Saturday's Spring Game Part 2 - The Defense

Mississippi State defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, going into the spring, was looking for some playmakers to insert into his attacking style scheme. During Saturday's spring game, he may have found some as a few players took full advantage of the extra reps and made a name for themselves.

Defensive Line

The defensive line developed into the strongest unit on the team during the course of spring practice. They continued to be a force in the spring game, giving the offense fits, especially young signal-caller Tyler Russell.

Sean Ferguson had the biggest day of any of the defensive linemen with five tackles and two sacks. Johnathan McKenzie built off his strong spring with a five-tackle performance and one sack. The amazing thing is that McKenzie and Ferguson, despite being second string, had the best days of any of defensive linemen. Pernell McPhee, to be fair, didn't get many reps but did come in on offense as a tight end. The play was supposed to be a backside pass to the tight end but the play was too obvious for the defense to be fooled.

Shane McCardell (a player to watch) had a good day with three tackles and a sack. McCardell had the type of day the coaches were hoping to see this spring, rushing the passer and even looking very natural in pass coverage. He almost intercepted a Russell pass to end the second quarter while in pass coverage. The play I was most impressed with by him was a down the field tackle of Chad Bumphis. He is normally chided for not hustling and a lack of a motor but that tackle showed that he may be coming around.

Trevor Stigers (a player to watch) didn't have the day I hope but did manage to get a sack.

James Carmon had a good day with three tackles, showing excellent explosion off the line.

Spring Breakdown: The defensive ends became a possible three deep unit with Nick Bell and Johnathan McKenzie becoming impact players. Sean Ferguson settled in as a solid backup to Nick Bell. I have stated this before but Shane McCardell is the wild card with his speed and versatility. He will definitely be used in third down situations next season with his elite athleticism and ability to drop into coverage as a linebacker.

The defensive tackle spot became two deep with James Carmon inserted into the rotation. Carmon started off the spring as a player was raw and had limited skills. He now is a player who explodes off the ball but also has the hand placement and footwork to still make plays after that.

Fletcher Cox didn't have the spring the coaches would hope for, possibly becoming complacent but I'm sure defensive line coach Chris Wilson and strength coach Matt Balis will find ways to motivate him over the summer.

Josh Boyd was also inconsistent but did have some big day, including a big second scrimmage where he had 6 ½ tackles.

Devin Jones didn't have a big spring but will be a valuable component in the rotation next spring as a situational player.

This defensive line, from what I have observed, could be the best since 1999 when Mississippi State had the talent level to have a ten-player rotation. This is a big comparison but I'm pretty confident making it.


Coach Diaz knew he had two quality linebackers coming into the spring in K.J. Wright and Chris White but Cameron Lawrence developed into a solid Sam linebacker over the spring. Jamie Jones, an almost forgotten player entering spring practices, threw his hat in the ring in the spring game.

Jamie Jones (a player to watch) had a big day Saturday, leading all tacklers with eight. The more impressive thing about his performance was the fact that when he hit ball carriers they stopped in their tracks which is the mark of a true middle linebacker.

Cameron Lawrence and Chris White combined for ten tackles, solidifying their starting positions.

Deontae Skinner had a good spring game with four tackles.

Spring Breakdown: The linebacker position, overall, doesn't have the depth Diaz would hope for but Jamie Jones did step up, giving him another option. Cameron Lawrence showed that he can be a three-down linebacker being used in nickel situations. The other linebackers will be used as special team players next season and will be good ones.

I will be interested to see how the incoming players such as Brandon Hill, Christian Holmes, Ferlando Bohanna, and Chris Hughes factor into the mix.

Defensive Back

Coach Diaz decided to move Johnthan Banks from safety to cornerback after Arceto Clark moved to receiver. And the young defensive back had a great spring game Saturday, confirming that Diaz's move was a good one.

Nickoe Whitley was one of the stars of the scrimmage with six tackles and two pass breakups. I was most impressed when he came up in run support and stopped Montrell Conner dead in his tracks.

Dennis Thames (a player to watch) didn't get many reps during the spring but took full advantage of the spring game with four tackles. He had a stretch where he made three straight tackles including a play where he showed great closing ability, tackling Chad Bumphis on the sideline.

Wade Bonner had six tackles on the day looking good in coverage and run support.

Damein Anderson had a good day and was really impressive when he leaped into the air and intercepted a Tyler Russell pass.

Maurice Langston, due to lack of passes thrown his way, didn't have the opportunity to make many tackles or breakups. He is really turning into a lockdown cornerback at this point in his development.

Spring Breakdown: The defensive backfield is like night and day compared to where it was last spring, going two deep at every position. I am encouraged with the thought of Maurice Langston and Johnthan Banks opposite each other at cornerback. And it is even more encouraging with the thought that Corey Broomfield, a freshman All-American who intercepted 6 passes last season, will rotate with them. I know many will question why Broomfield won't start but what the casual observer doesn't understand is that many times, when a cornerback has a lot of interceptions, it is due to him being thrown at a lot. Broomfield is a good cornerback but. at this point in his career, is not on the same talent level as Banks and Langston. Louis Watson and Damien Anderson will be good players to have in a situational basis.

The safety position is well stacked with Nickoe Whitley emerging this spring as the first team free safety. Dennis Thames finally made his move and could be Charles Mitchell's backup at strong safety at the start of fall practice. Wade Bonner had a good spring and will be valuable as a nickel safety. Zach Smith came back from his concussion problems but he still has the same issues in pass coverage. He will be valuable as a veteran leader and be used in running situations.

Upcoming: Positional Breakdowns

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

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