The only likely starter Mississippi State coach Chris Wilson says he can be confident about right now is Pernell McPhee.
That’s not to say the Bulldogs defensive line coach doesn’t have options.
“I’ve got right now seven guys and I like to travel with eight during the season but we’ll see how that last guy develops,” Wilson said.
Last spring Wilson eloquently summed up what Friday’s split-squad session signified as the team added shoulder pads to the practice equation for the first time this preseason.
“You’re out of pajamas and now you see who’s really prepared to put their face on people and be physical,” Wilson said.
McPhee, an all-conference second-team selection, obviously stands out in a group looking to replace two starters but only totaled 19 sacks as a team in 2009.
The defensive line, which is supposed to be a much more experienced and productive unit from the ’09 results, looks to currently be two-deep at every position but McPhee’s left end position with local red-shirt freshman Johnathan McKenzie from Starkville Academy and sophomore Trevor Stigers vying for that spot. Stigers suffered a left knee injury that MSU officials said would be evaluated today as he left practice hobbling with an ice wrap on the knee.
On the right hand side of McPhee is six guys fighting for the two inside tackle positions and the opposite rush end where Wilson feels is too early to announce who’ll start the season opener Sept. 4 against Memphis.
“You’ve got Nick Bell and Sean Ferguson competing for one position,” Wilson said. “To be quite honest, you’ve got Fletcher Cox and Devin Jones fighting at the three (nose tackle) technique. Josh Boyd is being pushed by James Carmon which is a plus.”
Carmon is a 330-pound defensive tackle that his head coach has called publicly “one of the biggest human beings I’ve ever seen in my life” and is looking to translate his junior college All-American at Gulf Coast Community College into Southeastern Conference action.
“We’re really trying to prove a point to the SEC and the whole world that we can compete with the best,” Carmon said. “I think that’s what we’re going to do.”
Friday’s split-squad workout saw the defensive line starting candidates split between the afternoon and evening sessions giving both set of players plenty of repetitions.
Mullen, who was highly critical of the energy level of the first practice mostly consisting of the starters and newcomers, talked Friday afternoon about the heat being a distraction that he didn’t see as much out of the players Tuesday in similar conditions.
“We got to be better and coming out here, warm day and you get a little adversity out there, this is what it is,” Mullen said. “You going to find out what type of team you have during a little adversity like this.”
The wild card on the depth chart could be Yazoo City’s Kaleb Eulls as a traditional 4-3 defensive end with his hand in the ground and also showcasing him as a stand-up pass rusher in a seven or eight-man box front.
“We move him around and that’s the great thing about him,” Wilson said. “He’s at about 276 pounds (but) we’d like to get him down to about 265 and hold while still keeping his athleticism.”
Eulls was a four-star recruit and picked the Bulldogs after receiving offers from Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana State and Ole Miss. Eulls made headlines off the field in a positive way when he and his three younger sisters were the main students involved in saving the lives of 22 passengers on a school bus when a 14-year old female student boarded the bus armed with a .380 semi-automatic handgun threatening to shoot and ordering the bus driver to pull over.
According to reports, Eulls then opened up the emergency door located in the back and began evacuating as many students as he could from the rear of the bus while trying to reason with the armed female.
Mullen confirmed the whole team will practice Saturday at the South Farm fields until Aug. 17 and had moved the 105 players on the roster into a team hotel Friday night.