“We have guys that love to run and hit,” the third-year cornerbacks coach said. “We have guys that work hard anyway, it’s just a mindset that they know they’re going to go attack an offense.”
It’s certainly an approach suiting how Townsend, new coordinator Manny Diaz, and for that matter the entire Mississippi State staff ‘n squad prefer to play football. Don’t misunderstand. Sound and fundamental defense are still the foundation. The Bulldogs aren’t going crazy.
But a bit rabid? Yeah, that is a general idea again for Bulldog defense.
“Just a scheme of attacking more,” Townsend said. “I think that’s our mindset, making sure we attack the offense the same way they want to attack us.”
The timing is interesting. Back during Manny Diaz’s 2010 stint coordinating the Mississippi State defense, Deshea Townsend was still a National Football League cornerback.
Fast-forward to 2015. Townsend now coaches Bulldog cornerbacks, on a staff again coordinated by Diaz. There’s even a bit of irony how Townsend actually has more years here.
To hear the younger coach talk though, one would think this is a pairing meant to be. “It’s great,” Townsend said. “It’s a guy that loves ball, loves pressure, and loves to attack offense. That’s my thing. I’d rather play zero coverage. Send everybody and let us cover!”
Well, yeah, there will be plenty of that. Coverage is the first responsibility of any cornerback, since as Diaz says mistakes in the secondary become touchdowns. The 2014 Bulldogs didn’t give up a ton of those either, with 17 scoring passes allowed in 13 games. That was one-less than 2013, if you wonder.
Thing is, those completed touchdown tosses stood out that much more in MSU minds. So Townsend’s initial order of spring business is upgrading individual and club coverage.
“It’s a good time of year. We’ve got some new stuff that we’re putting in with Coach Diaz and trying to get guys the right reps. We’ve got a good group.”
A group that isn’t even full-strength for spring. The top returning cornerback, 13-game starter Taveze Calhoun, is out for camp recovering from off-season surgery. Townsend admits, having his lead Dog sidelined is not ideal.
Then again Calhoun isn’t confining himself to the sideline. Much less the rehab pit. “That Pit makes you get healthy quicker!” Townsend jokes. When Calhoun makes his escape, he becomes a graduate assistant sort of coach for his bellow corners. With the position coach’s full approval.
“He’d better be! If you can’t get the physical rep we always talk about getting the mental rep. And he does a great job with that. The thing that separates him from other guys is the edge that he has in the mental part of the game. For a guy like him to get those mental reps, once he gets back out there it will be just like he practiced the entire spring.”
So if Calhoun is expected to resume first-team status at his corner, who takes over Jamerson Love’s open job? Well, everyone knows who is supposed to. And so far senior Will Redmond is practicing up to expectations. Townsend also approves of Redmond’s stated goal of joining a NFL roster by spring 2016.
“He has the capability. I don’t know who else in the country would be better with the skills that he has. He loves the game and when you have a guy that works hard like he does, he goes out and makes his plays.”
Townsend isn’t conceding jobs just yet though. He’s excited that Cedric Jiles is healthy again and contending with Redmond most days for first-team snaps. Seasoned backup Tolando Cleveland has run #1 as well all spring. “And we added Smoky (Jamoral Graham),” said the coach. The 2014 receiver has swapped sides of the ball and now defends routes rather than running them.
That ‘inside info’ on how pass plays work should speed up Graham’s transition. Townsend reminds that the soph has high school experience on defense anyway.
“And it’s probably better suited for his personality. He likes to talk a little bit!”
Townsend, who knows something about cornerback chatter himself after a long college and pro career, likes the sound aspect. What he wants to hear more of from his fellows is the crunch, crack, crash of tackles being made. Made of running backs and even quarterbacks, that is.
Bulldog cornerbacks are going on the attack this year, remember. Not just supporting teammates but making aggressive tackles of their own. But to make this scheme work, Dogs have to make the stop. As many remember too well, there were big breakdowns in ’14 tackling contributing and even leading to State’s three defeats.
No wonder then Diaz, having reviewed all games, has mandated better tackling by everyone. Townsend agrees entirely.
“That’s something we believe in order for us to go to the next step as a team we have to be a great tackling team.” When these corner-Dogs show the boss they can get it done, on-ground and in-air both, well then the leash can be loosened even more, right?
“And our guys always know it comes down to making plays,” said Townsend. After all, “As long as the quarterback knows he doesn’t have long to hold onto it, it’s always great for us.”