MSU Position Group Breakdown: LB

MSU Position Group Breakdown: LB

I continue my breakdowns with linebacker today.

#1 MLB

Benardrick McKinney (soph)
The 6’4 240 freshman All-American returns as the centerpiece of the 2013 defense. Last year McKinney was 2nd on the team in tackles registering 102. The physical freak of nature has been well publicized this offseason and has some hype to live up to this year. During the spring he seemed to take the next step and seems primed for a bigger breakout year.

#1 SLB

Deonte Skinner (SR)
Last year saw Skinner a bit out of position on the weak side and his production showed it (62 tackles; 7 less than the year before). Lining up on the weak side put him more matched up with WR’s and the passing game. At 6’2 245 he is a physical player who plays more to his strengths on the strong side. He plays mad and delivers a big pop when he gets to the ball. Look for a much more productive Skinner and better tackle and TFL numbers this year.

#1 WLB

Matt Wells (JR)
Under the previous defensive coordinator’s scheme, Wells was the moss under and misused player on the defense. He’s 6’2 215 and has run sub 4.4 (hand timed) on the watch of Balis. He is a big time athlete that plays the hybrid LB role perfectly and can help match up with spread teams. He has been almost unblockable in blitzing drills in practice and I expect Coach Collins and his “defensive mayhem” scheme to put Wells in positions to play to his strengths. Look for tackles (34), TFL (2.5), and INT’s (1) to go up from last year.

#2 MLB

Ferlando Bohanna (JR)
The 6′ 230 lb headhunter saw some action last year and registered 25 tackles. One could make a strong argument that he is the hardest hitter on the team. He plays angry. The Chris Hughes dismissal makes Bohanna so much more important since not only is he the backup MLB but he may also be the next SLB as well. He has all the physicality to do so and the Memphis product has patiently waited to make his mark.

#2 SLB

Beni Brown (RS freshman)
The 2012 4 star recruit redshirted last year and used the year to learn the defense and get bigger. Entering the 2013 year in the 225 lb range (6’1) allows him to be able to better handle the physicality of the SEC. In the spring he seemed the more game ready of the redshirts, especially physically. The dismissal of Hughes makes his development crucial since he could be the next LB of the bench on the strong side. Brown does posses the speed to play on the weak side but I think circumstance pushes him to SLB.

#2 WLB

Richie Brown (RS freshman)
The 2nd of the 2, 4 star LB’s who redshirted last year. I think Richie’s future is in the middle or strong side but circumstance pushes him here for now. The 1rst thing that jumps out at you about Richie is how fast he his. The 2nd is how much room he has to grow despite his listing at 6’2.5 and 230 lbs (he looks slim). He really has a big time future at MSU. I’ve heard many compare him to Cam Lawrence but I disagree. He reminds me much more of Chris White who is currently in the NFL.

#3

Zach Jackson (JR)
He’s another of the hybrid type LB’s who has floated back and forth between here and safety over his career. He’s 6’1 215 and runs really well. I think the number one thing holding him back is his lack of experience at LB. He has the tools. I think he will have a tough time getting game reps at LB (Hughes dismissal helps him though) but he can be a standout on the coverage units because his strengths are running and hitting.

#3

Dez Harris (true freshman)
Big time athlete at 6’2 and 220 who played QB in high school. Another guy Coach Collins has spotted and thinks he can mold into a LB a la Benardrick McKinney. Harris suffered an ACL injury his senior year and is expected to redshirt.

Analysis
First thing that sticks out is a whole lot of ability in the first 3. The Browns have to make MSU fans feel good about the future. There is one concern. Only 8 LB’s on the roster with 1 graduating is not an ideal depth position. MSU needs to address this in recruiting but I’ve heard they are taking from 3-4. Back to this year. McKinney has the chance to be really special and this year the progression should stick out. Skinner and Wells should both be used much better scheme wise, therefore helping them make plays. Bohanna is crucial off the bench this year. Also, look for the Browns to get their first taste of action and show well.

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MSU Position Group Breakdown: DT

MSU Position Group Breakdown: DT

I continue my breakdowns with DT.

#1

PJ Jones (JR)
Due to an early suspension last year, Jones only played in 9 games and struggled to get in the flow, only registering 16 tackles on the year. He really showed in the spring that he is focused and ready to play to his potential. He looks really good physically at 6’2 300. He’s as athletic as it comes for a guy his size. Jones really seems to relish the leadership role and I’m expecting a big increase in his production.

