4. WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE MISSISSIPPI STATE DEFENSE
– Who led the SEC in total defense, run defense, scoring defense, sacks, tackles for loss, pass defense, takeaways? The Bulldogs shared a few of those honors with a few other SECers, but they were amazing defensively and now have to find seven new starters to keep all the fun going. It starts with a rebuilding defensive front that loses all the starters including Jefferey Simmons and Montez Sweat. But …
– There’s still talent up front. There might not be another Simmons or Sweat – at least until star DT recruit Nathan Pickering is ready – but Lee Autry is a good-looking option to take over for Simmons on the inside, and the outside isn’t all that bad. Kobe Jones is back after doing a decent job in the rotation, and the combination of 265-pound Fletcher Adams and 275-pound Chauncey Rivers bring more bulk to the other side than Sweat did.
– There might be a ton of lost parts to the defensive puzzle, but they’re not at linebacker. Errol Thompson was second on the team with 87 tackles. He’s a thumper on the inside, and Leo Lewis and Willie Gay are good-sized veterans on the outside. There’s even a little bit of depth, too.
– Safety Jonathan Abram is the biggest missing piece in the secondary, and losing running mate Mark McLaurin hurts, too. If he’s healthy, 6-2, 210-pound senior Brian Cole can be one of the team’s leading tacklers at one spot – he missed most of last year hurt – and senior Jaquarius Landrews is back after making 21 stops. Cameron Dantzler is an All-SEC-caliber talent returning to one corner job after coming up with 43 tackles with two picks and nine broken up passes.