Defensive line fully stocked in store for Mississippi State as preseason camp begins

STARKVILLE — Mississippi State linebacker Jett Johnson has a running joke for Bulldogs defensive linemen.

“How many guys are you going to take today – two, three, four, all – so we can have tackles?” Johnson regularly asked.

It’s a sign of the confidence Johnson has in MSU’s D line, a unit poised to lead the team’s defense through the 2022 season. Not only are starters Jaden Crumedy, Cameron Young and Randy Charlton returning, but edge rusher Jordan Davis is training after missing all of 2021 with a reported torn ACL.

“These guys are doing a great job,” Johnson said. “I say we have the best D line in the country.”

That’s a high benchmark to break, but the Bulldogs certainly have as much experience as anyone. Crumedy and Davis are graduate students, Young is a redshirt senior, and Charlton is a fifth-year senior through a COVID-19 waiver.

And for the first time since last August, they are all on the ground. Crumedy and Young were restricted to spring camp, while Davis was still recovering from an injury sustained in a preseason scrimmage.

“We have more D-line players playing now than we did in the spring, so that’s good,” coach Mike Leach said Friday. “The force and push up is much more consistent.”

It’s not just the starting unit: the Bulldogs also have depth on the defensive line. Nathan Pickering had seven tackles for loss and four sacks last year; De’Monte Russell has shown promise as a passing thrower.

Both players help make MSU’s D-line one of the most tested units in the country – in the perfect position for it.

“You want veteran experience, especially in this league, that’s the area you want,” defensive coordinator Zach Arnett said.

Davis, who played occasionally for the Bulldogs in 2020, is one of them. Johnson praised the physical “attributes” of the former Copiah-Lincoln Community College standout, who is listed at 6-foot-4 and 270 pounds.

Leach was also appreciative of what the Memphis native brings to the table.

“He’s explosive,” Leach said of Davis. “He has long limbs. He’s a tough guy to stop. He has always made very good efforts and he still does. He’s a guy who’s been through a lot of adversity. He’s used to fighting things, and it shows.

“He’s a guy we’ve missed and a guy we know has something up his sleeve,” Charlton said of Davis. “We’re just happy to have him with us.”

Charlton said Russell, who enters his junior season in a redshirt, also has plenty of pass rushing skills. The Provine High School pass thrower had two quarterback hits and a forced fumble — but no sacks — in 11 games last year.

“He has a bag,” Charlton said. “That pass rush, he definitely has a bag on him. He is fine.

Russell is just one of many young D-line players who could make an impact in 2022 or beyond.

Trevion Williams of Crystal Springs was one of Mississippi State’s top recruits, Tupelo freshman Jacarius Clayton provides a 6-foot-6, 250-pound tall, and freshman year in redshirt Deonta Anderson saw representatives of the second team early on.

But it all starts with the guys up front, and seeing the same faces on the defensive line will be crucial for the Bulldogs in 2022.

“It’s a great feeling,” Young said. “You bring back the guys – the guys you really went to war with last year. It’s a great feeling to have these guys back and ready to do it again.

Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.

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