Mississippi State graduated Preston Smith and John Harris at defensive end but the position should be in good hands for several seasons to come with the depth David Turner has built there.
Ryan Brown is back for his senior season. Brown started a dozen games for the Bulldogs last season and was solid but often overshadowed by Smith’s play. At 6-foot-6, 266-pounds, I expect Brown to have a breakout year and then move on to the NFL.
Brown is the only starter returning on the defensive line and will be looked to for leadership. He has tremendous character and is exactly the type of player you’d want to have representing your school. As nice a guy as he is off the field, he can be disruptive and gets after the quarterback off the edge.
Junior A.J. Jefferson has some big shoes to fill for Smith this season but if the spring is any indication, that shouldn’t be a problem. Jefferson lived in the backfield against both the pass and run and made big play after big play. He made plays when he had chances to last season and will provide an even larger role as his reps increase.
Jefferson has the mindset you want from a defensive end and seems to play angry. The play he made in the spring game was spectacular when he tackled both the offensive tackle trying to block as well as the ball carrier in the backfield for a tackle for loss.
This will be a telling year for Torrey Dale. The 6-foot-6, 252-pound junior has battled illness and injury throughout his time in Starkville and will have an opportunity to play a lot of reps should he be able to stay healthy. Dale has shown flashes of being really good during his career but has been slowed so much that he hasn’t been able to put an entire season together.
Dale lost a lot of weight along with strength during his time away from the field but has it back now and had a good season. He will be battling juco transfers Will Coleman and Johnathan Calvin for playing time.
Coleman was forced to redshirt his first year on campus last season by the NCAA but had an outstanding spring. Coleman is a guy Bulldog fans should be excited about even though many have probably forgotten he is even on the team.
The 6-foot-5, 250-pounder made play after play during the spring including five tackles and a sack during the spring game. Coleman is really good at getting his arms up and deflecting or diverting passes when he doesn’t reach the quarterback in time.
Calvin too had a solid spring and has a bigger frame at 6-foot-3, 263-pounds. Calvin is strong against the run and is surprisingly athletic for a guy his size. I thought he was a good addition to the signing class and will allow some of the younger defensive ends to develop while he is on the field getting reps.
Grant Harris will get his first chance at playing time after a redshirt year. Harris worked most of the spring as the third team end but could be one of those guys that grows into a defensive tackle before his career is done. He is currently 6-foot-3, 273-pounds and if he grows any bigger he’ll have no choice but to shift inside.
Walk-on Brian Houston looked the part of a defensive end during spring at 6-foot-4, 240-pounds and even had a sack in the spring game but needs to get a little stronger.
There may still be occasions when Chris Jones and Nelson Adams line up on the edge but I expect most of their reps to be inside.
This fall, Anfernee Mullins and Kendell Jones will join the mix but both may be looking at a redshirt year with the depth that is currently at the position.