It’s not Pernell McPhee’s style to say where he rates among the top defensive linemen in college football, or even the SEC, heading into next season.
Talking about himself doesn’t come naturally.
What does come naturally for Mississippi State’s talented defensive end is making life miserable for whoever’s trying to block him that game.
“I want him to know that I’m going to be there all day,” McPhee said.
The Bulldogs wrap up their spring on Saturday with their annual Maroon-White spring game. For the most part, it’s been a spring dominated by McPhee and his cohorts up front defensively.
It’s a defensive line, particularly with sophomore tackles Fletcher Cox and Josh Boyd blossoming, that should be one of the best Mississippi State has fielded in a long time.
But, then, players like McPhee don’t come around that often.
The best news for Mississippi State fans is that McPhee figures to be an even more complete player in 2010. At 6-4, he expects to play at about 285 pounds next season after playing at 275 a year ago.
His knowledge of the Mississippi State defense has grown exponentially along with his feel of what offenses are trying to do.
“I was playing mostly on instincts and talent last year,” McPhee said. “I was just going on the snap and not really with the smarts I needed to. I’m more of a student of the game now. I’m into the film work, studying the guy I’m going against, what offenses are doing with different formations and picking up the little things that make the difference.
“I’m all about creating trouble in the backfield, and I think I’ll be able to do more of that next season.”
McPhee, who came to Mississippi State from Itawamaba (Miss.) Community College, created his share of problems for opposing offenses last season in his first junket through the SEC. He finished tied for fourth among SEC defensive ends with 12 tackles for loss, including five sacks. He also led the Bulldogs with eight quarterback hurries.
“I still didn’t play at the speed I wanted to,” McPhee said. “I feel like I was going hard all the time. I’m always going to do that. I just want to make more big plays. That’s what I have to bring to this team next year.”
McPhee hit it off immediately with first-year defensive line coach Chris Wilson, who saw a few big-time defensive linemen come through Norman during his time on the Oklahoma staff.
McPhee said Wilson speaks his language.
“He wants to attack, and that’s the way I like to play,” McPhee said. “We’re going to go after people this year.”
And while McPhee won’t say it himself, he heads into the 2010 season as one of the premier defensive linemen in the SEC. It’s a group that includes Alabama’s Marcell Dareus, South Carolina’s Cliff Matthews, LSU’s Drake Nevis, Tennessee’s Chris Walker, Kentucky’s DeQuin Evans and Ole Miss’ Jerrell Powe and Kentrell Lockett.
A big senior season could push McPhee to the forefront nationally. He admits that he considered turning pro following last season, but felt like he needed another year of college ball to develop.
“The best defensive ends do it all,” McPhee said. “They rush the passer. They play the run. They force turnovers. They make things happen. I’m talking about guys like Julius Peppers. That’s where I want to get to as a player, and I’m going to keep pushing myself to get there.”