#1

Kaleb Eulls (JR)
I’ll admit that I’ve been tough on Eulls’s production from DE to this point in his career (1.5 career sacks). That said, I’ll also admit that I think this is the year he forces me to change my tune as a DT. He has bulked up a bit to 6’4 and the 300 lb range. He looks so much more comfortable and at home at DT. On the inside he becomes very athletic and makes quite the quick combo with Jones. I think he passes his career TFL numbers (2 years at DE) as a DT in the first half of the season.

#2

Quay Evans (soph)

Often times the biggest challenge for freshmen is getting used to the college grind. The former high school #1 rated DT used his rookie year to get his conditioning down (lost 40+ lbs) and also made the honor roll as a criminology major. Although he was hampered by a high ankle sprain in the spring look for Evans to make his move in fall camp since he’s 100% healthy. The top 4 DT’s will get fairly even snaps so I’d expect to see more of what Evans can do early on.

#2

Nick James (sophomore)

No one made a bigger impact on me through spring practice than James. He’s a monstrous guy at 6’4 330 and he moves surprisingly well. He’s also the most fun guy to watch because he looks like he loves football and the team feeds off his enthusiasm. He moves well for his size and is a big disruptive force on the inside.

#3

Curtis Virges (JR)

In limited action in 2013, he was able to crack the stat book for 1.5 TFL (my favorite stat for DL). At 6’3 and 330 lbs, Virges immediately passes the eye test. When you see him move he passes athleticism test. It’s hard for me to get a good read on Virges. One play he looks like the best DT on the roster and then you don’t notice him. I’d say he has the tools to be a starter but its up to him to make it happen. He’s big and physical and will no doubt be in the game snap rotation. How much is to be determined and in fairness, that could be applied to all outside of the top 2.

#3

Nelson Adams/Jordan Washington (RS freshmen)

Adams (6’3 290) and Washington (6’2 280) both have made big strides physically in their first years under Balis. They both look like SEC DT’s. After a year of learning, these 2 will battle it out for the scraps of the snaps. Not much, if any, separated these 2 and both show plenty of potential. 4 more years of them should make MSU fans rest easy about the future of the DL.

Analysis

The big take away is that even though 2 very experienced players were lost (Boyd and Cherrington), the 2 replacing them make MSU much more athletic on the inside. Couple that with 2 young but elite talents getting their first real taste of action and its easy to see why many fans aren’t sweating the losses. Throw in Virges and that makes a really nice 5 man rotation. Keeping the DT’s fresh so they remain disruptive in the 2nd half is crucial and it looks that MSU has this luxury. Nice mix and experience and talent.

MSU Position Group Breakdown: DE

MSU Position Group Breakdown: DE

I continue my breakdowns with defensive end today.

#1

Preston Smith (JR)
MSU fans will finally get to see what Smith can do with the lion-share of reps as a starting DE. In a limited role last year he led MSU in sacks (4.5). At 6-6 260, he is the prototypical size for an SEC DE. This spring he dominated showing a very balanced pass rushing arsenal. He has a nice speed rush but also the best bull rush of MSU’s DE’s. I expect him to lead in sacks again.

#1

Denico Autry (SR)
Last year saw Autry start off a bit slow as he adjusted from juco to the SEC but he finished strong ending the year 2nd on the team in sacks (4). At 6-5 255, his elite speed defies logic for a guy his size. He’s a long lean pass rushing specialist who excels by beating the OT around the end but when he gets them leaning back, a quick move inside and bingo. I really expect a much higher sack total out of Autry in the double digit range making him and Smith one of the better duos in the league.

#2
Ryan Brown (soph)
The 6-6 260 Brown was one of the surprises last fall earning reps as a true freshman. The New Orleans native showed up for spring and challenged every single day to grab one of the starting DE spots. Many days he got first team reps. Brown is another guy that immediately passes the eye test and his game reminds me a lot of Preston Smith; how balanced a DE they are. There is very little, if anything, separating Brown from Autry and Smith and I expect him to get plenty of game reps in 2013.

#2

Chris Jones (true freshman)
This is my surprise pick of sorts because I have never seen Jones compete in college. My main line of thinking is that you don’t sign the 2nd best player in America to redshirt him. At 6-6 280 and unrivaled quick burst explosion, he is as close to SEC ready as you can be. I expect him to get plenty of 3rd down pass rushing opportunities.

