STARKVILLE — Mississippi State’s defense of the future is beginning to take form.
Landing its third out-of-state commitment in the 2021 class, MSU secured the pledge of Georgia linebacker Thomas Davis Saturday afternoon. Announcing his commitment via Twitter, Davis wrote the following:
“Thanks to everyone that supported me in this process and all the schools that gave me an opportunity to be apart of their team. With that being said, I will be taking my talents and knowledge to (Mississippi State University).”
Reaching into his former stomping grounds in Valdosta, Georgia — where Leach coached from 1992-1996 at Valdosta State — Davis’ commitment further emphasizes MSU’s ability to reach beyond the borders of the Magnolia State for talent. But beyond the geographical importance of Saturday’s news, Davis’ frame also gives fans a look at what they can expect from MSU’s future linebackers.
Breaking in defensive coordinator Zach Arnett’s 3-3-5 scheme, linebackers in the system will be asked to do everything from edge blitzes, pass coverage, and operate as down linemen. Enter Davis.
Listed as an outside linebacker by 247sports, Davis’ gametape demonstrates his ability to play both along the line as a defensive tackle or end, in addition to rushing the passer in a standup role. As a junior at Lowndes High School, he totaled 47 tackles — 16.5 of which were for a loss — in 14 games played.
Further, Davis’ 6-foot-2.5-inch, 223-pound frame stands to offer him some mobility to play either in the trenches or in a more standup role once in Starkville. For context, starting linebacker Erroll Thompson played his junior season at 6-foot-1, 250 pounds.
“You’re just trying to maximize the athleticism you’ve got on the field,” Arnett said of his system in February. “And then that grouping has been the way we can be the most multiple. You want to get into a four-down look? Well you put a linebacker at the line of scrimmage. You want to get another linebacker down in there? You drop a safety down then he becomes a linebacker. It’s not so much some strict hey there’s three (defensive) linemen, there’s always three linebackers right here. It just allows us the most multiplicity.”
As for where MSU goes next, it stands to add at least another linebacker or two in the 2021 class. Thompson will graduate at the end of the 2020 season, while Starkville native Willie Gay Jr. has already departed for the NFL. With that in mind, MSU has reportedly offered 16 2021 linebackers as of Sunday. Of note, all 16 of those offered stand at least 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds or more.
That said, expect the Bulldogs to be major players for three-star Texas product Jaydon Williams and Florida native Timar Rogers. 247sports analysts see Williams as a Texas-lean but Arnett has reportedly served as the primary contact in his recruitment — giving some insight into MSU’s interest. He’s scheduled to commit on May 1.
As for Rogers, he was previously offered by Leach’s staff at Washington State back in November and was quickly re-upped by the new MSU contingent in February. He told The Dispatch Sunday that he’s expecting to make a decision in December and currently boasts a top five of Auburn, N.C. State, Kansas, Missouri and MSU.
“The defense fits me well and the coaches communicate with me well — they text me every day,” Rogers said of MSU.
“They said they would have me come off the edge and go after running backs and stuff like that,” he continued.
Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College prospect Navonteque Strong could also be in play for the Bulldogs. MSU already boasts JUCO linebackers Nick Jarrett and 2020 mid-year enrollee Tyrus Wheat. Strong ranks as the No. 5 junior college prospect in America according to 247sports and he’d be an experienced addition to a group that will need it come 2021.
And while it remains to be seen who will be the next addition to MSU’s linebacking corps, Davis’ physical makeup offers a look at what fans can expect in a defensive scheme that thrives on athleticism.
“I think anytime you run something that’s a little bit different, that people have to prepare for, hopefully there’s going to be some breakdowns in what they do because they don’t see it week in and week out,” MSU defensive line coach Jeff Phelps said of the 3-3-5 in February. “It changes the picture so it gives our guys an opportunity to be successful on some plays.”