“We’re trying to establish the culture, of guys just flying around and being tough and playing with discipline. And being aggressive when the ball’s in the air.”
Sounds good, huh? This is not in any way a critique of previous Bulldog safeties or their approach, much less their abilities to make plays. What it is, is a way of a new position coach fitting in fast with a varied group of Bulldog athletes. And vice-versa.
The results so far? “Guys are working, and they want to do it. So that part is very encouraging,” Linguist said.
“It’s been going good, the energy in the room is good, everybody is bouncing around having fun. And they know when get serious when we get on the field.”
Watching these Dogs at work, yeah, there is a combination of intense fun from the five scholarship and more walk-on safeties for spring practicing. So Linguist can check that off the list.
“Now we’re focusing on the small part of the technique.” (Get that, the ‘small’ part!) “where are my eyes, what are my feet doing, how do I want to fit this route? All the intricacies of zone and man and match coverage.”
At the same time of course Linguist and coordinator Peter Sirmon are learning about the personnel. So watching the practices so far, and more the pair of open scrimmages (April 2, 9) ahead, is watching a gridiron laboratory of sorts. Safeties swap sides through series, or work at both strong and free and eventually nickel spots, and in different pairings.
“Spring is a time when guys, one learn our own defense; and two as a coach you get to experiment with things you want to look at,” Linguist said. “It’s about finding where their best fit is. One guy may be better at zone, one guy may be better at man. How do we manipulate our calls and our defense to put guys in the best situations.”
All this mixing and matching is gradually building a stock of video to review over summer. For now, Linguist said, “Who are these guys, what can they do? We’re starting to get some clarity what some strengths and weaknesses are, and tweaking our coverages and calls.”
Linguist has leaned on the elder starter Kivon Coman prior to and now during spring to get a read on the whole corps. The two have made a good team, it seems. “Kivon is keeping a steady hand on the group,” said Linguist.
Coman does have seniority of course. That isn’t stopping a sophomore from staking his claim to leadership as well. It’s well-reported why Brandon Bryant has swapped his jersey number to be 1 on this roster. He wants to be best, not just among safeties or even the defense but the entire team.
Linguist applauds this. “I love the attitude. If you want to do it that’s where it all begins. Now it’s working towards how to get it done. He’s got a lot of tools and ability.”
Coman and Bryant have held their first-team status just fine. And that’s a good thing considering the caliber of contenders pushing them. It takes first-team effort and execution to hold off a Mark McLaurin, the unexpected star of 2015’s freshman recruiting class.
Of course all eyes focus fast on the other true soph, and Jamal Peters is not disappointing in spring. In fact, during full-team competition focused on pass offense/defense Peters has been a brilliant blitzer from alignments which look more like linebacking than safety spots.
Peters has also suggested on social media that he could take some turns as a wide receiver. Linguist half-shrugs, half-grins asked about this…given that Peters probably ought focus his efforts on winning his main job first before expanding to offense. Now, about lining him up in un-safety-like places?
“If a guy shows he can rush off the edge, why not put him out there?” the coach said. “We’re not married to anything and nothing is off-limits. It’s what can a guy do?”
Plus, Linguist reminds about McLaurin and Peters, “this time last year they were in high school!” They’re still true freshmen going into their first spring camp and really learning tricks of their trade(s). “But the spirit and focus is there.” It also helps having old hound Deontay Evans to contend with for backup duties, which Peters has had to do this spring.
“There’s a good mix of age, youth, and guys being hungry to learn.”
Much remains to be learned. Not least, is the simple fact that the entire Dog defense is learning from an entire new staff. That’s a challenge. Whatever their ages these spring Dogs have been used to one set of coaches. Now, new personal and working relationships must be built.
The best news for Linguist is how the safeties have accepted him. He sorta suspects that some of this springs, so to speak, from a fresh way of seeing safety play.
“Outside perspective is always great,” Linguist said. So is trying new things, lots of new things.
Though, “Sometimes you can have too much of it if you’re not careful. But Coach Sirnon has done a great job of keeping us on track, not being afraid to experiment but at the same time not doing too much where it’s going to hurt us.”
Fans can get another look at all the new, and held-over old, this Saturday at Scott Field (11:00am). If the coach were to offer some advice, it would be don’t get too wrapped-up in where safeties stand or who is paired with who or all that scheme stuff. Watch the energy, the excitement, or what Linguist calls ‘go run around’ from these Bulldogs.
“Because ultimately it’s about players, not about plays.”