#3

AJ Jefferson (RS freshman)
After a year of learning, Jefferson came out ready to prove himself in the spring. He definitely appeared to be a hair above the other RS freshman as far as being game ready. He plays physical and comes off the ball very hard. I like Jefferson’s future at MSU; he’s a player. I’m going to make a guess that is strictly my opinion. At 6’2 260 he is the only DE we have that isn’t long and lean. He has a frame that could easily bulk up another 25 lbs and could slide inside to DT a la PJ Jones. His build and style of play could make him one if those DT’s that a little undersized but very athletic.

#3

Torrey Dale (RS freshman)
Another RS that showed flashes in the spring. First thing you notice with him is size. He’s 6’6 but a little slim. He’s listed at 230. He’s a technical player who has a well rounded game. His length makes him an asset rushing the passer and holding containment. He needs to gain some weight but Dale shows a lot of promise for the future.

#4

John Harris (soph)
Don’t let where he is on my depth chart fool you about Harris. It’s more a testament to the intense competition. At 6’5 235, Harris has the frame to be an SEC DE. He might be the fastest DE on the roster (either him or Autry). His game is that of a speed rusher and he just needs some more weight to help battle. He’s already gained 20+ lbs since getting to MSU and 20 more would make him an Autry clone physically. Keep an eye on how he looks physically come fall camp.

#4

Corvell Harrison-Gay (JR)
He’s a little small at 6’3 255 but a solid hustle player. In the spring he mostly got 2nd and 3rd team reps. As loaded as DE is, I wouldn’t mind seeing him bulk up and move inside. From everything I hear, a great guy and hard worker who brings worth to the team that can’t be fully attributed to game reps.

Analysis

The only other position that rivals the competition at DE is TE but there is no question that the talent at DE makes it the most loaded position at MSU. Last year had a learning DE (Autry) and an out of position DE (Eulls). The upgrade at this position to start this year is exciting. Autry and Smith posses the kind of talent to be a 20 sack duo. Ryan Brown is an SEC starter. Chris Jones is a program changer with Jadaveon Clowney type upside. Throw in the 2 RS freshmen and an athlete like John Harris… One would have to make a strong argument that this isn’t the best position group MSU has had in my lifetime. Coach Turner has a heck of a job dividing these reps.

MSU Position Group Breakdown: TE

MSU Position Group Breakdown: TE

I continue me position group breakdowns with TE.

#1

Malcolm Johnson (JR)
Last year saw Johnson get off to a rocky start with a torn pectoral muscle suffered in pre season that caused him to miss the first half if the season. When he returned, fans saw highlight reel catches like the 1 at the back if the end zone in the 4th against Tennessee. In his limited action he had 9 grabs for 154 yards and 2 TD’s. At 6’2 and 230 lbs, Johnson is a different kind of athlete (more of a bigger WR) that will cause matchup problems. A 100% healthy Johnson and the fact that MSU lost a lot of receivers should have fans excited about his production in 2013.

Co #2

Brandon Hill (JR)
After a nice spring, I expect to see a bit more production from Hill who had 5 catches in 2012. He is similar to Johnson in size (6’2 235) but a bit thicker and not quite the athlete. He does block a bit better so he can be used more when the scheme calls for an attached TE.

Co #2

Rufus Warren (soph)

At 6-6 and 250 lbs, Warren is a different kind if TE than the first 2. He is a much better blocker and more of the traditional attached TE. The reason I have him as a Co #2 is because certain situation could force him to be the second guy off the bench. He does process exceptional athletic ability for someone his size. He moves well and has pretty good hands.

#3

Christian Holmes (JR)

Holmes made the move to TE from LB this spring. At 6’1 235 he had the size and athleticism to do so. I’m going to watch the Chris Hughes situation to see if Holmes stays at TE. What Holmes showed at TE was really good hands and a knack for short yardage situations. As of right now, I’d say he is a go to in goal line situations with the chance to earn more reps.

#4

Gus Walley (RS freshman)
Walley spent all of 2012 redshirting and rehabbing an ACL tear from his sr year of high school. This spring was fans first look at Walley and he surprised some folks. He’s a big target at 6’4 220 and moves well. He looks to be 100% recovered. Also showed very good hands. He was 1 of the guys who surprised me this spring.

