Wilson excited about the defensive line

Losing Fletcher Cox, an All-American defensive lineman last year as a junior, to the NFL might worry most defensive coordinators. But don't include Mississippi State defensive coordinator Chris Wilson in that group. Not only is he not concerned but he actually believes this year's Mississippi State's defensive line will be better than last season's.

In 2011, Cox led Mississippi State's defense with 14 tackles for losses and 5 sacks. He had 56 tackles overall. And when he wasn't making tackles, many times he was disrupting plays due to his ability to get into the backfield of opposing offenses. His ability and performance on the field earned him a first-round selection in last year's NFL draft.

Add in the loss of one other starter on the defensive line, defensive end Sean Ferguson, and you would think there would be concern.

Not so, said MSU defensive coordinator Chris Wilson.

"I expect us to be be good or better than we were last year because of our depth," said Wilson. "There is a bunch of talent, an upgrade in our talent level. Guys like P.J. Jones, Preston Smith, Dewayne Cherrington played a year ago, so they give us depth."

Jones, Smith, Cherrington as well as sophomore Corvell Harrison-Gay and the veterans on the defensive line, Josh Boyd, Devin Jones, Shane McCardell, Kaleb Eulls, Curtis Virges combined for 144 tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks.

Add in this past year's recruiting class and you can start to understand Wilson's optimism.

"There is a lot of talent in the youth that we brought in," said Wilson. "We've got the young guys in here, now we need to develop them into what we believe they can become. That makes us different than last year."

The newcomers that were most hyped are two high schoolers, Quay Evans and Nick James, and junior college All-American Denico Autry.

Evans was rated a five-star recruit by Scout.com and their number 3 ranked defensive tackle while Autry was also rated a five-star recruit. James was rated a four-star recruit and rated the 12th overall defensive tackle.

Both Evans and Autry graduated early and participated in spring practice. And Wilson sees the results of the early arrival both on the field and in the transformation of their bodies.

"Their bodies have transformed, especially Quay (Evans) and Denico (Autry) because they were here in the spring," said Wilson. "They've really made a big transformation compared to a guy like Nick James who has only been here eight weeks. They are at a different level than him right now. But I also think Nick has made great improvements physically."

Despite the excitement over the talent level and the depth of this year's team, Wilson also understands that there will be a need for adjustments due to the loss of Cox and Ferguson.

"You absolutely have to make adjustments; you have to make adjustments every year," said Wilson. "When you lose a guy like Fletcher (Cox) you have to make adjustments."

Where the adjustments come into play on this year's defensive line is in the quality of players and especially the depth of this year's defensive line.

"The thing is we have a lot of players, quality guys that we can run in," said Wilson. "That's where we are different from last year. But we still have to take the guys we have and find out what they do extremely well. And we have to get them to play at a high level. But the depth is where we are different than a year ago."

While the depth and overall improved quality of players will help offset the loss of Cox on the field, Wilson realizes the leadership Cox brought to the team last season will have to be replaced. He expects senior Josh Boyd to take over that responsibility.

"I expect Josh to be on the All-American leadership team as well as being an All-American football player," said Wilson. "One thing that we have had the the past two years is great leadership from Pernell McPhee (who is in his second NFL season with the Baltimore Ravens) two years ago to Fletcher Cox last year. It's his time this year. He needs to take control and he has been empowered to do that by (MSU head) Coach (Dan) Mullen and our defensive staff."

If Boyd does take control of the defensive line and the depth and talent live up to the expectations of Wilson, then this year's Mississippi State defensive line could wind up being a special unit.

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing swindoll@genespage.com.

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