"It's really wide-open competition out there," says Love. "And Coach wants to see what everybody can do."
And Love really means ‘everybody'. Through the first four spring practices keeping track of the cornerbacks, whether by pecking-order on the separate sides or the pairings per team, has been a top topic. It's also made early-camp depth charts worth less than the virtual-paper they are typed on. But that's what this particular spring is all about, per Love.
"Really the first couple of days was a teaching tempo for the guys. Just trying to get everybody into a good rhythm and learning the playbook." As well as learning how to with and/or off each other. Love doesn't blink in the pre-snap huddle to find himself paired with a redshirt freshman, a walk-on, whoever. "We're just coming along right now. It's just the first couple of practices and I think we'll get better as the spring goes on."
Of course Love does have a little more position-security to speak from this year. He's the ranking veteran of this group with two varsity letters and 25 games-played. One of these was even a start, when he opened last November against Texas A&M as part of a nickel package. Not surprisingly he tallied a career-best six tackles that day, and two weeks later Love scored his first interception as a Bulldog in the Arkansas game. The fast finish to the sophomore season is another reason he came into this spring as a first-teamer.
"I just feel I have to lead and show those guys the way and keep that legacy going. There's been some great DBs around this program and I want to keep that going."
Speaking of those ‘great DBs'…the legacy of Johnthan Banks, Corey Broomfield, Darius Slay, those three MSU-keteers of 2011 and '12, does naturally loom over this spring. For that matter the rebuilding extends to the coaching staff. For the first time since 2006 there is a new face in the cornerbacks meeting room, and Deshea Townsend is himself a brand-new college coach.
Love might not be the oldest Dog around but even so this has been an adjustment, if nothing else to hearing a different voice during drills.
"First couple of day it kind of took a minute," he admits. "Because we were still trying to do things Coach (Melvin) Smith's way. But now everything is going good." Not least, he says, because while position coaches change there are some foundational facts in Coach Dan Mullen's approach to practices. "That's one thing this program is really based on. Relentless effort, and the defense going hard."
Love knows effort. So instead of assuming his experience and standing would guarantee him a first-team job now, he's joined the daily fight as if brand-new. For one thing, Townsend and coordinator Geoff Collins aren't yet to the point of locking anyone into a specific position of field or boundary cornerback.
"We're just playing left and right, right now. We really don't know which side we're going to play at. I've been working at both. I kind of like the boundary though. It's the short side of the field and if you can get a handle on the receiver you can really use the sideline to your advantage." But he'll work the field-side every day and in upcoming scrimmages as needed. Not least because the other seasoned cornerback, Taveze Calhoun, is sidelined this spring with a shoulder condition.
Now that they're at work together, Love has quickly appreciated what Townsend offers this secondary. "He's a great guy, he's played 12 years in the league and that's an advantage to us. Because he can teach us some of his knowledge." Which comes straight from Townsend's experience at the highest levels of this sport, adds Love. It means when the new coach talks, Bulldog d-backs listen.
"Yeah, it's a big advantage. Because most players don't get that, teaching from a guy that actually played in the NFL. We've just got to take in what he's giving us and go with it and work hard every day." By the way, has Townsend used his Super Bowl championship rings to help make meeting-room points yet?
"Nah, he hasn't brought them up here. But he says when he moves all his stuff from Arizona he'll be able to show them to us."
If Mississippi State were playing an opponent right now Love would be on one corner and sophomore Cedric Jiles the other. As it is, that flock of redshirted or new corner-candidates are taking regular turns. Last Friday for instance, when redshirt Will Redmond paired-up with Jiles in the first rotation. Juco Justin Cox and prep schooler Kivon Coman were the second tag-team, but also got to take snaps with the rest of the first defense. And so on it goes into week-three.
Oh, and as far as respecting their elder…Love laughs. Those guys want his presumed job.
"Oh, I know! They're very talented so I know I've got to work even harder, you know? And just stay consistent with my work and keep grinding." His on-field response has seemingly kept Love a step-ahead of an aggressive pack, too.
"I feel I raised my game. I worked on some key points Coach was telling us about, about staying in our backfield a little bit longer and trying to read routes. And I felt like I really did that, and tried to help the other guys with their technique."
There's one other spring-angle to this competition. Obviously Love likes an offense that can complete passes and put up points…just not when he's on the practice field. Put another way: across the line of scrimmage is another bunch of mostly-young receivers competing for three graduation-opened positions in an expanding passing game. There's no better way right now than burning a defensive back.
Sure, it gets chirpy and maybe even chippy some snaps out there. But "It's really just fun," says Love. "I just love to do it, I love competition. We've got new receivers out there, some we've never gone up against.
"But those guys are very talented, man, and just have to keep working and getting better every day. And I feel we'll be great one day." So, Jamerson, who has caught your experienced eye among the pass-catchers so far? "Fred Brown, Joe Morrow, and Brandon Holloway. Those guys, man, they're going to have a big impact on this year's team." Which doesn't include what Malcolm Johnson and Brandon Hill have been doing, obviously; those are usually assigned to linebackers and safeties.
Regardless of who or where, the competition resumes Tuesday at practice and will really spike Saturday at a scheduled noon scrimmage. Nobody will be wearing tee-shirts then. Well, except maybe Banks, Bromfield, or Slay are observing from a sideline again.
"They were at the last practice and it was good seeing those guys. But when I see them it makes me go even harder. Because I want to be the best. I want to be better than John Banks and Corey Broomfield and Darius Slay."
Tuesday practice is 4:00, as is Thursday.