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Post-Practice Interview with Coordinator Manny Diaz

Open date or not, defensive coordinator Manny Diaz has much on his Mississippi State mind. Improving the tackling, getting his squad to play with a little less caution and lots more aggression, finding the right balances of coverages and blitzes and combinations. Oh, and now, getting ready for two different Missouri quarterbacks.

So, it's no open date for Diaz. But the Bulldog defensive boss did open up for a post-practice talk Wednesday.

How far has the tackling come and how far do some guys need to go? “It’s better, but like anything else it could still be better. But I think the guys week-by-week are beginning to understand what leverage means and learning to trust their teammates.”

“Tackling is all about trust. We had a long session about it last week. We watched every tackle opportunity from the game, good, bad, or indifferent and evaluated. Because we know that’s going to be the key down the stretch. The best tackling team is usually going to win the game.”


Is how pass defense improves during games a reflection of more pressure? “Yeah, I’ve always felt its relentless pressure that blows the pipe. A lot of times quarterbacks on the teams we play will have a good plan. They’ll try to execute and get the ball out of their hands early. In the first quarter you may not get there; in the second quarter you might get around the guy. In the third quarter you’re starting to hit him. And in the fourth quarter balls are just not quite as accurate as they were early on.”

“So it’s about that pressure, of not wavering. I think that’s a trick, of our guys understanding that relentless pressure is eventually what gets the result we want.”


There are questions about Missouri’s quarterback, does it really matter who it is? “Big picture I think it does. But there are some differences in the skill sets of the two guys. We’ll be prepared for both, we expect to see both. I think that position is fun to talk about, it always is. But the other guys, the way we play up front, the way we defend the running game, the way we defend against the wide receivers will be telling regardless of who is playing quarterback.”


Last week you wanted the defense to not play so carefully, be more aggressive. Did you see some of that in the Kentucky game? “Yeah, I think we’re starting to cut it loose a little bit more. That’s part of guys that are just more comfortable with what they’re doing out there, with feeling more comfortable in the defense. And just have the ability to play fast.”

“Wherever the ball is, you see a bunch of guys just straining to get to the football. That’s what it’s starting to look like. That’s the encouraging part. Because that transcends a call or a coverage or anything like that. That’s just the pursuit we want to see.”


Does being careful also result in some tackling issues, not finishing tackles off? “Yeah, there’s no doubt. The more aggressive we play the better a tackling team we are. The more we understand our assignments and trust ourselves and trust our teammates, the better we play, the better we tackle, the better we do everything. So it all goes hand-in-hand. It’s not been a surprise. It’s a gradual process and by no means are we there yet.”


What signs have Tolando Cleveland, Jamoral Graham shown that they can step up in the cornerback role? “It’s going to be hard for any one person to recreate all the things that Will (Redmond) created. That’s what made Will special.”

“But all those guys have gotten experience. All those guys have gotten better week-in and week-out. To me the number-one thing of playing in the back end is tackling. Everyone talks about knocking down passes and whatever. But you’ve got to be able to tackle in the back end. That’s what all those guys did very well. They were playing fast, they were playing physical, they’re setting edges of our defense. If they’ll do that, when those plays are to be made they’ll bat a ball down or go intercept a pass. They’ve all got good skill in that regard.”

“But to hold a team like Kentucky, that had a lot of dangerous weapons in the pass game, I think they’re longest play was 22 yards or something like that. That means you’re tackling somebody, that means you’re where you’re supposed to be coverage-wise.”


Do you have a conversation with Taveze Calhoun telling him don’t try to do too much to make up for Will? “It’s funny, the way it happened throughout the whole game, I think it happened naturally…which is usually the way it’s meant to happen. Because we haven’t just lost two really good football players, we’ve lost two of our seniors (Kendrick Market). I saw a poster the other day, there are six guys on the poster and two of them aren’t playing any more. And there’s a reason why they put them on the poster. Not only were they really good, they were our age.”

“The age we have back there now is Taveze. It was the point we needed him to be the guy, and I’m not surprised with the way that he played with the way that he practiced last week. It was his best week of practice by far and as a coach you love to see a guy rewarded like that with the plays that he was (two interceptions).”


Since Brandon Bryant has started there are six turnovers for the defense, is that a coincidence or something he brings? “It would be hard to say that! I think we’re obviously getting more comfortable with playing, which is creating turnovers. We’ve been in games where we’ve been ahead more, which teams have to throw to beat us. And we knew the turnovers were eventually going to come.”
“Now Brandon is adding a lot of things to our defense. His range, his athleticism, he’s doing a good job tackling guys. So he’s certainly elevated the play of our secondary. And the things we pride ourselves on more, which are the amount of 20-plus plays given up, the amount of 30-plus plays given up, which really correlates to your secondary play; that’s really gone up since he entered the lineup.”

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