September 6, 2017 11:39:52 AM
STARKVILLE -- Last year's Louisiana Tech defense ranked 25th in the nation in tackles for a loss against FBS teams, 7th among Group of 5 conference teams, in averaging 6.46 per game. It also returns five defensive linemen responsible for 33 of those 88 tackles for a loss.
On Saturday, that unit could be a handful for a Mississippi State offensive line breaking in two new starters with the three familiar names taking on new positions. MSU coach Dan Mullen is well aware of the talent that's come from the Louisiana Tech defensive line in recent years -- Vernon Butler was drafted in the first round of the 2016 draft just a couple of years after Justin Ellis went in the fourth round -- but he also sees his own offensive line coming into Week Two as an improved product.
"A lot of good stuff to teach off of," Mullen said of what he saw from the unit against Charleston Southern. "There was some really quality, quality work, quality play, then a little bit of inconsistencies at times, and that happens with young players. The good thing is you're getting reps and you can see this is the exact right way to do it."
In the things to learn from, Mullen mentioned two false starts penalties that were attributed to right tackle Stewart Reese, making his first career start, that were actually due to an incorrectly timed snap. Mullen said that issue can be corrected in the week, but it's not going to be any easier at Louisiana Tech.
"We'll be different because for a lot of guys it will be their first time playing in a road game, playing in a hostile environment," Mullen said.
The 2017 Louisiana Tech defense line is expected to be led by Jaylon Ferguson once again, whose 14.5 sacks last year were third nationally and 16 tackles for a loss last year were top 30. In Louisiana Tech's season opening win against Northwestern State, four defensive linemen were credited with tackles for a loss: Jordan Bradford, Courtney Wallace, Deldrick Canty and Cedric Johnson. Canty was the second-best lineman on last year's team with 5.5 tackles for a loss and two sacks.
Hoyett, Dear update
MSU defensive lineman Braxton Hoyett did not play against Charleston Southern, but Mullen expects him to be ready to go against Louisiana Tech.
"He practiced (Sunday)," Mullen said. "It was close for the game, he just didn't come along as quickly as we hoped he would. We expect everybody to play that is supposed to play."
MSU's interior defensive line play did not suffer in his absence: Jeffery Simmons notched five tackles and his first career sack, Cory Thomas had four tackles and forced a fumble and Tre Brown had two tackles in the game's final minutes.
On the subject of wide receiver Malik Dear, Mullen said MSU is a week or two away from making a decision on him. Dear injured his knee in the spring but Mullen has not officially ruled him out of playing in the 2017 season.
Depth chart changes
The three days between MSU's season opener and Tuesday's release of the Week Two depth chart was enough time for MSU to make four changes.
The first was a matter of necessity, removing defensive end Chauncey Rivers from the depth chart after Mullen announced Saturday he will require an academic redshirt. On the other side of the line, fellow junior college transfer Montez Sweat moved up to starting outside linebacker, bumping Marquiss Spencer from first to second at the position.
The new depth chart had Gabe Myles listed as the leading punt returner; he was not listed at the position before, but he was the only Bulldog to return a punt against Charleston Southern. Finally, Tucker Day was listed as the outright starter at place kicker, after previously being listed side-by-side with Jordan Lawless. Day missed two of his three attempts against Charleston Southern but Mullen said after the game he expects Day to treat it as a challenge and come back better.
MSU claims 16 on NFL rosters
National Football League franchises cut down the their final 53-man rosters over the weekend and 16 for MSU players made the cut. The new addition to the group is rookie wide receiver Fred Ross, who made the Carolina Panthers but is currently on the injured reserve list as he battles an ankle injury.
Of the 16, five are either on the practice squad or on the injured reserve, meaning the first week of the NFL season could see 11 former Bulldogs see the field.
Eight of them are currently listed as starters on the depth chart: offensive lineman Gabe Jackson (Oakland Raiders), defensive lineman Fletcher Cox (Philadelphia Eagles), quarterback Dak Prescott (Dallas Cowboys), defensive end Chris Jones (Kansas City Chiefs), linebacker Bernardrick McKinney (Houston Texans), cornerback Darius Slay (Detroit Lions), linebacker K.J. Wright (Seattle Seahawks) and linebacker Preston Smith (Washington Redskins).
No comment on Leo Lewis
Mullen did not comment on the impact of linebacker Leo Lewis' ongoing involvement with the NCAA's investigation into improper recruiting by the Ole Miss football program. It is possible that Lewis could travel to Kentucky for Ole Miss' hearing later this month, but Mullen would not comment on how such a move might impact game preparation.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter, @Brett_Hudson
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