OK, time for Part 2 of my look at what Dan Mullen's Mississippi State squad will put on the field in 2010, this time the defense and special teams. As with the offense, I'm not including 2010 commitments, because they haven't signed yet. Perhaps I'll update these projections just before spring practices begin.

The defense loses four starters from this year, while special teams loses nobody.

Defensive ends

-2009 starters: Pernell McPhee, Jr.; Brandon Cooper, Jr.; Sean Ferguson, So.; 2009 backups: Nick Bell, RFr.; Devin Jones, RFr.

-2010 top candidates: McPhee; Ferguson; Bell; Jones

-Analysis: Although still raw in his technique – he didn't play high school football until his senior season – McPhee is a beast at 6-foot-4, 270 pounds. He was second-team All-SEC and should be a huge force in the league next season. Ferguson made improvement this year and should be ready to take over the other starting position – he and Cooper split the starts – but Mullen likes rotating his lineman, so everyone will get a shot here.

-Likely Week 1 starters: McPhee, Ferguson

Defensive tackles

-2009 starters: Kyle Love, Sr.; Charles Burns, Sr.; Josh Boyd, Fr.; Fletcher Cox, Fr.; 2009 backups: Only Love made more than five starts, so it was a revolving door mostly involving the other three.

-2010 top candidates: Boyd; Cox; Trevor Stigers, RFr.; Joshua Jackson, So.

-Analysis: Boyd and Cox were used out of necessity at a thin position, and they were impressive, combining for 46 tackles. This unit should get some immediate help from the 2010 newcomers, but again, I'm not factoring in unsigned players.

-Likely Week 1 starters: Boyd, Cox

Strong side linebacker

-2009 starter: K.J. Wright, Jr.; 2009 backup: Terrell Johnson, So.

-2010 top candidate: Wright

-Analysis: The tall (6-4), rangy Wright finished second on the team in tackles (82) for the second consecutive season, and he'll have to be the anchor of this group. He could move to the middle, but his ability to guard the edge is invaluable.

-Likely Week 1 starter: Wright

Middle linebacker

-2009 starter: Jamar Chaney, Sr.; 2009 backups: Brandon Wilson, RFr.; Jamie Jones, So.

-2010 top candidates: Wilson; Jones; Wright; Chris White, Jr.

-Analysis: Chaney was the unquestioned leader of the MSU defense, and he led the team with 90 tackles. He might not have made any postseason All-SEC teams, but he is going to be impossible to replace in just one year. Wilson (6-0, 240) is similar in size to Chaney, but he saw action in only six games and made 5 tackles. Again, Wright could slide over here, or even White, the starting WLB.

-Likely Week 1 starter: No idea. To quote Wright, "It's a wide open position."

Weak side linebacker

-2009 starter: Chris White, Jr.; 2009 backups: Karlin Brown, Jr.; Michael Hunt, RFr.

-2010 top candidate: White

-Analysis: White surprised some people with his speed and ball-hawking ability. Former coach Sylvester Croom was planning to put him in the middle and move Chaney back to this spot, but White thrived in this role, making 75 tackles.

-Likely Week 1 starter: White

Cornerbacks

-2009 starters: Marcus Washington, Sr.; Damein Anderson, So.; Maurice Langston, Jr. 2009 backups: Anderson, So.; Corey Broomfield, RFr.; Louis Watson, RFr.

-2010 top candidates: Broomfield; Langston; Anderson; Watson

-Analysis: Anderson started five of the first six games on the left side, but Langston started five of the last six (Watson and Broomfield drew one start apiece). Langston was OK, while Broomfield led the team with six INTs. The unit showed its youth at times but also had a penchant for big plays.

-Likely Week 1 starters: Broomfield, Langston

Safeties

-2009 starters: Charles Mitchell, So.; Johnthan Banks, Fr.; 2009 backups: Emmanuel Gatling, Jr.; Wade Bonner, So.

-2010 top candidates: Mitchell; Banks; Dennis Thames, Fr.; Nickoe Whitley, Fr.

-Analysis: Banks stepped in as a starter six games in when junior Zach Smith suffered a concussion (his career may be over), and he wound up with four INTs (and we all remember the Florida game). Mitchell is a hard hitter, but he still needs to work on keeping receivers in front of him.

-Likely Week 1 starters: Banks, Mitchell

And now we take a quick look at special teams.

Place kicker

-2009 starters: Sean Brauchle, Jr.; Derek DePasquale, Jr.

-2010 top candidates: Brauchle; DePasquale

-Analysis: Real simple: Brauchle hurt his leg five games into the season, and DePasquale took over and kicked well. Combined, those two made 16 of 21 field goals. Brauchle ought to win the job back with his stronger leg, but he's really going to have to earn it.

-Likely Week 1 starter: Brauchle

Punter

-2009 starter: Heath Hutchins, Jr.; 2009 backup: Baker Swedenburg, Fr.

-2010 top candidate: Hutchins

-Analysis: After a strong start, Hutchins' kicking average dipped significantly, and he wound up averaging just 39.7 yards per punt. The juco transfer was supposed to be a big upgrade over the departed Blake McAdams, who averaged 38.6 yards last year.

-Likely Week 1 starter: Hutchins

Kick returner

-2009 starter: Leon Berry, Jr.; 2009 backup: Chad Bumphis, Fr.

-2010 top candidates: Berry; Bumphis

-Analysis: Berry averaged 26.7 yards per return, third in the SEC. Bumphis chipped in more as the season went along and posted a 23.9-yard average.

-Likely Week 1 starter: Berry

Punt returner

-2009 starter: Berry; 2009 backup: Bumphis

-2010 top candidates: Berry; Bumphis; Maurice Langston, Jr.

-Analysis: Returning punts was Bumphis' specialty in high school, and he averaged 9.0 yards a return, compared to Berry's 7.7. If Bumphis can relieve Berry of this duty, it could help the latter find a more prominent role in the offense.

-Likely Week 1 starter: Bumphis

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