BY LOGAN LOWERY
STARKVILLE – The biggest question for Mississippi State entering last season was if the Bulldogs could replace Darius Slay and Thorpe Award winner Johnthan Banks at cornerback.
Both Banks and Slay were selected in the second round of the NFL draft, leaving the Bulldogs almost barren of starting experience at the position – and with a new coach, Deshea Townsend, in his first year working at the college level.
But as bleak as the outlook appeared, MSU fared quite well in 2013 as Jamerson Love and Taveze Calhoun broke through with three interceptions each during the season and return as one of the top cornerback tandems in the league.
“I think we learned a lot last year just getting out there and getting some experience,” Calhoun said. “A lot of people didn’t know about us. I always felt like we had talent and now that we’ve played a year, people know about us.”
Calhoun managed 45 tackles in 11 starts as a sophomore last season, picking off two passes against Alabama. His overtime interception the following week against Arkansas sealed the win for the Bulldogs.
Love, now a senior, made 27 stops in a dozen starts. The Aberdeen native returned one of his interceptions 70-yards for a touchdown against Troy.
The Bulldogs will need more than just those two to maneuver against some of the high-octane offenses in the SEC.
“You’ve got to have four or five guys who can go out there and play,” Townsend said. “You’ve got to be able to roll them in. It’s hard to play 80 to 90 snaps like the offenses are trying to get in every game. You have to have good depth so when guys go in there’s not a drop off and we have that.”
Sophomore Cedric Jiles made three starts last season and finished with 20 tackles while Will Redmond appeared in the final eight games and notched 23 stops. Tolando Cleveland played in 12 games as a true freshman making nine tackles and recovering the game-winning fumble against Bowling Green.
Redmond is listed as a junior this season after losing a year and a half of eligibility from the NCAA for recruiting violations.
“To see what (Redmond) went through and to still be mentally into the game is amazing,” Townsend said. “He’s such a physical talent. He’s got good size, good speed and is still hungry. He’s only played in eight games but has been here for two years. If he’s out there I’m not worried. He wants to be a complete corner.”
Jahmere Irvin-Sills is coming off a redshirt season and is expected to contribute as well this fall.
“The (redshirt) helped him out tremendously,” Townsend said. “Jahmere is physical, feisty type of corner. Now he’s not panicking. He can line up and play and execute the defense.”
State signed former Byhalia three-star standout Chris Rayford in February. Rayford is a 6-foot, 182-pounder who made 64 tackles, six for loss, two sacks and returned two of his three fumble recoveries for touchdowns as a senior.
BY LOGAN LOWERY