likes getting sacks and tackles for loss and that”s what he said we”re going to pride ourselves on.”
That should be welcome news for junior safety Charles Mitchell, who intercepted four passes and returned one for a touchdown last season.
“We”re going to be a lot more explosive as far as man-to-man goes and blitzing,” Mitchell said. “It”s going to be a lot more fun out there. Guys will have to be able to play man to man a lot more.”
Last season, redshirt freshman Corey Broomfield and true freshman Johnthan Banks ended the season as starters and combined for 10 interceptions.
According McPhee, the taste of success Mississippi State”s young players achieved last season has created a strong work ethic in the offseason. He noted the performances of defensive tackles Fletcher Cox and Josh Boyd, along with defensive end and former Starkville Academy standout Johnathan McKenzie.
“We”ve got a lot of younger guys that we told this offseason was going to be a lot of trouble for,” McPhee said, “But they attacked it more than we attacked it not knowing what”s going on. There”s a lot of young hungry guys who realized they did things to help the team win last year and feel like they can do even better this year.”
A big addition that will take part in spring practices this year is junior college transfer James Carmon, who, at 6-foot-7, 350 pounds, will provide the Bulldogs with an anchor in three-man fronts and a stout option to Cox and Boyd.
“Only thing I can say is I can”t wait to see him in shoulder pads,” McPhee said of Carmon. “He moves pretty good without no equipment on. He”s toned up and I didn”t know he had that much speed. We played basketball and you”d be surprised a guy 6-7, 340 could dunk.
“We”re all going to see when the shoulder pads get on. He says he”s ready, but I”ve told him that SEC ball coming out of JUCO is way different.”