Corners Keep Camp Competition Going

‘Training camp’ means a something a little different to Deshea Townsend than most of his peers. So even if his boss says that phase of preseason is over, the Bulldog cornerbacks coach operates his crew as if it’s still full-go.

These Dog defensive backs don’t mind, though. “They’re doing good,” Deshea Townsend said.

“The good part about it is we’re still in camp, you’re still molding, trying to get guys to go out and compete, trying to prove they’re going to get that playing time. That’s what training camp is all about. It’s not about what you did last year, it’s about what have you done now.”

What two Dogs have done has met with their coach’s approval. Not that Townsend expects any less from veterans Taveze Calhoun and Will Redmond. The former is a two-year starter; the latter about to make his first college first-play but with more games and big plays to his credit than many starters.

Here in week-three, the elders are well-set as the first pair of cornerbacks. “It’s just two of the best corners in the SEC,” Townsend declares. “They’ve played a lot of snaps, both of them, have had production each year. It’s exciting to see them go into their senior year.”

Exciting to the coach. Demanding to these Bulldogs. Calhoun and Redmond aren’t allowed to get toooo comfortable as #1s. Besides, “Taveze and Will know in order for them to have a great senior year they’re going to need everybody in the room,” said Townsend. So both are working with their backups, whether veteran or newcomers.

There is an ideal number of each type this preseason.

Begin with the juniors, Tolando Cleveland and Cedric Jiles. They understand where Calhoun and Redmond stand…but they aren’t settling for mere backup duty. It’s a mark of how Townsend wants to develop a real rotation again that he reminds how Cleveland made his picks against Vanderbilt and scored a key blitz sack at LSU.

Jiles’ has endured setbacks small (a hand injury three years ago) and large (a hamstring last August) which have slowed his career. Now healthy or close enough to it, he is in position for larger responsibility.

”So we have other guys that have played some games,” Townsend said.

And, guys who haven’t. Redshirt freshman Chris Rayford will work his way into the rotation after sitting 2014, and brings a bigger body to the corner than State has been playing with since Johnthan Banks moved up to the NFL two years ago.

Maybe true frosh Maurice Smitherman and Chris Stamps don’t expect to play in 2015. But…maybe they do. Mississippi State will give a qualified kid a fair chance if merited. What pleases Townsend is how the vets have handled the newcomers.

”Maurice and Chris learn from those guys. The thing about our room, they take them under their wing and do what they’re supposed to do leading them the right way.”

The wild card of the lot is converted receiver Jamoral Graham, who made the move in spring and made himself at home. Fast. Townsend’s rule is “Reps is our best friend, especially at corner,” and with every snap soph Graham learns a little something about defense.

Graham can see his mistakes, and made plays, on tape. What Townsend sees is a guy with “the things you can’t coach at corner.” Things like change-of-direction, great feet. “And he plays the ball well in the air.” Well yeah, having spent his rookie year running routes, Graham should be able to learn defending them now.

With Calhoun back as one starter and Redmond the natural promotion, Townsend’s trick now is finding who is the best third cornerback for special sets or quick substituting. “Right now I still have Tolando and Ced, then Smokey (Graham) and Chris is coming off a redshirt,” Townsend said.

“So you’ve got a lot of good competition on the back end for who is going to be that third or fourth guy, pushing for reps in that rotation.”

Competition brings out the best in everyone, Townsend also said. He’s got a lot of that going on. The other key is having strong leadership at the top of both depth charts. This includes the cornerbacks meeting room to be sure, but the best leadership is on-field example.

And if need be, well, Townsend will roll through some names the kids should know.

”And they’ve had some great guys come before them to show how it’s done in (Johnthan) Banks and (Darius) Slay. And Slay and Banks had Charles Mitchell and other guys to show them. The secondary has had a lot of great players in the history of Mississippi State, and that tradition is still here.”

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