That’s what moving into the starting lineup will do for a Dog. Where in previous years Coman might have de-tuned entirely from football during a free Saturday, now he stays busy with his own scouting.
“That’s just what I like to do. I like to study other teams.”
In turn, opponents increasingly must keep an eye on Mississippi State’s free safety. It doesn’t take Coman long to show up on Bulldog game tape either. Through eight games, all starts, he is third in team tackles with 45 stops. Two of them are for losses, as Coman (and fellow free safeties) are being used more and more in blitz assignments. Coman hasn’t got that first interception yet, season or career, but the odds improve every week and he has busted-up four passes.
Yet he has maybe the lowest fan-profile of any starting defensive Bulldog. That’s fine with Coman, since safeties tend to get noticed for either A) forcing a turnover or B) following an opposing receiver into the end zone. It is a feast-or-famine assignment.
His coaches’ opinion is much more favorable, Coman reports. “I’ve been playing pretty good,” he said of weekly reviews. “I believe I play pretty well. But I’ve got a standard I’ve set for myself.”
Wait, a higher standard than safeties coach Tony Hughes and coordinator Manny Diaz set? Yep. He does.
“I mean I haven’t been playing up to my potential,” Coman said. “That being said I think I can grade better than I have recently.”
This isn’t merely player-pride speaking by the way. Coman is practical about his position, on and off the field. “I’m a leader back there now so I’ve got to hold myself to a higher standard that I play at.
“So even if the coaches grade me I know how I need to play and who looks up to me. So I have to play better and better every week.”
OK, then what exactly does Coman need to upgrade, improve, perfect? “Just knowing offenses better, knowing what they’re going to do before they even do it. Talking more, being a bigger voice on the field. Just helping the corners out with more keys looking at the offense we’re playing.”
Helping is what Coach Hughes points to as Coman’s great gift this season. Remember, Mississippi State graduated a pair of 2014 starters; then four games ago lost senior Kendrick Market to a knee injury and surgery. Suddenly here is Coman not only starting, but setting the tone for the whole safety unit.
“He’s taken the leadership role of the group overall,” Hughes said. “They respect him because he’s an older guy, he’s played here a long time. And his dependability means a lot because he’s like glue. He’s kind of the bridge between the older and newer kids and keeps them all together.
Coman accepts the added responsibility. But he also misses lining up beside his own elder State-sman. “Losing Kendrick really hurt us,” Coman said.
“But we’ve got younger guys who have stepped up and came ready to work every day. And they’ve learned so much and I’ve learned so much from Kendrick. I don’t think it’s a drop-off.”
In experience yes, there is a drop-off. But raw ability? Redshirt freshman Brandon Bryant is still learning lots about SEC coverages and will make his share of mistakes before ’15 is finished. The talent is obvious though, and Coman sees a new fellow-starter growing up fast on the job.
“He can’t be young any more. So now he’s got to step up, and he’s been doing it well. He’s been playing pretty good the last few weeks. He’s got to remember that he’s not a freshman no more, he’s a starter.”
For that matter Mississippi State continues, and maybe even has accelerated, the safeties rotations. It hasn’t cost on the record with three-straight victories, and whatever mistakes have been made everyone involved is better prepared for November. Coman said safeties just trust how Hughes shuffles and shuttles his squad.
“Coach Hughes does a great job with us, knowing who to fit in and who not to fit in. all of us, if we went to a different school we’d be starting. So it’s no drop off. I’m very comfortable with Jamal (Peters), Mark (McLaurin), Deontay (Evans), Brandon getting in if I need to step out. It’s not a day goes by I’m not OK with that.”
Coman is OK with an open date, too, even if he doesn’t plan to break away from football entirely. Practices this week are lighter for the starters, he said. “I’m getting more mental reps. I’m helping coach the younger guys up.” So is Market by the way, now that he’s confined to the sideline. The veterans are taking lots of load off Hughes between practice snaps, it seems.
“We’ve going to need those guys so they have to practice as starters,” said Coman of the kids. As for the real starter?
“I’m pretty much already thinking Missouri. Because I’m a winner, so I want to win.” Not just beat Missouri, either. Coman and club want to win their way through November and into a happy holidays now that post-season play is guaranteed.
“Yeah, it’s known for us to get to a bowl game now. So we’ve got to push for the bigger bowls. We want to get to a high bowl game, we don’t want to go where it’s cold! That being said, you have to win the rest so you get a high bowl game.”