MSU's Defense Has Potential

While he's not quite ready to make a bold statement such as saying this year's Mississippi State defense will be great, defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson does see some very good potential.

"Great is a little too strong of a word," said Johnson, who saw great when he helped coach the nation's No. 1 defense at Alabama in 1992. "I don't think you can talk about being great because there is not a kid here that has won more than seven games (in their MSU career).

"If we play real hard together and keep our poise when things break down, we could be a pretty good defense this year. But we have to understand that we are probably not talented enough where we aren't going to have some breakdowns. I think we will play some (teams) who will put some big plays on us. How well we handle that will determine how good we are."

Forgetting potential and just talking about the here and now, Johnson has been impressed with what he has seen so far.

"I'm pleased with where they are as far as picking up the scheme," he said. "They aren't making a lot of bad busted assignments. I'm also pleased with their attitude."

But while there are things he likes, there are also some things that need to be improved on.

"They are running to the football, but they aren't tackling extremely well," said Johnson. "We've had so much musical chairs upfront on (the) offense (line), (our) pass-rush is keeping us from knowing whether we can cover (in the secondary). I don't know how good we are there."

However, while his secondary's covering skills are in question, he's not questioning the play of two backup safeties, redshirt freshman De'Mon Glanton and senior walk-on Marcus Evans.

"(Starting safety Mario) Bobo is out (due to an injury), so Glanton is running with the first group," said Johnson, who coaches the safeties in addition to being the defensive coordinator. "And Evans' a guy who has done it the right way ever since he's been here. He's had a few broken tackles, but he's playing well. He had a frustrating situation due to his transfer and switching majors. Because of that, he's never been (academically) eligible. He didn't have enough courses toward the 48 hour rule even though he's a good student. This year, he's eligible. For his sake, I hope he has a good year because he's done a good job for us. I would trust he and Glanton being in the game for 6 or 7 plays each half. That would give us a good break."

He's also been impressed with the play of his two freshmen cornerbacks, Keith Fitzhugh and Derek Pegues, as well as freshman linebacker, Jamar Chaney.

"We want to feel that we can work (Fitzhugh and Pegues) in with the first group and not have any drop off," said Johnson of his two highly recruited cornerbacks.

However, while he feels good about them, they are still freshmen and play like all freshmen do.

"Derek's making a few too many mistakes right now and he's taking too many lazy steps," said the second-year defensive coordinator. "(Keith) Fitzhugh, on the other hand, has been a little more consistent, but he's had a few freshman mistakes. But he had the benefit of spring practice, so he's a little further along."

As for the highly touted Chaney, Johnson said, "physcially, he's really been impressive since he first got here. He's really one of the more talented linebackers that we have, freshmen or veterans, as far as athletic ability. But he's a freshman who looks like a freshman. He's still trying to learn everything. But he's definitely got a lot of ability. And he's made tremendous improvement since he's been here."

Now the MSU fans wait to not only see how much improvement Chaney's made, but also how much the entire defense has made.

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the sports network. You can contact him by email at

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