When asked if life without Fletcher Cox is sinking in, MSU defensive coordinator Chris Wilson cracked, "Who?" He laughed, then said, "Any time you lose that much productivity, it takes something to get used to. That being said, we've got a really good, talented group of guys in here."
The Bulldogs' defensive line might be missing Cox, who left school a year early to enter the NFL Draft, but Wilson is right. There is a lot of talent and depth in this group, and it starts with senior Josh Boyd. He's the main subject of today's story (CLICK HERE).
Boyd pondered going pro as well but decided within a couple of weeks of MSU's Music City Bowl win over Wake Forest to return. He's been a productive player since arriving, starting a handful of games as a freshman and locking down the nose tackle spot ever since.
"He's got to do it by himself up front there now, and so I think that is a new role for him. But he's done it," head coach Dan Mullen said. "He was a decent leader for us last year, even though he had more help in that position. He's used to having to be a guy inside for us."
Boyd will need help, of course, and he's got plenty of it. He's been working a lot at the three-technique, which was Cox's position, and stepping in at nose are guys like sophomores P.J. Jones and Curtis Virges. Virges had 10 tackles and a pair of sacks last season, while Jones recorded nine tackles and a fumble recovery.
"They've got some work to do, but they're getting better, and I know they're going to be real good by the time the season starts," Boyd said. "I'm not really worried because of how we're grinding and how we're doing. We're going to be ready to step up."
Of Jones in particular, Boyd said, "He's a very physical guy, and he learns pretty quick. He'll be real good. He'll be OK."
There are some new additions that could have a big impact on the line play this season, most notably juco transfer Denico Autry at end and freshman Quay Evans at tackle.
Boyd on Autry: "He's a very talented person. There's a lot of things he can do that certain people can't do, so I think it's going to be a big deal. So I think he'll be ready by the end of the spring."
Boyd on Evans: "Quay's going to be good. He's got a lot of learning to do, coming from high school he's pretty young. Once he matures a little bit, he'll be really good, too."
Autry is currently running second team, although he got some first-team reps Tuesday when Shane McCardell was hobbled. Wilson could be heard shouting, "Denico! You got a promotion!"
Autry wll eventually be a starter. "We've got packages ready for him," said Wilson. "What we're doing more than anything is preparing him to be a starter in this group. What it's doing is just creating competition."
Back to Boyd. One of his adjustments will be playing without Cox. The two knew each other's games so well.
"Me and him have been here three years playing together, we're like brothers," Boyd said. "I'm just glad he's doing well, and I'm just going to stay here and keep doing my thing and keep grinding."