STARKVILLE — Mississippi State linebacker Jett Johnson has a running joke for the Bulldogs’ defensive linemen.
“How many guys are you going to take up today — two, three, four, all of them — so we can get some tackles?” Johnson routinely asked.
It’s a sign of the confidence Johnson has in MSU’s D-line, a unit poised to lead the team’s defense into the 2022 season. Not only do starters Jaden Crumedy, Cameron Young and Randy Charlton return, but edge rusher Jordan Davis is practicing after missing all of 2021 due to a reported torn ACL.
“Those guys do a great job,” Johnson said. “I say we’ve got the best D-line in the country.”
That’s a high benchmark to clear, but the Bulldogs certainly have as much experience as anyone. Crumedy and Davis are graduate students, Young is a redshirt senior, and Charlton is a fifth-year senior thanks to a COVID-19 waiver.
And for the first time since last August, all of them are on the field. Crumedy and Young were limited in spring camp, while Davis was still recovering from an injury suffered in a preseason scrimmage.
“We have more D-linemen playing now than we did in the spring, so that’s good,” coach Mike Leach said Friday. “The force and push upfield is a lot more consistent.”
It’s not just the starting unit: The Bulldogs have depth on the defensive line, too. Nathan Pickering racked up seven tackles for loss and four sacks last year; De’Monte Russell showed promise as a pass-rusher.
Both players help make MSU’s D-line one of the most game-tested units in the country — at the ideal position for it.
“You want veteran experience, particularly in this league, that’s the area you want it,” defensive coordinator Zach Arnett said.
Davis, who played occasionally for the Bulldogs in 2020, is part of that. Johnson praised the physical “attributes” of the former Copiah-Lincoln Community College standout, who is listed at 6-foot-4 and 270 pounds.
Leach was similarly complimentary of what the Memphis native brings to the table.
“He’s explosive,” Leach said of Davis. “He’s got long limbs. He’s a tough guy to stop. He’s always had really good effort out there and still does. He’s a guy who’s been through a lot of adversity. He’s used to battling against things, and you can tell.”
“He’s a guy that we missed and a guy that we know has something in his bag,” Charlton said of Davis. “We’re just happy to have him out there with us.”
Charlton said Russell, entering his redshirt junior season, also has plenty of pass-rushing techniques. The Provine High School pass-rusher had two quarterback hits and one forced fumble — though no sacks — in 11 games last year.
“He’s got a bag,” Charlton said. “That pass rush, he’s definitely got a bag on him. He’s doing good.”
Russell is just one of several young D-linemen who could make an impact in 2022 or beyond.
Four-star freshman edge rusher Trevion Williams of Crystal Springs was one of Mississippi State’s top recruits, Tupelo freshman Jacarius Clayton provides size at 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds, and redshirt freshman Deonta Anderson has seen second-team reps early on.
But everything starts with the guys at the front, and seeing the same faces on the defensive line will be crucial for the Bulldogs in 2022.
“It’s a great feeling,” Young said. “You bring the guys back — guys that you really went to war with last year. It’s a great feeling to have those guys back and ready to do it again.”
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.