Spring Practice started March 18. The Bulldogs will start their preparation for the 2014 football season and it ends on April 12 with the Spring game, the marquee event of Super Bulldog Weekend. Mississippi State is poised to have one of their best seasons in 2014, but there are a number of things that need to be developed to get the most out of this team as possible. Today we look at the Defensive Line.
The biggest weakness of the 2012 squad was a defensive line that couldn’t put pressure on the quarterback without using blitzes. If we were going to have success in 2013, the defensive line had to step up. It didn’t show up in sacks, but the defensive line was far more successful in pressuring quarterbacks in 2013. The development of the defensive line is one of the reasons the defense of Mississippi State was one of the most improved in the SEC in 2013. They should only be better in 2014. Here is my wishlist for the Defensive Line.
Find a Way to Prevent Double Teams: The headline name on the defensive line is and will be Chris Jones. He is the most talented player along the defensive front, so that isn’t surprising. What a lot of people forget is that Preston Smith put up just as impressive numbers as Chris Jones did. Had Smith not been as productive as he was, Chris Jones probably doesn’t have the incredible freshman year that he did. Chris Jones was still double teamed on many occasions, but it opened up the offensive line for Preston Smith and Benardrick McKinney to make plays. For the defensive line to be productive, the coaching staff has to get the most out of both Smith and Jones to limit double teams. If the opposing coaching staff decides to go ahead and double team one of them, then the other has to make them pay. A lot of this will be schemed in the offseason. Geoff Collins proved that he is one of the best defensive minds in the game, so I fully expect him to use the weapons he has available to him to the best of their capability.
Motivate Nick James: Nick James, as of right now, is a monumental bust. He was granted an additional year of eligibility, but he hasn’t done much of anything since he arrived. James and Quay Evans were supposed to be two huge barricades up the middle for Mississippi State. Right now, we are in danger of having both come up significantly short of their potential. Someone needs to find a way to get through to James. One good early sign is that he is now listed at 325. He had been listed at 340. I hope this shows James is getting committed and putting in the work to get in better playing shape. People who have seen him say he looks more muscular and less rotund now. If they can get him motivated, our defensive line could cause significant mayhem next year.
Maximize Mayhem: Speaking of mayhem, this is the overarching philosophy of Geoff Collins. Collins wants to create as many negative plays and turnovers as possible on defense, which is the very essence of Mayhem. That all starts with the defensive line. If we are going to create the mayhem Collins so frequently talks about, we have to get pressure on the quarterback with our defensive line, and we have to get in the backfield when the running backs are handed the ball. Keeping the offense to just one or two yards on first and second down and creating third and long situations is the formula for a successful defense. We need to create that havoc starting right now in Spring Practice.
Our defensive line made great strides from 2012 to 2013. I think they are capable of making even greater steps forward from 2013 to 2014. If they can use the spring to figure out a way to maximize the size and depth we have on the line, the opposing quarterbacks might spend a lot of time on their backs in 2014.