Spring preview: Georgia State’s defense

Mackendy Cheridor's season was cut short by a knee injury. (Curtis Compton / AJC)

Mackendy Cheridor’s season was cut short by a knee injury. (Curtis Compton / AJC)

Georgia State will begin spring practice on Monday, looking to build off a 2014 season that started with promise, but ended with many disappointments.

The Panthers finished 1-11 with many close losses early, before injuries and the resulting lack of depth saw the blowout losses pile up.

Much of the recruiting focus in the offseason was on improving a defense that was statistically one of the worst in the FBS last season and strengthening an offensive line and running backs group that was hurt by injuries.

You can read a breakdown of the offense by clicking here.

Here is a breakdown of the position groups on defense:

Defensive line: This group may have been the most disappointing of any on Georgia State’s team last year. Many thought Shawayne Lawrence, Jalen Lawrence and Tevin Jones would build off the experience gained as freshmen and turn in promising sophomore years. Instead, they may have taken a step back. Shawayne Lawrence lost his starting job for a short time. He finished with just one sack and 3 1/2 tackles for loss. Jalen Lawrence had just 2 ½ tackles for loss. Jones also finished with 2 ½.

Switching to their efforts against the run, opponents rushed for 303.4 rushing yards per game, second-most in FBS.

The group shouldn’t receive 100 percent of the blame. In the scheme Georgia State started the season, the trio were supposed to try to tie up blockers so the linebackers could make plays. Eventually, the scheme was subtlety changed so that the linemen could try to make plays.

Either ways, in two years the defensive line has been disappointing.

Hence the several new faces that have enrolled.

Joining the Lawrences and Jones are DeQueszman Kelley, a 285-pound end, and 325-pound Julien Laurent at nose guard.

Mackendy Cheridor, who is recovering from a season-ending knee injury, is moving from outside linebacker to defensive end, which means the line could have three new starters by spring’s end.

Linebacker: This will be an interesting position group to watch because three places could be up for grabs. It’s assumed that Joseph Peterson, one of the captains last year, will be one of the starters. Inside linebacker Trey Payne was a surprise last year as a redshirt freshman, finishing as the team’s second-leading tackler to Peterson.

There are many players who are developing or who transferred in who will push Peterson and Payne. The top candidates are UAB transfer Alonzo McGee, who had 42 tackles in 12 games last year and who can also play strongside linebacker, and one-time Michigan signee Kaleb Ringer, who averaged nearly 13 tackles a game at Butler Community College last year. Also competing will be Niemus Bryant, Ed Curney, Kight Dallas and Malik Ricks in a group that hasn’t had this type of depth in at least three years.

With Cheridor moving to defensive end and Jarrell Robinson graduating, both outside spots will be up for grabs.

The coaching staff is excited about Michael Shaw, who redshirted last year. He had the best pass-rushing instincts of any player on the team. And this team desperately needs someone who can get to the quarterback after posting just 12 sacks last year. James Traylor will also be a contender to start outside, along with Melvin King. This group doesn’t have the depth as the inside group, which means McGee may move to strongside or Bryant may move outside.

Cornerback: Another group to watch. Though statistically fine last year in giving up less than 200 yards per game those stats are deceiving because teams didn’t need to pass against such a porous run defense. When they did need to pass, they didn’t have many issues doing so because the pass rush was so weak.

Competing in this group will be Bruce Dukes, who started 12 games last year and finished well, along with returning starter Marcus Caffey, UAB transfer Dominique Davis, B.J. Clay, Robert Dowling, Antreal Allen and Chandon Sullivan, among others.

Safety: Batiste returns and will be pushed by UAB transfer Bobby Baker, Cloves Campbell, Sullivan, Dartez Jacobs, LaDarion Young and Bryan Williams. Young and Williams played last year before suffering season-ending injuries. Baker led UAB with 19 tackles through three games before suffering a season-ending injury. He will be limited this spring. Campbell had seven interceptions, returning three for touchdowns, last year at Scottsdale Community College.

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