By Logan Lowery
STARKVILLE – Mississippi State returns three veteran defensive ends with plenty of playing experience.
Preston Smith is back for his senior campaign along with junior Ryan Brown and sophomore A.J. Jefferson. Now the Bulldogs are in search of a fourth defensive end to complete the rotation.
“Preston Smith, Ryan Brown and A.J. Jefferson have all had a really good camp so far,” Turner said. “If I can get a fourth guy that I feel real good about then that only helps us as a unit.
“Right now we’re trying to mix and match and figure out who’s going to fit where and what’s best for us.”
Smith totaled 44 tackles with 6.5 for loss and 2.5 sacks last season. The 6-foot-6, 270-pounder was named defensive MVP of the Liberty Bowl with a team-high six tackles and one quarterback hurry.
“It let me know what I needed to work on,” Smith said. “I need to come into every game focused like I was in the bowl game. Now I can roll that game into this first game and the rest of the games this season so I can be more consistent with my play.”
Brown appeared in all 13 games and made his first career start last season. The 6-foot-6, 262-pounder recorded 13 stops, 2.5 for loss and a sack.
“Ryan Brown’s a guy that you probably take for granted,” Turner said. “He just shows up and works hard every day and never says a word. He only gets better and better.”
Jefferson made 17 tackles as a redshirt freshman last fall including four tackles for loss, a pair of sacks and forced a fumble.
Four other players are bidding for the fourth spot in the rotation, including a pair of players with the ability to play inside as well.
“Torrey Dale, John Harris and we’ve moved Nelson Adams and Grant Harris out there,” Jefferson said. “Grant plays hard but still has to learn the plays. Nelson’s been looking real good out there. The competition between them, John and Torrey can go either way. Those guys are really pushing each other to get better.”
Sophomore defensive tackle Chris Jones will again get some reps at defensive end in certain packages.
The Bulldogs signed Tyler Junior College three-star defensive end Will Coleman in February but he is only allowed to practice with the team and will have to redshirt his initial season at MSU.
The 6-foot-5, 245-pounder made 66 tackles, eight for loss, four sacks and forced and recovered a fumble as a sophomore last year. Coleman will have two years of eligibility remaining beginning in 2015.
“Will’s done some good things and he’s practicing like he’s a junior college guy,” Turner said. “He comes out of a good program at Tyler. He’s starting to feel more comfortable with the group.”