“Because I’m coming from a backup, to the man who is going to take the first reps. And I’ve got to set a standard for myself to come out every day to be better.”
So far, Kivon Coman has been meeting standards. Not just the self-imposed one, but what his coaches have set. As Mississippi State grinds through the fourth, and the toughest, week of spring football Coman is holding his first-squad status just fine.
How so? By taking nothing about #1 for granted.
Not his fundamentals, his technique, his understanding of the general defensive scheme, how he plays the run or the pass, not nothing. “You still have your wrinkles in just different things. And everybody can improve every day, come out every day want to get better at something.”
Spring 2015 is Coman’s time to make a move, for sure. Not only are both first-team safety jobs open after the graduations of Jay Hughes and Justin Cox. Returning starter Kendrick Market also is sidelined all semester after his late-2014 injury. So it is up to Coman to establish himself in the summer pecking order right now.
The same holds for fellow junior Deontay Evans, who started twice at free safety last season including the Orange Bowl where he was the team’s tackle leader. Coman and Evans know not only will Market be back for August camp, but a group of younger safeties are coming on strong themselves.
So, “We’re all learning. We’ve still got a lot to do, we get better every day,” Coman said. “The younger guys, Jahmere (Irvin-Sills) and Brandon Bryant, they’re coming along real well. Me and Deontay have to set the standard every day, we just have to come out and play.”
Coman has played of course. He finished the sophomore season with 39 tackles and six broken-up passes as an alternate. Coman was also a special teams regular, with a blocked field goal to his credit. Kicking-club duty is something he intends to continue even should he settle in as a starting safety.
But of course his primary focus for now is improving his position with Coach Tony Hughes and new coordinator Manny Diaz. The same holds for Evans, he added.
“We’ve got to be more a student of the game. More leaders, more vocal to the whole defense and the back-seven.” Not to mention the backup-two, converted cornerback Irvin-Sills and redshirt freshman Bryant. Yep, the newer kid wants a job; Coman’s in fact because Bryant is #2 at this specific spot.
It’s just a fact of football life that Coman now finds himself helping develop a guy to supplant him. “He’s still learning,” said Coman. “He’s going to be very good but he’s still learning. He’s got a lot to improve on. Jahmere is going to be good too. So we’re all basically buying-in with what Coach Diaz is telling us to do.”
Which is, what exactly? Without getting lost in the details Coman simplifies what the Mississippi State secondary and for that matter entire defense will do differently under new direction.
“We’re attacking more. We’re attacking way more.” OK, that sounds good. Fans love to hear of more aggression on their defense. Butttt…isn’t an attacking defensive backfield sorta, you know, risky? Well yes, and as Diaz himself said in the interview posted Tuesday mistakes in the secondary become touchdowns.
What Diaz and Hughes want to do differently this season, Coman explains, is reduce some of the load put on the back-seven last season. This isn’t any indication of doubt about abilities, or even lost experience. Coman, Evans, Market have made plays for years.
“He’s helping us out way, way more than last year. It’s been taking a lot of stress from us as far as coverage-wise,” Coman said. “And every coverage somebody is just getting so much strain on them, but he’s helping us out a lot.”
The real difference, at least in spring football, isn’t so much schematic. It is more basic.
“Coach Diaz brought a different way of tackling. And we got it from the Seahawks, actually.” Well, if a college club wants to copy a professional squad’s style, Seattle seems the right choice, huh?
“You see those guys with so many tackles, and we just want to buy-in to what they do and learn and feed of what they’ve got,” said Coman. “And we want to trust each other and be there for each other when it comes to tackling.”
This sounds really encouraging after some less-than-reliable tackling down the 2014 stretch. Interestingly though, Coman said while the Dogs are doing the ‘new’ style of sticking it is hard to see on the field.
“And you don’t notice doing it. But Coach Diaz maybe in film might ask you what kind of tackle is that? And you don’t really recognize you do it, you just do it out of instincts.” Trained instincts, actually, developed by an instruction circuit where every defensive coach inserts his specific tweaks and tricks to every Dog regardless of position.
Speaking of coaching… There is a new ‘assistant’ to old Dog Hughes this spring. Senior Market just can’t stay in the rehab corner. There are periods the veteran safety is out on the field behind Coman or Evans or somebody offering advice, making corrections, etc., before the whistle.
Even during live plays, “I can hear sometimes, on the sideline yelling ‘run, run!’ and we react to him,” Coman said. So does the spring #1 ever wish his elder would stick to rehabbing?
“Nah, I like him being out there with us, he gives us another set of eyes in the backfield! I love it if he doesn’t ever go to the bench.”
The only time Coman wants to be on the spring bench is while the second and third defenses are drilling. He does know that come August the competition doesn’t just resume, it will get even fiercer. For now? “I’m just coming out every day to get better and better as a player and as a leader.”