Saturday's Scrimmage Part 1 - The Defense

The biggest storylines coming into the spring were who would replace Anthony Dixon and Tyson Lee as starters. Those are still big storylines but the instillation of Manny Diaz's new multiple fronts, attacking style defense should have been equally important. Diaz, after weeks of installation, finally unleashed his new scheme during Saturday's scrimmage.


Defensive Line

The defensive line has developed into a two-deep unit over the course of the spring. They are still young but have developed under the tutelage of new D-line coach Chris Wilson.

Stats-wise, Josh Boyd, who has been inconsistent most of the spring, had a big day with 6 ½ tackles and a sack. Pernell McPhee, who seems to have recovered from a back injury he had coming into the spring, also had a big day with four tackles for loss. Johnathon McKenzie is another lineman who had a good day with three tackles and two sacks. Fletcher Cox had a solid day with 2 ½ tackles and one tackle for loss. Trevor Stigers, who recorded two tackles in limited action, gets a special mention for looking solid when the threes got to scrimmage.

Where Position Stands: I suspect the defensive line has developed the way the coaches wanted it to at this point in the spring. There are five legitimate players who can be starters in McPhee, Cox, Boyd, Nick Bell, and McKenzie. James Carmon and Devin Jones are capable situational players. Sean Ferguson is good enough to spell someone for one fourth of the snaps. The X factor could be Shane McCardell who may be the the most physically gifted player on the team. If the light bulb goes off in his head, the defensive line could be scary good, maybe even great. He is the type of talent that could lead the SEC in sacks and command a double team, which in turn would free up players on an already talented line. I can only imagine a situation where Carmon, Cox, McPhee, and McCardell are in and the offense has to pick who to double. I wouldn't wish that on any offensive line.


The linebackers have had an ok spring up until the 2nd scrimmage where Diaz starting to experiment with them and use them to disrupt things.

Cam Lawrence had the best day of all the linebackers, recording six tackles. The most impressive tackle of the day was a chase down of Vick Ballard where Lawrence came from the backside and absolutely destroyed him. Lawrence seemed like a man possessed going after Ballard.

Chris White has had an ok spring, but during Saturday's scrimmage had a good day with 5 ½ tackles and one sack. He forced a fumble with that sack and returned it for touchdown.

Emmanuel Gatling had a great day with 6 ½ tackles and two sacks. He also was used in passing situations along with Lawrence as a chaser (nickel linebacker) during passing situations.

Brandon Wilson did a good job in running situations with 6 ½ tackles.

Jamie Jones, a player who I have been closely monitoring over the course of the spring, had a good day with five tackles.

Where Position Stands: The first three are all very good players with White and K.J. Wright All-SEC caliber type players. Lawrence, who just looks the part at linebacker, is capable of being the best pure football player on the team. But after those three, there is a major drop-off with only one guy with the talent to start, Jamie Jones. The rest of the linebackers, in my opinion, are situational players. I'll explain what I mean by that statement.

Karlin Brown is undersized and simply can't be trusted as a starter. Terrell Johnson is undersized and is at best a chaser. Emmanuel Gatling is a talented player but isn't strong enough against the run.

Deontae Skinner is young and still developing. Brandon Wilson is a good run stopper but would appear to be a liability in pass coverage. Mike Hunt is talented but is still developing.

I think the fans should familiarize themselves with these four names - Ferlando Bohanna, Chris Hughes, Christian Holmes, and Brandon Hill. These four players are members of this year's signing class and are the future of the linebacker position at Mississippi State. Hughes is the best of the bunch and could be a star sooner rather than later.

Defensive Back

The defensive backfield has developed into a two-deep unit with Nickoe Whitley and Arceto Clark developing into good players.

Charles Mitchell looked good in run support with 4 ½ tackles and one pass break up.

Johnthan Banks had six tackles on the day, including a great stop on a Chris Relf naked bootleg on the goal line thanks to a great read on his part.

Maurice Langston had a good day in coverage with the offense shying away from his side all scrimmage. He did have one interception when Relf threw the ball up for grabs and Langston fought for the ball, which cornerbacks coach Melvin Smith commended him for.

Where Position Stands: Although Arceto Clark was moved backed to receiver, the cornerbacks are still two-deep with Langston ascending as the best of the group. Langston is a vocal leader and the type of guy that I would pick to lock up with the other teams best receiver. He has that "Dog" in him, that something that can't be explained that separates the good from the great. Broomfield is tied with Clark as our second best corner and should rack just as many interceptions next season as teams shy away from Langston.

The safety position is solid as well three starter caliber players in Banks, Whitley, and Mitchell. Two other safeties, Wade Bonner and Zach Smith, are good situational players who could start when the need rises. Dennis Thames, who had 2 ½ tackles in Saturday's scrimmage, has the talent you look for in a safety. I'm looking forward to seeing if he has a strong fourth week.

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Jeremiah Short is a columnist who covers various Mississippi State sports for He can be reached by email at

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