Simple. Demanding, but simple. It’s a reflection of how Mississippi State’s defensive staff keeps the pressure on a group of safeties diverse in ages, sizes, and experiences…but with a common characteristic of skills.
“I think we’re doing a good job,” Coach Hughes said. “I think we’re progressing, we’re moving in the right direction. I like the way the older guys have stepped-up and started to play and show some leadership.”
There is leadership shown this preseason from a trio of veterans. Just as importantly, there’s ambition displayed by another threesome of redshirt and true freshman safeties here. They may respect their elders…but aren’t exactly stepping aside.
Which is what Hughes wants to see as Mississippi State reloads the safety slots for 2015. The graduation of 13-game starting strong safety Jay Hughes and eight-game starter free safety Justin Cox opens everything up.
Wait. Did not senior Kendrick Market start three times, and junior Deontay Evans twice more including the Orange Bowl? Correct. But for practical purposes Hughes and coordinator Manny Diaz have put free and strong safety spots up for grabbing. Or tackling.
So far, the coach gives his two most-tested safeties the August edge.
Kivon and having Kendrick back out there really makes a big difference for us,” Hughes said. Market, remember, went down in the Egg Bowl with a torn Achilles. While not actually saying ‘Pokedog’ is fully 100% healthy, his coach does call his status “amazing” here after less than ten months’ recovery.
“For him to come back as quick as he has and is playing on the level he’s playing is a miracle, it’s a blessing. But it says a lot about the kid. He’s a winner.”
Market also seems to be holding off his Orange Bowl replacement Evans and high-profile freshman Jamal Peters. His situation does bring pressure from both directions, though. While the others want his job, the coach is demanding ever-better practices from a proven senior.
“So we’re pushing him into that all the way up until the game.”
2015 is junior Kivon Coman’s big chance to be more than an alternate. He can clinch the first-team status earned in spring, as well as show leadership of his own.
“I think he’s done an excellent job,” Hughes said. “He’s also a kid in a situation where he’s never been a starter before. He was a backup, or a role player. And he played a major role in a lot of success here.” Meanwhile Evans used the Orange Bowl to kick-start the coming season with ten tackles, seven unassisted. That should keep him very much in the camp competition.
But of course it is the three newest safeties all want to hear about. Brandon Bryant, most saw in the spring game after redshirting in 2014. Bryant freely admits he wasn’t ready to play as a rookie.
Now? “He’s worked really hard, he’s a really talented, talent athlete,” Hughes said. “Just learning how to play and learning the scheme, and having confidence when you go out there.” Based on early-camp observation Bryant was battling Coman and Evans behind Market. Though, as State’s systems don’t cement safeties into free or strong any depth chart is speculative at best.
So. What of newcomers Peters and Mark McLaurin? Both don’t look like typical State safeties, instead the frosh have outside linebacker bodies. Hughes agrees they don’t fit old molds either as recruits or rookies. They do suit this program’s goal of signing football players and finding positions later.
For McLaurin and Peters it could be sooner than later. “In their case they have the size and the athletic ability to go with it,” Hughes said. “Which means they could really be special one day.”
Right now, Hughes said the plan is “to push, to push, to push, to push” every safety for daily improvement. And, consistency. Hughes said the safety squad had a good scrimmage last week, but he isn’t cutting any slack since.
“That’s where the older guys have got to pull the young guys and say what you did yesterday is not enough, it doesn’t mean anything,” Hughes said.
Because, “In the SEC you can’t have a bad day.”