By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Playing the role of Fletcher Cox this year will be Josh Boyd.
Mississippi State’s defensive line lost a big piece when Cox declared for the 2012 NFL Draft after his junior season. The tackle was the anchor of that front line, recording 56 tackles, 14.5 tackles-for-loss and 5.0 sacks en route to first-team All-SEC honors last season.
Boyd also pondered entering the draft but decided for one more year. After playing nose tackle alongside Cox for three seasons, the 6-foot-3, 300-pound Boyd will slide into Cox’s old spot at the three-technique.
“It’s a little new, because it’s more open than what I’m used to at the nose,” Boyd said after Tuesday’s practice. “I like it. I’m trying to adjust to it, I’m trying to get better at it.”
He’s been nearly as good as Cox over the years. Last fall, Boyd had 51 tackles, 8.0 TFL and 4.5 sacks.
Boyd must also step into the leadership void created by Cox’s departure. That’s not something that comes naturally to him, but defensive coordinator and defensive line coach Chris Wilson likes what he’s seen so far.
In fact, he’s not really worried about Boyd’s adjustment at all.
“The biggest concern for me are the guys who are going to play next to him,” Wilson said.
Likely candidates to play tackle include sophomore P.J. Jones, a Tupelo product, and senior Dewayne Cherrington.
And MSU’s line has some other parts that could ease the loss of Cox. Junior college transfer Denico Autry is expected to earn a starting job at end, freshman Quay Evans should see playing time immediately at tackle, and a lot of younger players like Jones, Curtis Virges and Kaleb Eulls are back.
“It’s going to be a little different because I’m going to have somebody else out there with me,” Boyd said, “so we’re going to have to learn each other.”
Question is, can State’s defensive line be as good as – or better than – it was last season?
“Sure we can be,” Wilson said. “It’s going to take more guys playing their role. You don’t just replace Fletcher Cox with another guy. You’re going to have to have five or six guys step up and play probably two percent better.
“And if we can get five guys doing that, we just got exponentially better.”