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February 6, 2014
The Hits, Misses and Overall Breakdown of the Defensive Signees
Prior to the start of the 2014 recruiting class, Mississippi State knew what was ahead for them. The state of Mississippi had top talent, but the Bulldogs had an uphill battle for some of the best. The Bulldogs would emerge victorious on a few, but some of the group's biggest players made their way to Ole Miss.
With a very small senior class leaving the team, MSU was left with 15 scholarships to fill. The class isn't star-studded across the board and won't jump out on paper to most of the prognosticators, but it's apparent that there are some big pieces in the group that fit what the coaches are looking forward.
Time and time again, Dan Mullen preaches that his staff looks at players that fit the program instead of stars. While it's important to get elite players to compete in the ever-tough SEC, the coaches have backed that up with their development and are hoping to do the same with this class full of sleepers.
MSU's biggest needs were mostly at quarterback, offensive line and defensive line. With a few hits and misses, State filled most of those needs. Now let's breakdown the positions filled on the defensive side.
There is never a shortage of defensive lineman for SEC defenses and especially at Mississippi State where the Bulldogs use a plethora of linemen throughout the ball game. This season, it was important for MSU to continue to load up the line as it isn't an immediate need in 2014 but much more in the 2015 season and beyond. The Bulldogs came into signing day on the short end of the stick but added two big-time defensive tackles on Wednesday.
Early Playing Time: Tyler Junior College defensive end William Coleman looks to be the one that will hit the field first out of the 2014 defensive linemen. With the loss of defensive end Denico Autry to graduation, MSU needed a spot filled and they got one out of Coleman. The talented pass rusher flew under the radar this year but surprised and impressed many on the JUCO scene. He will give MSU a great pass rusher in passing downs.
The Bulldogs got their biggest news of the year when one of their main targets throughout the process switched his allegiances to the Bulldogs. Three-star defensive lineman Cory Thomas out of Alabama was a all-star in his state and a Tennessee commit. After months of speculation that Thomas would be a Bulldog back in the summer, the talented defender delayed his process before eventually committing to the Vols. In the end, the camaraderie that he built with players at MSU and recruits as well as coaches was too much to overcome.
Thomas will give the Bulldogs depth at defensive tackle and could see the field early in his career as MSU doesn't have an immediate need but might need to start his development early.
The Rest of the Group: MSU got two other defensive tackles in the class but both will be ones to watch in the future. Braxton Hoyett is a big-bodied run stopper out of Pelham (Ala.) who had a solid senior season ending as a member of the Alabama All-Stars. Hoyett has a nice frame to work with at 6'3, 277 and David Turner will get the most out of him.
State got more good news on signing day out of one of the state's top defensive lineman when Grant Harris announced for the Bulldogs. A long-time MSU lean, Harris played out the process but ended up becoming a Bulldog. Harris is listed as a defensive end and had problems thinking about a move inside but projects much better in the interior.
Misses: State had quite a few misses on the defensive line in this class and would have loved to fill up their roster with most of them. One of the biggest misses was four-star Marcus Griffin out of Washington who the Bulldogs got in on late. The talented All-American tackle loved his visit to Starkville and his recruiters, but the distance from the west coast to Starkville might have been the biggest factor as he chose Arizona.
The Bulldogs were also hot on the trail of South Carolina commit, Taylor Stallworth but the big defensive tackle shut down his recruitment after a visit to Columbia and never took an official to Starkville.
A late run at Alabama commit O.J. Smith went for naught when he got an official offer from Alabama and the greyshirt went out the window on signing day.
The linebacker group has begun to flourish under defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Geoff Collins. With most of the backers being long, lean and athletic, Collins has started to model his future recruits the same way. He got two solid defenders in four-star Gerri Green out of Greenville and three-star Georgia defender, Deshon Cooper.
Early Playing Time: Green has the opportunity to get on the field early although those chances diminished a bit when he suffered a knee injury late in the year this past season. Green is an athletic defender who might even grow into a defensive end at some point for the Bulldogs. When healthy, Green might be one of the top defenders in the country and will fit Collins' defense well.
The Rest of the Group: Cooper is another athletic linebacker that fits the mold among that group at MSU. Georgia made a late run at the talented athlete but never offered so the Bulldogs held on. He is a sleeper athlete that could find his way becoming another developed star.
The Bulldogs did a nice job restocking their defensive backfield in this class. With only one player leaving in safety Nickoe Whitley, MSU does nothing but gain from this group in 2014. State was able to secure signatures from two cornerbacks Chris Rayford and Lashard Durr) and two safeties (J.T. Gray and Brandon Bryant).
Early Playing Time: With very little safety depth, MSU needed a safety in the class. They did more than that getting two of the top safeties in the state. Bryant has the potential to hit the field early at safety and projects as a solid defender in the backfield. Bryant has good instincts and runs well downhill getting after the ball. He's should be a good player in his career but it's up to him whether he plays early or not.
The Rest of the Group: Corners Rayford and Durr can be brought along slowly by the MSU coaches but they have tools that the staff can work with. With the two having solid cover skills, I expect them to have good careers at MSU. Safety Gray finally got his big opportunity from MSU coaches and committed last weekend. He was simply too good to pass up on by the staff and he's a big pickup. He could be another player pushing for playing time but you can expect him to also be brought along slowly if needed.
Misses: MSU was all set in the class going into signing day, or so they thought. With very little drama in the first 11 months or so, the Bulldogs found themselves with plenty Wednesday morning. MSU four-star commit Tee Shepard committed to the Bulldogs last week and was set to sign but the Ole Miss Rebels hit the phone lines hard for a couple of days and pushed for his signature.
After a couple of hours with no papers sent to MSU, fans began to wonder what was going on. Around noon, news broke that Ole Miss had signed Shepard and he made the flip at the last minute. It wasn't a huge loss in the overall scheme with MSU's corners being deep and talented. However, losing an elite prospect, especially to a rival, is not something that sat well with MSU fans.