#5

Artimas Samuel (true freshman)
Samuel was an early enrollee for the class of 2013 from Hargrave but was originally a 2013 signee. He was brand new this spring and he was forced to learn on the fly. The first thing that jumps out at you about Samuel is how massive he is (6’2 260). I do expect Balis to get him in the 240 range but Samuel’s biceps are still the size of mini basketballs. He’s just a big guy. He has good hands but is needs to work on agility (losing those lbs would help).

Analysis
TE has to be 1 of the strongest positions at MSU depth and talent wise. Malcolm Johnson is a star waiting to blow up. Hill and Warren are both really nice players. The versatility MSU has with the skill sets of those 3 is great. Walley and Samuel really set MSU up for the future. The wildcard is Christian Holmes. In the spring he looked to be a goal line specialist, so that’s where I’d expect to see him most.

MSU Position Group Breakdown: WR

MSU Position Group Breakdown: WR

I continue my breakdowns with the wide receiver position group.

#1

Robert Johnson (JR)
Last year only saw Rojo catch 17 balls for 164 yards and 2 scores but he returns as the top target at outside WR. He showed up for spring at 6’1 220 looking like a RB physically but moving like a WR. He is a huge upgrade athletically at WR from who was starting last year. Look for a big spike in Rojo’s production this year.

#1

Jeremy Chappelle (JR)
The juco transfer looked lost early in the spring but by the end I’d say he earned a starting position. The more he understood the play book, the better he looked. He’s got really good size (6’2) and plays really physically on the outside. His consistency with his hands set him apart. He reminds me a lot of Chris Smith but more physically gifted than Chris.

#1

Jameon Lewis (JR)

Last year Jameon didn’t get the reps he probably deserved but it was hard to take them away from Bumphis. As steady as Bumphis was, I think Jameon is much better with the ball in his hands. MSU needs a game breaker badly and Lewis may be the most elusive guy on the team. Jameon only had 10 catches last year but I’ll go on a limb and say that number quadruples.

#2

Fred Brown (rs freshman)
Brown had a coming out of sorts in the spring. He may not quite be there physically but he’s close. Brown is by far the smoothest route runner on the team. His hands were also consistent enough for me to think he cracks the 2nd platoon of WR.

#2

Michael Carr (JR)
After a year off, Carr returned to the team this spring and his talent immediately jumps out at you. Really smooth route runner and looked natural catching the ball. The longer he stays around the team and gets reacclimated,the higher the depth chart he rises. He has the talent to start opposite Rojo and that would make quite the talented, physical starting outside guys for the Bulldogs.

#2

Brandon Holloway (rs freshman)
The pint sized Holloway came out of the spring haven proved a point: his speed needs to be on be field. He also got a lot of reps at RB. Holloway does need to work a bit on his consistency catching the ball but make no mistake, he is electric with the ball. That’s why I have him as the 2nd slot guy.

#3

Joe Morrow (soph)
There may not be a WR at MSU that has more upside than Morrow. At 6’5 with good speed and great leaping ability, he provides the back of the end zone type WR MSU lacks. There is only 1 thing holding Morrow back from his potential to be great and that’s consistency catching the ball. He needs to work on his confidence.

#3

Fred Ross (true freshman)
Highly heralded 4 star recruit from Texas that has the talent to get reps this year. Judging from what I hear, he is tearing up summer workouts as well. He has the versatility to play either outside or slot WR. As of right now, I’d say he gets game reps in 2013.

#4

Shelby Christy/BJ Hammond/De’Runnya Wilson (true freshmen)
All these 2013 signees bring a bunch of talent and size to the receiving core. Christy is coming of a minor injury, Hammond played in a running offense in high school, and Wilson just started playing football so I expect all to redshirt. On the same token, I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if a great fall camp could get any of these guys in the mix. When you think about the athleticism and size of these 3, MSU fans have to be excited about the future of the WR corps.

Analysis

Although MSU lost a ton of experience at WR from last year, they upgrade tremendously at size and athleticism. Tyler Russell has to be chomping at the bit with these guys. They have much more big play ability. Rojo and Jameon could be stars as both were go to guys in the spring. Morrow is the wildcard to me. If he plays to his potential, MSU will be in great shape at WR.

MSU Position Group Breakdown: RB

MSU Position Group Breakdown: RB

I continue my breakdown of each position group today with running back.

Starter

Ladarius Perkins (SR)
When you consider all the jobs of a back (rushing, receiving, and blocking), there is zero doubt that Perkins is MSU’s best, most complete back. In his first year as the feature back, Perkins ran for 1,024 yards and 8 TD’s. He also caught 19 balls for 164 yards and 2 more scores. Perkins is an all around threat that make big plays in both the rushing and receiving games.

