But if their coordinator comes across cautious, nobody doubts that when Mississippi State does pull on full pads next week the Bulldog defense will welcome full-contact. Whether teammates they are running into enjoy it as much will have to be seen.
What is clear already is Manny Diaz’ enjoyment of this second stint running the Mississippi State defense. His work with the 2010 Bulldogs is fondly remembered in these quarters. And if fans weren’t happy to see Diaz exit after one season, they’re more than pleased he has come back to campus and will apply his touch to the 2015 unit.
One which Diaz says has plenty of potential, because there is so much athletic ability to work with. So, “I don’t believe our issue will be physical,” he said Friday. “The question is can we mentally handle the responsibility of doing our jobs?”
That comment tells all anyone needs know of what Diaz and staff have in mind for this spring session. They have much to teach and 14 practices, including two scrimmages, to do it in. Time is most definitely not being wasted, as the rushed pace of the first two days showed.
“The guys have worked hard,” said Diaz. “But we threw a lot at them, we’ve challenged them mentally. Where in a lot of ways things are the same and then in some ways they’re different. They’ve embraced it.”
Embracing a new coordinator obviously means embracing a new system. Though, Diaz said, those watching the work so far might not see big changes.
“I think there are some things more under-the-hood that may be different but from outside the car it will look the same. But how it runs is different.”
What Diaz does intend to change is how this team runs into people. Tackling, that is, a sore topic after the last two games of last season. But to Diaz this isn’t just a matter of getting tougher or running faster and hitting harder.
Technique counts. So linebacker coach Diaz will go show some techniques to, say, cornerbacks; while safeties coach Tony Hughes has the defensive linemen for a period, and line boss David Turner coaches up the safeties. “Everybody circles around and shows them different ways of tackling which they can put in,” Diaz explained.
“It’s everybody preaching out of the same hymnbook in all things. Certainly we’re committed to tackling, we’ve changed a little bit of our system of tackling. You can’t be a great defensive football team without being a great tackling team. It’s the first thing we talked about with the team when I got here and had them all together.”
This tackling-teaching gets tested next Tuesday when camp resumes. Between now and then Diaz and aides will go through the first two days of drills and situational practices, evaluate, adjust, and have a plan ready for the next week. If the initial days are a good indication, it will be a detailed plan indeed.
“We’re trying to tie all the positions into one another where we feel the presence, whether it’s run or pass we fit it together as eleven. The only issue with that is, ten-of-eleven is a fail. And they understand it. That will be the battle over the next 13 days.”
The full Friday interview with Coach Diaz follows.