Our post-spring series continues on defense today with the defensive line.
• Projected starters: DE Denico Autry, Jr.; DE Kaleb Eulls, So.; DT Josh Boyd, Sr.; DT P.J. Jones, So.
• Backups: DE Shane McCardell, Sr.; DE Preston Smith, So.; DT/DE Devin Jones, Sr.; DT Dewayne Cherrington, Sr.; DT Quay Evans, Fr.; DT Curtis Virges, So.
• The skinny: The consensus – from coaches, players, fan, media, et al. – is that this is the most talented, deepest defensive line MSU has had in years. That's even with the loss of Fletcher Cox to the NFL.
What we saw in the spring was a group that should be able to weather that loss. Boyd, a nose tackle his first three years, spent a lot of time at Cox's old three-technique position and will anchor the D-line. Can he be as disruptive as Cox was? I bet he can be pretty darn close.
P.J. Jones has bulked up and should build on a promising freshman year. Cherrington, a walk-on last year, has become a pleasant surprise and got plenty of work in short-yardage situations in the spring. Virges and Devin Jones add good depth, with the latter able to play both inside and outside. Evans enrolled early and is expected to play immediately, and while he was clearly in a learning stage in spring, he flashed the tools and made skills that made him such a highly coveted prospect.
So we know the interior is solid. What MSU really needs is a more developed pass rush from the end positions. Autry will provide a big part of the answer. The juco transfer cottoned on as the spring progressed, and once he's comfortable with the speed of the game, he'll be a huge difference-maker.
He's going after McCardell's job, and to his credit, McCardell upped his play in the spring. On the other side, Eulls is a third-year sophomore who, if he develops at the rate he should, will be more of a presence in opposing teams' backfield this fall.