The way Bryant is playing here in his first varsity season, yeah, he is staking a claim to legitimate leadership. With Mississippi State re-building the safety positions for 2015 after graduations and injuries last fall, he was already booked for regular duty. Which he has handled very well in rotation.
Now, though, that duty is about to double. The career-ending injury to Kendrick Market thrusts Bryant, along with starter Kivon Coman and backup Deontay Evans, into even larger responsibilities. Bryant will welcome every new snap he receives, even his chance to become the starter.
How he’s getting this promotion, though…
“It’s sad for Kendrick because he was the leader of our group, one of the best players on our team. We’ve just got to step up and take that role as a safety group, fill in what he left off.”
Bryant should be quite capable of replacing the statistics. He’s averaged four tackles per SEC game for example, as an alternate remember, and got both a half-sack and his first pass break-up at Auburn.
More than the numbers, is his impact on play. Literal impact.
“Brandon’s tackling has been fantastic and his speed and athleticism shows back there,” coordinator Manny Diaz said. Realistically, young Bryant brings more speed and strength to the safety spot than most elders, with potential for greater progress. What he lacks is obvious. Even five games, three of them SEC battles, only begins to provide serious experience.
Interestingly, the tackling coordinator Diaz mentioned is at least partly credited to Market. “He taught me how to be a better tackler,” Bryant said. “Usually I always tackle with a high target, trying to just knock somebody out or run them over.
“He taught me how to roll-tackle better and how to keep my head below the helmet so I won’t get a targeting penalty.” That raises an obvious irony. It was Bryant who took a hat-to-hat hit at the end of a pass play from Texas A&M receiver Rickey Seals-Jones, resulting in the Aggie’s ejection. Bryant handled the hard shot well enough to stay in the game, fortunately.
It almost sounds as if Market made Bryant a personal project, even a protégé. Bryant talks of instruction by the senior as a redshirt, last spring, in a second preseason.
“He taught me techniques, and he stayed on me all the time. Because he knew I was going to be good. He’d come to me on the sidelines and say look, you’ve got to get right. Just telling me some little tips to get right.”
Now, unexpectedly, Bryant is already transitioning to a teacher himself. OK, maybe not a masters level like what Market can offer. Bryant might be better regarded as a student assistant. Still he is not shy about calling Peters and McLaurin ‘young’ even if their age-differences can be counted in months not years.
“I feel like an older guy because I developed, I came a long way from where I was last year. I can be a veteran in the program because I went through everything, off-season workouts to St. Valentines’ Massacre, everything that we do in the off-season. I went through the spring, summer again. And I played a couple of games, so I feel like I’m an older guy right now for the younger guys.”
Of course there are really older Dogs in the pound in Coman and Evans. For that matter Market too, as it’s hard to see him abandoning the group. The really-old Dog would miss their informal off-campus gatherings, for one thing. Bryant calls it their bonding time.
“It starts outside of football. We hang out together. We go to Buffalo Wild Wings, eat together and talk around. We stay on Jamal and Mark all the time so they know it’s love coming from the older guys, that we care about them so much to stay on them so they can be a better player. We just develop a bond outside of football.”
Inside, the safety rotation will adjust for this weekend’s home game with Troy. The obvious goal is to get this non-conference match under complete control so everyone on either side of the squad room can take live turns on Scott Field. Still somebody has to set that tone.
“Me, Kivon, and Deontay have got to be the frontrunners in the safety group.” If any wonder, Coman will turn 23 later this month and Evans is already 21.
So, Bryant admitted, “I’m still their little brother.”