McPhee Shows New Twist To Dog Defense

No, he's not suddenly being placed into a defensive back's role. Then again what would a slot receiver think if he rolled into his underneath-route and found a 6-4, 285 pound Pernell McPhee waiting for him? "I hope he gets scared!" says the Bulldog defensive end.

That seems a likely reaction for anyone, receiver or not, coming across the middle and seeing a big lineman known better for pass rushing has stepped back into a pass coverage position. Admittedly it is not all that often, and need not be McPhee necessarily, either. Mississippi State's defensive staff has done some tinkering with the coverage sets and come up with this occasional twist for the last couple of SEC games.

And, an additional duty for Dogs who already had a full plate. But McPhee says he and the other ends don't mind being moved around this way. "It really hasn't made it tough. It makes it more exciting. There's a lot of things we have to know so we have to be disciplined, but it's really exciting."

All the more so in his case because, obviously, chasing receivers around the field has not been McPhee's calling card. From the day he first put a hand on the ground at the line of scrimmage his game has been bulling straight-ahead after the quarterback, or shuttling side-to-side after ball carriers. Put another way, he hasn't had to use that reverse-gear very often.

"I didn't drop in coverage in high school. I did it a couple of times in junior college but this is the most I've ever dropped in coverage my whole life." Now this is not a regular role for him or any MSU lineman, understand, just an occasional approach. Then again, line coach Chris Wilson and his co-coordinator Manny Diaz have already shown some shifting by placing a defensive end an extra step outside the offensive tackle. Or, moving a linebacker like K.J. Wright up on the line for that head-start on pass rushing.

If this is new stuff for McPhee, what must opposing offenses now be thinking when they scheme up protections? Even when #90 lines up in his usual end position with a fist or two on the turf, that isn't necessarily an indicator of what is called.

"They really don't know when we're going to drop back. I mean it's real confusing because sometimes we'll be in a two-point stance and we're rushing; sometimes we're dropping. But it's just an opportunity for us to make plays and show we've got the athleticism to catch interceptions and stuff like that. That's what it really is about."

As well, in McPhee's case, the chance to avoid some of the double-teams and extra protects that he's found between himself and quarterbacks through the first four games of this senior year. "No doubt, just an opportunity to step my game up and get some sacks on the season," he says, getting to a sore point on the stat sheet. State's 2009 sack leader and All-SEC nominee has yet to bag a passer. Sure, he's a team player, but still…

"It's really kind of frustrating. Because being the type of player I am, I'm real competitive and I like to make plays. Unfortunately I haven't been able to do that this year like I thought I would. But we've got a long season to go and I know Coach is going to put me in the best situation to make plays and I'm going to keep going through their system like they want me to."

Alcorn State might not offer as many opportunities for sacks as some fans assume, because the Braves are a run-first team with their play calling breaking down two rushes for each throw. Still should Mississippi State take care of business tomorrow and build a lead the ball ought to be in the air more than ASU prefers. Why, McPhee might even get a chance to renew an acquaintance on the field. He played one season at Itawamba CCC with Clinton native and Brave wideout Marti Shelby.

"He's a like a little brother to me, I chill with his family a lot," McPhee says. Just not this past week, he adds. There've been no phone calls or texts as of Wednesday. "Nah, I try to stay as far away from him as I can. He's a real tough player, he's not real speedy but has some good hands and runs really good routes."

Shelby has yet to catch a pass for ASU this season, but one never knows. It could fall to this Brave to brave the MSU middle and find a great big ‘safety' waiting for him or any teammate trying to get open underneath. Should that happen?

"I hope his eyes get big and he drops the ball!" McPhee grins.

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