SAFETIES: Baseball isn’t the only sport where the best defenses are strong up-the-middle. If the football lineup has a stout core from front-to-back most any scheme can succeed.
So, since Mississippi State seems solid on the line and immediately behind…what about their supporting safeties? While individual positions will get their preseason attention this is the one unit drawing most questions. Staff veteran Tony Hughes has his work to do in August.
What parts does he have to do that work with?
Well for starters, there is one of those back on the active roster. After starting four times Kendrick Market had to spend his senior spring watching, or informally coaching, other safeties after a season-ending injury late last November. His recovery was fast enough to at least dress-out every practice day, and his experience at free safety should give him an August edge.
But. Will that be enough to offset competition? His Orange Bowl successor, Deontay Evans, had a big game…albeit that also reflected the way Georgia Tech’s option was getting past the line and linebackers. There is no doubting how Evans can hit people in safety support. Coverage is a better question though Hughes proclaimed progress after spring ball. And Evans is a junior, remember, the point where a move is to be made.
As for strong safety (and we have to remind that the differences are mostly in-name the way State plays the backfield), Kivon Coman hasn’t started yet but has first claim on first-team going into August. Coman had a better ’14 season than most noticed with good stats and some big plays. His spring work was sound enough to stick with the #1 group despite a real challenge Evans did not face.
Because it has become an article of fan-faith that Brandon Bryant will emerge as the starter. Maybe so. Only his coach really knows how well the redshirt performed in his first spring session. Impressions by non-coaches were positive enough, for what that is worth.
What all can agree on is both safety spots are where a newcomer has best chance to break into this starting lineup. And there are fresh(man) faces who will get every opportunity. Or put it this way: for a fellow who won’t pull on real practice gear until Monday afternoon there is a heckuva lot of faith being placed upon the unpadded shoulders of both Jamal Peters and Mark McLaurin.
We won’t waste time talking the (suspected) talents of the rookies until actual observation. What matters is these kids have clear shots at instant backup and even starting status. And for those who fret playing freshman so soon, it seemed to work out well for Johnthan Banks who debuted as a safety himself.
CORNERBACKS: Much as was the spring case with safety, the returning starter wasn’t able to participate. And, just as Market did, Taveze Calhoun was able to walk up behind one of his competitors and offer advice, encouragement, or just a reminder maybe that he intends to keep the job come August.
His ’14 feats merit that status. Jamerson Love maybe got more attention from scouts for sheer athleticism. But Calhoun came away with nearly 20 more tackles, broke up ten throws and picked off another. So, spring was as much about finding Calhoun’s backup and 2016 replacement.
As to the former part, Tolando Cleveland also had an under-appreciated season in rotation. As a sophomore, too. Now he ought be coming into prime time thanks to experience and yes, his own straight-up competition. Cedric Jiles has dealt with injuries minor (hand, 2013) and major (knee, 2014) that have slowed progress. Now he says he’s healthy and trying to make up for lost time in both games and practices. If Jiles is 100%, don’t concede Cleveland anything yet. Or anyone else for that matter.
Cleveland and Jiles took most of their spring snaps at the right corner, but whether that means Coach Deshea Townsend has assigned anyone anything is doubtful. New coordinator Diaz is not as invested in the boundary/field corner concepts of his predecessor and prefers cornerbacks be able to work either side with equal confidence.
Still for now we will list the #1 left cornerback as Love’s natural successor Will Redmond. It’s his time, as a senior of course, and scouts see a world of pro potential. Redmond’s challenge has been college consistency and a tendency to go for the huge play rather than just handle his position. Yet because he has the ability to make the HPs it won’t be easy to confine Redmond to routine.
Oh, and remember, this is his first year to start. That in itself should keep Redmond focused, right? Or left, rather?
Another reason to practice everyone on each side besides getting them enough snaps is the youth in reserve. Chris Rayford is not the usual raw redshirt though. He had some impressive spring coverages, breakups, and occasional interceptions. Rayford also fits the physical bill that State has wanted on corners since J.Banks took his talents to Tampa.And there’s a different sort of new guy in the mix. Jamoral Graham had his flashes as a freshman receiver (his return attempts are better forgotten). But State is so well-stocked with targets, moving ‘Smoky’ to defense seemed the best way to get his athleticism in action. The transition seemed to go well in spring, and Graham recognizes his opportunity.
There are three seniors in the secondary this year. But more to the point there are four juniors. So this is the year to start developing future DBs, particularly cornerbacks. Welcome to college camp, Maurice Smitherman and Chris Stamps. We wouldn’t expect either to play with the experience in front of them. But again, precocious kids have found their way into gameplans with Mullen in charge.