"In college football it is who is making the tackles, who is making the plays, who is containing the ball," the coach said. "Those are the most important parts."
Meaning in Mullen's eyes this senior from Vicksburg plays as important a role as any starter on offense or defense, or for that matter the guys who put foot to ball. It is an idea Bure hasn't just accepted; he enjoys this responsibility.
This opportunity, rather.
"I'm on the coverage teams," Bure said. "I'm basically the guy that knifes off the edge, not the one that gets blocked. I'm the one racing down the field and making sure they get tackled."
Notice he said ‘making sure' there is a tackle. This might not necessarily mean Bure makes the tackle, or at least the initial hit. He is among the cover-Dogs charged with insuring a return man doesn't get loose for long. It is something Mississippi State has done pretty well the last couple of years, especially so on punt plays. Bulldog special squads have not allowed a punt return touchdown since the 2009 LSU game; and it needs going all the way back to 2006 for the last kickoff run back for a score.
More meaningful in Mullen's mind has been creating field position for his defense to work with. In a dozen games this year opponents managed a total of 114 yards returning 23 punts; that's out of 66 kicked, too, as return men think twice before fielding or much less running with the ball. Kickoffs haven't been quite as efficient but that has to do with how deep those balls are booted more than coverage.
So Bure and gang are getting it done. They're making sure of a tackle or fair-catch. Oh, but don't think Bure has only offered insurance support. He's gotten in on some stops of his own and tallied 17 tackles as a senior. Yes, there is a particular hit that stands out.
Yes, it was in his last home game, and last shot against the arch-rival. "The one against The School Up North," Bure smiled. "That punt." The fourth quarter kick he means. Though a lopsided first three quarters were great fun of course, for a kick-cover guy the 2011 Egg Bowl was a bit boring. The offense was so brutally efficient rolling over the Rebels that State had just one punt in the whole first half.
In the third period Bure got in on a tackle shared with fellow backup cornerback Jamerson Love, dropping Rebel Philander Moore for loss of four yards. Ahhh, but in the fourth quarter Bure had Moore alllll to himself. Moore made the mistake of fielding Baker Swedenburg's 51-yard boomer at the eleven-yard line; moments later he was laying on the seven with #41 responsible.
"So I was pretty excited after that!" Bure said. No fool, Moore signaled surrender on the remaining State punts.
Not all Bure's senior-season work was with special teams. He was able to get some turns at cornerback, the position he practiced well enough in spring and August to give the starters a real push. The reality though was Corey Broomfield and Johnthan Banks had those positions locked up for the season. It is never easy for a senior, especially one who has put in five full seasons as Bure has done, to accept backup duty.
But he handled the situation as well as a coach could hope. "I mean, I would like more time," Bure said. "But I'm happy with what I'm doing. I know my role and I know how to play it."
Besides, it isn't as if his coach regards what Bure and peers have done as second-rate. In fact, Mullen rewarded Bure after his previous work as special teams player of the year. "And the great thing, I think he's picked up some other players' play on special teams," the coach noted. "Because they can look at him, watch his performance level on special teams."
Bure relates that he did play on kicking units at Vicksburg High, so he had a working knowledge of the role upon 2007 arrival at MSU. But… "Well, you come in and you want to play on defense. You don't really think about special teams and all that." A change in coaches mid-way of Bure's career changed his thinking about such things.
"After Coach Mullen gave me an opportunity to play on special teams, he told me how good it is, I embraced the role. And I kept doing what I'm doing." Meaning, he added, he doesn't see covering a kick as anything less, or more, than covering a receiver. "Not really, just another way to make a play."
It isn't always so easy, said Mullen. "Because I think a lot of young players think oh, if I'm not a returner I'm not the star of special teams." No wonder Mullen points to Bure as best example of what it means to take the field for State and cover kicks. For that matter, if the head coach had his way the official statistics would list all these Dogs as part of the starting lineups, not just offense and defense.
"So I think he's been a great role model for young guys, how hard he goes at it. And, that that is his role. I mean, he's a backup corner, plays a little bit of DB; but he is a starter on special teams. And everybody has a role on the team. When you get everybody to buy in and believe that100% of your role is doing it to the best of your ability, like guys like Marvin have done, you're going to have a successful football team."
Somebody has been listening. And watching. Bure has noticed a marked change of attitude towards kick coverage clubs among his own peers, and especially from the younger pups.
"Yes, I see it all the time. Freshmen as they come in fight to get on special teams. Like when we do special teams drills, they're always trying to get in the front of the line and all that. So that's the main part of this team, special teams."
Bure has his part to play one more game, in another post-season date at that as Mississippi State takes to LP Field for the Music City Bowl. The Bulldogs have had plenty to scout from opponent Wake Forest on both sides of the ball; a big passing offense and an aggressive defense. But Bure has had his expert's eye on what the Demon Deacons do when receiving a kicked football.
And he's impressed, especially how Wake Forest doesn't just return a punt but try to block it outright. "Their coach does a great job on special teams. They come after the punter and all, so we have to execute very well in all our jobs." Then Bure added, "Like we have been doing all year."
Mississippi State wrapped up the campus portion of bowl camp Tuesday morning. Players return on Christmas for the December 26 trip to Nashville with the first game-prep practice set for that day at Vanderbilt.