Although they have been inconsistent during the spring, there is no doubt there is some talent in this youthful group of defensive linemen. Despite losing three players who combined for 18 starts last season, there is still experience. Of the players returning, three have started at least 5 games, with two having started 10 and 12 games, respectively.
The two veterans among the linemen are senior Ronald Fields and junior Willie Evans.
During his career, Fields has started 25 of the 35 games that he has played in. In that span, he has recorded 115 tackles. Although he has NFL talent and body, he hasn't lived up to his potential. Coach Haley, however, likes what he has seen, so far.
"We are looking for great things out of him," said Haley. "He is a big, strong player that can run. I feel good about him. He has had a great attitude. But we haven't lined up and played a snap."
Behind him are redshirt freshman Avery Hannibal and sophomore Markell McKinley.
Coach Haley has liked some things he has seen from the small, but very strong Hannibal.
"Avery Hannibal has played well," said Haley. "He does a great job with leverage. He was a great wrestler in high school, so he knows about leverage and playing with his hands. At 240, he is pretty quick so he gets on people and has an opportunity to get off them in a hurry. Based on what we have seen so far, he has done some things that warrant some attention." (As a wrestler, Hannibal was ranked 3rd in the nation in his weight classification as a sophomore.-Gene)
Playing beside those three is the defensive end. The number one guy on the depth chart at this time is the former prep All-American Deljuan Robinson, a sophomore. Running number two behind Robinson is another sophomore, Roosevelt Tate.
Haley has liked what he has seen, so far, but is still waiting to see more from these two very talented youngsters.
"(Robinson) has done a good job for us and is going to be a solid player," said Haley. "Roosevelt Tate is behind him. He is also a good player that has some ability."
Backing up those two are sophomore Stephen Arant and Jeremy Jack. Arant, now up to 260 pounds, has played various positions during his two-year career at State. Jack is a walk-on.
"Stephen Arant has done a good job for us," said Haley. "He works hard. I like his attitude and his effort. The same thing can be said for Jeremy Jack. He comes out every day and works hard and does what we ask him to do."
On the right side of the defensive line, especially at the defensive tackle position, are three guys who have Haley encouraged, despite their youth and inexperience.
The first one is redshirt freshman Corey Clark, a player who was expected to contribute heavily last season but suffered a severe turf toe injury during practice that ended his season and earned him a medical redshirt.
"Corey has done a good job for us," said Haley. "I think he has a chance to be a quality player in this league. I know he is young and I probably push him a little more than I do anybody else because I see some potential in him that makes me believe he can be a real good player in this league. He is a little heavy, so he's got to do a lot more work in the weightroom."
Behind him is sophomore Andrew Powell, a guy who started one game as a freshman and played in a total of 6, recording 4 tackles, and redshirt freshman Devrick Hampton.
"Powell is a guy that is very strong and has made some plays in the spring," said Haley. "I like what I see in him, so far. Hamp has moved up a little bit and has shown some improvement. I look for big things out of him. I think the biggest problem for him right now is his upper body strength."
The one position that concerns Haley the most is the rover position. Despite having one of his most experience players at that position, junior Willie Evans, and another one who played 7 games his freshman season, sophomore Michael Heard, he hasn't seen the productivity that he would like to see.
"The biggest concerns we have right now are Willie Evans and Michael Heard," said Haley. "We have to try and find a way to get some productivity out of those two. They are the type of kids that we are looking for, but I think the system is a little different for them and there is a little adjustment period."
Despite his players being heavy on youth, Coach Haley likes his overall talent level. He also sees areas that they need to improve if they want to translate that talent into being competitive in the SEC, the toughest conference in the nation.
"I think we have some SEC players," said Haley. "Body-wise, I think we have some bodies that are SEC bodies. We would like to have more depth. We would like to be three-deep everything, but I'm not sure if we are there yet. Technique-wise, we have to get better. We also have to get better dealing with the speed of the game.
"Will be competitive in the SEC? That is still an unknown. But I think our kids want to be competitive and are working hard and doing the things we want them to do to get there. "
Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. The URL for Gene's Page is http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com. You can contact him by emailing email@example.com.