Sophomore Safety Trying His Hands at Wide Receiver

Jamal Peters tries to low-key it. And fails. After modestly saying he “wouldn’t mind” playing on both sides of the ball this fall, the truth busts out in the open. The prospect of two-way play at Mississippi State?

“I love it! Scoring touchdowns and getting interceptions!”

Whether or not Peters really ends up working both ways this 2016 season has to wait to September. For his first Mississippi State spring the true sophomore has split his schedule. After a couple of weeks in his 2015 varsity job as safety, Peters has changed from defending passes to catching them.

Or at least, running the routes. “Learning the plays, learning how to play fast. You know, basically just doing what I have to do at receiver.”

This mid-spring move is made for several reasons. First and foremost, the offense can use another target. First-teamers Fred Ross (groin surgery) and Donald Gray (knee) are sidelined. There are plenty others to work up a three-deep of course, especially if the new tight ends are included.

Still Coach Dan Mullen and passing game boss Billy Gonzales are tantalized by Peters’ potential. That’s point-two. Peters was an explosive offensive player in high school, never mind it wasn’t this sort of sophisticated system. Play makers make plays and Peters looks the part…which is the third reason. With De’Runnya Wilson moving on a year early Mississippi State is lacking a physical outside receiver.

The 6-2, 206 Peters can fit that bill and plays bigger than his listed size whichever side of the line. Actually, he thinks he would have fit it as an incoming freshman.

“Coming in as a freshman I probably could,” Peters said. “But then again it was a hard transition. You want to make an impact but then again you want to learn how to play the game.”

Peters learned fast enough at safety to play immediately. Literally, as he saw kickoff team duty on opening night. For the season he played in a dozen games, starting twice when State opened in a nickel set. Peters posted 25 tackles with a sack and broke up a couple of passes.

For his second season Peters is still battling to crack the starting pair at safeties, what with soph Brandon Bryant and old Dog Kivon Coman the first team and true soph classmate Mark McLaurin a step ahead. And as stated, he does expect this will be his primary fall position. But in the meantime…why not make an impression on offense?

“I’m a big guy, I love to make plays, I love to be the star out there. It’s a good thing.” Peters also has gotten a thumbs-up from some Dogs whose opinions count: the rest of his new position-group.

“They really love me!” Peters said of his now-fellow wide receivers. “Fred Ross, Donald Gray really love me! They tell me we’ve been wanting you over here but we didn’t know how to tell Coach Mullen.”

Mullen gave Peters the go-ahead last week to change shirts and sides. The first day wasn’t pretty, Peters said, then on the second he caught a couple of touchdowns in drills. “Coach Mullen was shocked about it!” That news was intriguing enough, but here’s the twist. Peters did it with a cracked little finger on his left hand, the result falling on a punt play.

“I thought it was jammed but when I went to the training room to see what it was. It was kind of broken. It’s very difficult to play with it.” No joke. The attached video shows the size of the club-wrap Peters works with now. Sure, it makes doing his drills difficult, Peters said.

“Coach Mullen tells me to catch the ball one-hand. I’ll still throw my (left) hand out there to catch it because I want him to know I’ve still got that mental focus and want to catch with two hands.” The hurting paw probably contributed to having just two catches in last Saturday’s scrimmage.

Regardless of this setback, Peters feels he’s a fast learner as far as offensive plays and concepts. Plus he has some advantage in having defended a lot of this offense during freshman practices already. “It’s mental focus. Lining up on the ball is easy. But you have to remember the routes, the technique of the blocks. On defense it’s just back-pedaling but you’ve got to read the keys of what the receiver is running.”

All this while, remember, Peters is still considered a primary defender. His potential on that side is likely greater, and maybe it won’t even mean taking a safety spot. That physique looks linebacker and during spring drills Peters has shown a real feel for blitz package plays.

“Coach (Peter) Sirmon told me get ready to play around, the whole side of the field, because you’re a heck of an athlete. I can be a great safety with my size.” At the same time Peters is just one part of what might be the most athletic group on the roster along with Bryant and McLaurin, all second-year varsity Dogs at that.

And if he has to pick a job, just one of them? “Coach Mullen told me just do what your heart tells you to do. My heart tells me play both! I want to be the first to ever do it.” Hmmm, this probably would not be a good time to break the news to Bryant about the really old days when everyone went both ways and made plays.

Oh, and there’s a third option Peters intends to test before he’s through. Kick cover work is fun but fielding the ball and taking off upfield? Sign this Dog up. But for kickoff, he stresses.

“Yeah, punt return is hard. But kick return? I’ll do that!”

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