Co #2

Derrick Milton (soph)
As a RS freshman Milton got his first taste of action last year. He gained 165 yards and scored twice in limited duty. This spring he saw the most reps with injuries bothering the other backs. He used the opportunity show what he can do. At 6’2 215 and 4.4 speed he really has the tools to succeed. He is more of a slasher type runner and is very smooth coming out of the backfield as a receiver. The things he needs to work on are ball security and pass blocking.

Co #2

Josh Robinson (soph)
Another guy that saw his first action as a RS freshman. Last year he gained 335 yards with 1 score. He was last years 2nd leading rusher. At 5’9 215, Robinson runs like a battering ram. He’s got really good speed and hits the hole harder than any back on the roster. He showed up for the spring better conditioned and that looks to have helped his lateral movement. Robinson posses the tenacity to make a strong run at the starting position should Perkins falter. The things he needs to improve on are passing blocking and receiving out of the backfield.

#3

Nick Griffin (JR)

First thing I want to say is that I hate having him at #3. The guy has all the talent and work ethic you could ever want. Injuries just continue to plague Griffin. Last year he was finally showing signs of being 100% from his last ACL injury and then another occurred (other leg). A healthy Griffin has all the tools to be an every down back. At 6’1 230, he is the most physically gifted of the bunch. He has great speed for a player his size. He also catches and pass blocks well. The only thing he needs to work on is staying positive.

#4

Ashton Shumpert (true freshman)

Highly heralded 4 star 2013 signee that has the talent to earn some reps. The question is if MSU has the reps to give him this year. Shumpert isa powerful slasher type with good speed (4.5 range). At 6’1 220 he is already in the mold of an SEC back. I wouldn’t be surprised if he redshirted but he may be too good of a talent to keep off the field, particularly special teams.

Analysis

Although Perkins is the no doubt starter, I expect Mullen to spread out the load much more with Robinson and Milton getting more carries. The LSU/Bama RB usage model if you will. Robinson and Milton are a dead heat for the #2 spot. Griffin is such a wildcard. A 100% healthy Griffin could be MSU’s best back. Mullen will just have to wait and see how his recovery is going physically and perhaps most importantly, mentally. In most years, Shumpert gets carries. I’m not sure he will this year but he could be a major player on special team coverage units.

MSU Position Group Breakdown: QB

MSU Position Group Breakdown: QB

This week I will outline a different position group every day. I will give my guesses at the starting lineups as well as some analysis for each group.

Starter

Tyler Russell (SR)
There is no doubt who MSU will have behind center for this years opener. 5th year senior Tyler Russell returns from a nice junior year that saw him toss for 2,897 yards and 24 TD’s. It was a heck of a year as he rewrote some MSU single season passing records and his senior year provides his chances to break more records. In my opinion, Russell is the best pure passer in MSU history. He struggled with consistency at times (Egg and Gator Bowls) but his leadership is an asset on the field. Tyler’s career arc since high school reminds me a lot of Jason Campbell. If that comparison rings true, Tyler will have his best year at MSU and position himself to be drafted in next years NFL Draft.

#2

Dak Prescott (soph)
Last year was our first glance at the dual threat backup. In his RS freshman year he was used much like Tim Tebow was used in his freshman year at Florida under Mullen. Dak was a short yardage specialist and wasn’t given a lot of opportunities to throw the ball. Last year he threw for 194 yards with 4 TD’s and added 118 rushing yards with 4 rushing TD’s. He will challenge Tyler Russell all year long and I expect an expanded role in the offense. Next year is his year and this year is his last year of prep work.

#3

Damien Williams (true freshman)
As a 2013 signee, Williams provides much needed quality depth but probably not much more. Williams was a standout dual threat in the Louisiana 5A division which put him against top talent weekly. At 6’1 220, he is physically ready for SEC ball but he needs a redshirt year. Barring terrible injuries at QB, Williams will get a year to learn.

Analysis

You have to feel good about a starter with as much experience as Russell. He has been through it all and has a chance to be one of MSU’s most beloved with a big year. Right behind him, many fans are chomping at the bit to see what Dak can do. Dak is the prototype for Mullen’s system and hopefully he gets to show a bit more in an expanded offensive role. When you look at these 3 QB’s, its easy to realize that this is the best QB depth chart, talent wise, MSU has had in a long time if not ever.