Position of Need: Defensive End

Defensive end Denico Autry, right, has recorded 4.0 sacks and 9.5 tackles-for-loss this season. (Photo by Deste Lee)

With the regular season in the rear view mirror, we take a look this week at five positions MSU must beef up for the 2013 campaign. Today we continue with defensive ends.

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When you talk about a team’s pass rush, the first position you look at is defensive end. So it’s no coincidence that MSU, which did not get stellar play from the end spots, has recorded only 18 sacks this season. That ranks 13th in the SEC.

There will be no big losses here, with only senior reserve Shane McCardell departing. But as with the offensive tackle spoke, the issue here is that the level of play must be raised significantly. Let’s take a look at who’s returning.

• Denico Autry, Jr.: The junior college transfer certainly started to raise his play toward the end of the regular season, having recorded 2.0 sacks and 4.0 tackles-for-loss over the last three games. That’s a good sign, and it looks like Autry could realize his considerable potential next season. MSU sure needs him to. Outside of Autry, there are some question marks, but also some promise.

• Kaleb Eulls, So.: He’s spent time at both tackle and end, and it looks like Eulls may be more suited for the inside. With Josh Boyd and Dewayne Cherrington graduating, MSU will need some experience there, so don’t be surprised if Eulls is moved to the three-technique position. Conversely, I could see tackle P.J. Jones being moved to the outside on a more regular basis. He’s more athletic and disruptive than Eulls, whose strength is against the run.

• John Harris, R-Fr.: The undersized Harris (235 pounds) has played in only two games this season. He’s still a bit of a project, so I don’t know if we should expect much from him next fall.

• Preston Smith, So.: This kid has shown a lot of promise, and frankly, I’m stunned he hasn’t earned a start yet. He’s athletic and has shown a knack for getting into the backfield. In fact, Smith leads the team with 4.5 sacks, and he could wind up being a nice bookend with Autry. Look for Smith to do some big things next year if he keeps progressing and develops his all-around game.

There’s a bit of help coming from the redshirt group, including Torrey Dale and A.J. Jefferson. The ends have potential to be much better next season, and it’s on defensive coordinator and defensive line coach Chris Wilson to make sure that potential is fulfilled.

I am the online content coordinator for DJournal.com. Previously at the Journal, I covered Mississippi State athletics (2008-13), high schools (2004-08), and was on the copy desk (2002-04). I'm working on a recipe for bacon-flavored coffee, which would solve all the world's problems.

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