The run of defensive linemen Mississippi State signed during the 2011-12 classes continue to pay dividends.
The Bulldogs signed five defensive ends in those classes and have a solid stable of talent at that position heading into the fall despite Denico Autry’s departure.
A.J. Jefferson, Ryan Brown, Torrey Dale, Preston Smith and John Harris all signed during that two year window and give David Turner a good group to work with along with redshirt freshman Trent Simpson.
The Bulldogs won a tough in-state recruiting battle to get Jefferson and should be set for a breakout season after two years in the program. Jefferson spent his redshirt year bulking up and working on his technique and got his feet wet in all 13 games as a reserve last fall.
Jefferson received more reps this spring and will have his share of snaps in the fall whether it be as a starter or backup. The redshirt sophomore made six tackles, three tackles for loss and a sack during the spring game.
Brown is my pick to takeover Autry’s starting gig at defensive end and should make an outstanding combination with Smith. Brown is a tall guy that has really filled in his frame while still maintaining his speed and explosiveness off the edge. I’ve seen steady improvement from him since his arrival two years ago and should shine entering his junior year.
Brown made one start last season and had four tackles and a sack during the spring game. He could contend for the team lead in sacks this fall.
Dale is a guy who has had some bad luck with injuries and illness during his first two years. The 6-foot-6 rising sophomore lost 40-pounds while recovering from tonsillitis last spring and after two games of action in the fall, tore his ACL.
Dale had pushed his weight back up to 245 in the spring and worked his way back onto the second team defense. He had a really strong spring last year before his illness but didn’t appear to be quite back to 100-percent this spring. Once he gets his weight back up to 260-pounds and has a few more months for his knee to recover, expect a bright future for him.
Smith is a guy I thought the coaching staff wasted a year with when they pulled his redshirt off during the 2011 season. After all, he only appeared in nine games making seven tackles and forcing one fumble. But now that Smith has developed into one of the top defensive ends in the conference, he might not have made it past the 2014 season anyways.
Smith has every intangible you look for in a defensive end and has an incredible wingspan. He had an outstanding performance in the Liberty Bowl and made 11 starts last season. Smith also had a sack during the spring game.
Harris might be a forgotten man among some of the fan base having made only two tackles in five career games. But if you followed any of my coverage from bowl or spring scrimmages, you’d remember that Harris is an animal in those settings. He has had some stellar performances in scrimmages causing some of us in the media to refer to him as “Johnny Scrimmage”.
But all kidding aside, this is a pivotal year for Harris. He was an early enrollee in January 2011 but has yet to have an impact on the field heading into his junior year. If he doesn’t make a move in fall camp then he might be buried on the depth chart for good.
Simpson was expected to greyshirt last fall instead of arriving in Starkville as damaged goods with a torn ACL from high school. But his recovery was ahead of schedule and he was brought in during the summer where he continued to rehab. Simpson was able to practice with the team some as a redshirt last year and showed what he could contribute this spring.
I really like Simpson’s motor and has a good bit of size and speed to go along with it. If he isn’t careful, he could grow into a defensive tackle but that might not be a bad thing. Simpson had a sack during the spring game and will get a chance at his first on-field action in the fall.
The Bulldogs still have two former defensive ends who have shifted to tackle but don’t be surprised if Chris Jones and Kaleb Eulls line up on the edge in some 3-4 alignments.