At each position the departing Dogs are listed first with their 2015 starts; then the returning personnel with their 2016 class and number of starts last fall.
DEFENSIVE END: Ryan Brown 12 starts
Returning: SR A.J. Jefferson 13 starts, SR Jonathan Calvin 1 start, SR Will Coleman, rsFR Kendell Jones, rsFR Anfernee Mullins
Before getting into personnel, let’s get this on the record: the Most Valuable Returnee on the defensive front isn’t a player. It’s their coach. Every Bulldog fan owes David Turner a tip ‘o the cap for long labors developing young men and recruiting them in the first place. Now.
He rarely got the statistics or the respect merited, but Ryan Brown is a real loss. Not just because he was a greater presence than appreciated on the field, but he was a well-acknowledged presence in the locker room. ‘Grandpa’ Brown ran the unit, simply, and hopefully come draft week scouts make the case for picking him up.
That said, State should be in fine shape at both defensive end spots with plenty of senior experience to call upon. To the delight of everyone—and especially reporters who enjoy give-and-take talk—A.J. Jefferson is back for a final season. He ain’t no Grandpa in the group but is definitely someone to follow on the field as a play-maker.
We also got a look at the ’16 situation in advance. With Brown sidelining himself voluntarily for foot surgery to get ready for the draft, somebody had to start the Belk Bowl. Jonathan Calvin did and on a sloppy field against a mobile quarterback had two hurries credited. In the lead-up to Charlotte his backup on Brown’s side (left end) was redshirting freshman Kendell Jones, who already has Brown’s size and should add more pounds over time.
Spring will show if senior Will Coleman stays on Jefferson’s end of the line, or goes to the other side to compete with Calvin. Coleman you will remember was an unintended 2014 redshirt out of junior college; it’s turned out to be best not just for his own development but the ’16 roster as well. He also had a 3.0-tackle Bowl showing to jump-start him into his spring.
The obvious concern this semester is not so much depth in numbers, it is age. Along with Jones, Anfernee Mullins was able to redshirt but that means they are entirely untested ahead of the season. Plus, with three seniors ahead of them, they ARE the future at ends for now. That is all the more true with the tragic passing of Keith Joseph who was working his way up the rotation. So this signing class becomes crucial in keeping the end positions well-stocked for fall practice and next spring’s development.
There is one other option. Though he’s working now as a tackle, sophomore Grant Harris did spend his true freshman year taking some snaps at end.
DEFENSIVE TACKLE: Chris Jones 13 starts
Returning: SR Nick James 10 starts, SR Nelson Adams 3 starts, SO Cory Thomas, SR Torrey Dale, SO Braxton Hoyette, SO Grant Harris, rsFR Fletcher Adams
New: JR Tre Brown
He said he was going to do it all along, and Chris Jones proved it by exiting a year early. We can debate if he was a success at tackle, or if he should have stayed at end all along. It’s moot now.
What matters is filing his interior spot and if there are no equals on the ’16 roster there are proven players to rebuild around. Spring depth is good, which by the way has become the under-appreciated theme for Mullen’s program in recent years as a steady stream of tackle signings keeps the spots stocked almost conveyor belt-style.
Patience and careful handling for three years paid off with a strong junior season from Nick James, a perfect example of how interior tackles’ impact can’t be measured by statistics. He also of course benefitted from all the attention Jones drew, but that doesn’t diminish his own efforts. Now here James is, the top Dog of the group, something that not so long ago seemed inconceivable. Goes to show, you never really know…
James also skipped a lot of Belk Bowl practices to recover from season strains. That gave a better look at interior depth. Nelson Adams is a known quantity of course, and if he seems to have stalled-out after 2014 and not made a big step forward this spring is the right time to do it. He was James’ backup most of ’15 but that could shift in this camp to have the most-veteran tackles together. Or, not.
It said something about end depth and need to temporarily shore-up the inside spots that Torrey Dale was moved to tackle last fall. He even became the nose man in odd-front sets, reflecting his versatility and confidence.
Cory Thomas rotated in when Jones went out. If it didn’t produce much in the way of stats it was crucial for his progress now that a starting job is open and the 300-pounder is getting in real college shape. Much the same holds for classmate Braxton Hoyette. He was working at right tackle in bowl camp most days, James’ spot, and like Thomas keeps a lot of pounds stacked inside to anchor the four-man front.
Then there’s the new kid. Fletcher Adams can bring as much muscle as anyone on the roster save James, and limited December observation showed interesting footwork in traffic. Now that redshirting is over Adams should crank up the intensity. And we already mentioned how Grant Harris began as an end before moving inside. He’s not the biggest of the bunch but is no lightweight either and should be able to find his best fit as spring snaps add-up.
The new face for spring is juco Tre Brown, ranked by one service #12 among transfer tackles nationally. He certainly arrives with the listed size at 6-4 and 290, and gets an earlier chance than most transfers to contend for depth chart status.