Broomfield Likes Aggressive Spring Approach

Know all that hitting of quarterbacks seen in Saturday's scrimmage? It's nothing personal, swears Corey Broomfield; just practical from his defensive point of view. "If we don't hit them they get points, when we do hit ‘em they get mad!" Broomfield explained. "So we just hit them anyway."

Stout talk from a cornerback, perhaps. And goodness knows fans cringe just a bit when they hear about triggermen taking spring shots, especially the starter. But when one has a head coach keeping score, a strength coach blowing the stop-whistle, and a revised defensive staff preaching upgraded aggression, well…as Dan Mullen often reminds, this isn't flag football.

Nor are Broomfield and his Bulldog cohorts a bunch to wave a surrender flag just to please their offensive counterparts. "If Coach Mullen is going to keep giving them points, then if the quarterback keeps going I'm going to hit him!" Which the junior corner indeed did, rattling the ball free from none other than starting quarterback Chris Relf.

Then again the Bulldogs on both sides would have been a bit difficult to contain in their first live scrimmage of this spring. Or put better, the first time to play something like real football since Mississippi State walked off the Gator Bowl field with a trophy and the glow of a 9-4 breakout season.

"First time out there together as a unit, it's just good to be back," said Broomfield. "We just tried to pick up where we left off." Speaking of picking up…that aforementioned forced fumble was scooped by Broomfield and returned, with the first-team defense celebrating almost as much as if scoring against a Wolverine. Or Rebel.

Now after a few days to digest the results of that first, and structured, scrimmage, State's staff puts the players back on the practice field today to resume camp. In the case of Broomfield and the Bulldog secondary, it's a return to instruction and execution under the revamped management of overall coordinator Chris Wilson and new co-boss Geoff Collins.

So far, says Broomfield, so good.

"It's coming along great. Everybody is buying into what Coach Wilson is telling to us. And we're going to play hard and play together." By the way, what would line coach Wilson be selling this season? "Play hard, and get better every day. And focus on things you can control."

If that sounds simplistic, don't fear. The spring of '11 is still a time for teaching new or more advanced aspects to playing Bulldog defense. Not so much because of coaching staff changes, which Broomfield says hasn't altered the foundational approach. No, because Wilson has taken charge of an all-veteran group of defensive backs coached by familiar aides Tony Hughes (safeties) and Melvin Smith (cornerbacks).

"We've got an older group, everybody that is out there has played and started at least one or two games," said Broomfield. At least? SS Charles Mitchell has 25 starts to his college credit; CB Johnthan Banks 20; backup S Nickoe Whitley 11; FS Wade Bonner five; and so on. Broomfield himself has opened 16 games in two varsity seasons. And four of the current two-deep Dogs are seniors with a couple of juniors as well.

Yeah, that counts as experienced. So beyond a few tweaks to the general scheme and a few more aggressive additional plays State is playing with this spring, the core continues. "It's a new year," Broomfield said. "But we're going to do the same things. We're going to run to the ball and we're going to tackle."

Note how Broomfield begins with tackling. This in no way diminishes the standard cover-corner duties. And if Mullen came away from the first scrimmage annoyed at one aspect, it was downfield coverage. It wasn't that the cornermen and safeties weren't in positions; they were. It was a tendency to relax at the last moment, or what Mullen called being "lazy", that resulted in catches or interference calls. Of course Mullen added that the quarterbacks and receivers are raising their games this spring, too, so coverage is a little tougher in 2011 than in previous camps. Offensive-loving fans are cheered by that news.

Still this is not a program that plays for shootouts. So the defensive staff has some areas to emphasize in this week's drills as State prepares for an even more serious scrimmage this Saturday. Besides, Broomfield said, the secondary wasn't satisfied with any second-rate performances. Especially his guys. They expect better of themselves this season.

"The cornerbacks, we're trying to get to the next level. Everybody is experienced out there. Marvin Bure, Damein Anderson, Banks, we've all been there and done that. So we're done with the basics. Now we're trying to go to the next level, of being great corners."

But Broomfield has great opportunity to stand out in his additional duty. Though the smallest of the regular DBs, his knack for working in traffic and getting into backfields makes the 5-10, 180 pounder the current top choice to play nickel-corner. That was how he got the fumble-forcing hit on Relf, in fact, lining up in a slot—with senior Anderson taking over at left corner—and shooting through untouched.

"Yeah, Coach Collins and Coach Wilson like the way I come off the edge. So it's a chance to get off the island. I get to play with the big boys!" State has shown a alternate nickel package too, where first safeties Mitchell and Banks are joined by Whitley. The stouter unit tends to use in run-stuffing, but has the speed to rush as well.

Either way, all this mixing and matching signals something about the 2011 Dog defense. "That means Coach trusts us," Broomfield said. "Because we run some real dangerous stuff. So when he can trust us and runs stuff, we can do a lot of fun stuff on defense. And it just allows you to make plays."

Hmmm, so, what sorts of things might we expect to see? "I can't give away all the secrets!" laughed Broomfield. "But we run some stuff other people don't do."

Popular opinion is the secondary might need to take some chances to make some plays as State restocks a graduation-depleted linebacker corps. Broomfield isn't buying this notion. He's seen this group perform before and isn't worried.

"The linebackers this year are new, but they're not really new. I mean, they got a lot of reps during practices last year and they did a lot. So don't get as much credit as they should. They played a lot last year. So we don't feel like we lost them, they're just finally playing. I love Cam, Brandon, Matt, Chris, all of them. They run to the ball, and that's one thing as a corner you like, people that are going to run to the ball and hit. I like seeing that."

Though, Broomfield admits, not having Chris White and K.J. Wright up there scoring all the stats might just offer his unit some opportunity. "I can kind of pad my stats this year, I guess!" Which would be fun…almost as much fun as hearing new coach Collins turning the springtime air purple these days as he offers his new input.

"Coach Collins is a great guy. He provides us with a lot of energy, so when he's out there you can always hear him with that squeaky voice. But he keeps you going!"

Broomfield and Bulldogs report back to the practice field this afternoon, weather permitting, for another round of instruction and review. Again, he believes, so far, so good…but not good enough yet.

"We've pretty much got everything in, so we're going to try to get better at the little things. stepping with the right foot, staying in your gaps, just simple stuff. I mean, all the thinking should be out of the way now."

State will practice again Thursday and Friday, and have the heaviest scrimmage of spring Saturday.

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