Depth, health will define Bulldogs’ defensive line – The Dispatch – The Commercial Dispatch

Depth Health Will Define Bulldogs Defensive Line The Dispatch The Commercial Dispatch 1200x800
Depth Health Will Define Bulldogs Defensive Line The Dispatch The Commercial Dispatch

STARKVILLE — Jeff Phelps knows it’s impossible to be sure how a full football season will come to pass.

It’s why Mississippi State’s defensive line coach has done his best so far in preseason camp to prepare every lineman on the Bulldogs’ roster — not just his starters — for the grind of a 12-game schedule in the Southeastern Conference.

“You never know how the season’s going to play out, so we’ve got to get them all ready to go,” Phelps said after Wednesday’s practice at the Leo Seal Jr. Football Complex.

With three experienced players ready to start and both younger and older players providing insurance behind them, the Bulldogs have the talent to field a strong defensive line in 2021.

But Phelps knows talent isn’t everything. If Mississippi State can fight off the injury bug or weather its effects, it will go a long way toward a successful season at the position.

“We’ve got a lot of depth, and hopefully we can stay healthy, because that’s obviously a big part of it,” Phelps said.

Redshirt juniors Jaden Crumedy and Cameron Young are set to join senior Jordan Davis on the Bulldogs’ starting D-line, giving Mississippi State what Phelps called a “strong front three” in defensive coordinator Zach Arnett’s 3-3-5 scheme.

But players behind Crumedy, Young and Davis might matter just as much. Phelps said he plans to mix in younger players to receive significant snaps, saying he ideally would like to make rotations every three plays to keep players fresh. Against the up-tempo offenses the Bulldogs likely will see, that will be paramount.

Consequently, players like redshirt sophomore end Jack Harris and junior tackle Nathan Pickering will have big roles on the line. So will UCF transfer Randy Charlton, whom Phelps praised as athletic, strong and compact enough to get the proper leverage against the offensive line.

“He brings the experience and depth,” Phelps said of Charlton. “He played for a great program.”

Like Charlton, Young has shown the necessary athleticism to have success on the line, according to Phelps. At 6-foot-3 and 310 pounds, the Franklin County High School product is “a big man,” but that hasn’t stopped him.

“When we first got here, it was a question of, ‘Would he be able to do as much movement as we would like to do with our defensive line?’” Phelps said. “Over the course of time, he’s just kept plugging away and plugging away.”

Davis, a converted linebacker out of Copiah-Lincoln Community College, has dedicated himself to the same improvement. Phelps said the Memphis product played some of his best games toward the end of the 2020 season and has continued to improve so far in fall camp.

“He loves the game,” Phelps said. “He’s flying around. He’s still learning, so we’ve got to continue to develop him there, but he’s another guy who can have an outstanding year if he keeps working.”

Davis said he feels considerably more comfortable than he did last season as he adjusted to the new position.

“Last year, I felt like it was just a mental game for me — finding my confidence, finding my rhythm — especially with it being my first time in D-1,” he said. “I feel way more comfortable with me having my hand in the dirt.”

That comfort is a shared feeling among many Bulldogs this season following a full spring season and summer conditioning program. Crumedy said being able to bond and spend more time with his teammates has been the key.

“I just feel like we’re coming together and building a strong relationship with each other … on the field,” he said.

That’s necessary to stitch together a D-line that lost both Marquiss Spencer and Kobe Jones to the NFL last season. Spencer was a seventh-round pick of the Denver Broncos, while Jones was one of three Bulldogs to sign with the Atlanta Falcons as undrafted free agents.

But under the guidance of Mississippi State’s two redshirt junior starters, the Bulldogs haven’t missed a beat.

“Crumedy and Cam Young have really stepped up with their leadership, and we need that with Kobe and Marquiss being gone,” Phelps said. “ … It’s huge for us. You need somebody to then step in and replace that, and it’s great to have those guys who can do it.”

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