Here we go, my second vain attempt at nailing down a post-spring depth chart for Mississippi State, this time on defense. A reminder: This does not factor in players who’ve not yet arrived at MSU.
So, my best, somewhat-educated guesses are as follows.
• Defensive end: 1. Sean Ferguson (Sr.), 2. Kaleb Eulls (RFr.); 1. Shane McCardell (Jr.), 2. Trevor Stigers (Jr.).
Near the end of spring drills, defensive coordinator and defensive line coach Chris Wilson said that Ferguson is the only end he considers a starter. Everyone else is fighting for snaps, and the battle between McCardell and Stigers is one I’m having trouble gauging. McCardell spent a little bit of time at receiver last year after Leon Berry got hurt, but I don’t know how much of an advantage that gave Stigers.
Stigers did get more playing time last year, playing in 11 games and making 19 tackles, including 4.5 TFL. In eight games, McCardell had four tackles, 2.0 TFL and 2.0 sacks.
• Defensive tackle: 1. Josh Boyd (Jr.), 2. Jeff Howie (Sr.); 1. Fletcher Cox (Jr.), 2. Devin Jones (Jr.)
This is one of the strongest positions on the defense – heck, on the team – with Boyd and Cox. Those two combined for 53 tackles, 14.0 TFL and 5.0 sacks last season and have played in a combined 49 games. Boyd lines up at the nose guard spot, Cox at the three-technique tackle.
Howie (11 games, 10 tackles) and Jones (13 games, 14 tackles) have some experience and had good springs, and Jones can play end as well.
• Strongside linebacker: 1. Cam Lawrence (Jr.), 2. Matthew Wells (RFr.).
Oh boy, here we go. I say that because new linebackers coach Geoff Collins moved guys around all spring, with Lawrence seeing time at both the middle and weakside spots. But this is where he played last year, and the position suits his north-south, hard-hitting style of play.
Wells, formerly a DB, has shown coaches a playmaking ability that they like, so look for him to get a good number of snaps.
• Middle linebacker: 1. Brandon Wilson (Jr.), 2. Jamie Jones (Sr.).
Wilson has established himself as a leader and hard worker, a guy the others can rally around. But does he have the talent and playmaking ability to get the job done? Chris White will be awfully hard to replace.
This part of the depth chart will likely change once Clemson transfer Brandon Maye arrives this summer. A three-year starter in the ACC, Maye is a proven commodity and should have a great shot at the starting job.
Redshirt freshman Ferlando Bohanna could also see time here.
• Weakside linebacker: 1. Chris Hughes (So.), 2. Deontae Skinner (So.).
Hughes got some good playing time last year and has shown some promise this spring. Skinner came on late in the spring and made some nice plays in the Maroon-White game, in particular a diving interception.
This seems to be a pretty fluid position, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few other bodies come through here.
• Cornerbacks: 1. Johnthan Banks (Jr.), 2. Marvin Bure (Sr.); 1. Corey Broomfield (Jr.), 2. Louis Watson (Jr.)
Banks is pretty well entrenched here, although he’ll continue to play a little safety from time to time. I liked what I saw of Bure this spring, and I think he’ll be a factor this fall. Broomfield, who’s made nine interceptions over the past two seasons, is becoming an all-SEC caliber player.
Others to watch out for include senior Damein Anderson and redshirt freshman Jamerson Love</strong>.
• Safeties: 1. Charles Mitchell (Sr.), 2. Dennis Thames (So.); 1. Wade Bonner (Sr.), 2. Nickoe Whitley (So.).
Mitchell is the clear leader of this group, a guy who’s been on the field since his freshman year and a starter since his sophomore season. He could use some improvement in pass coverage, but he knows how to bring the pain. Thames has shown good progress since last season.
At the other spot, you have some intrigue. Bonner started out last season mostly playing nickelback, but he got more and more playing time at safety and wound up starting the final two games of the season. Not really sure what that means, because sometimes the guy who starts isn’t always the one who gets the most snaps, and some of the coverage schemes MSU uses can make the term “safety” not quite accurate.
Whitley, I thought, had a really good debut season, making 52 tackles and three interceptions. I could easily see him being the starter.