Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page

Mississippi State defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon is excited about his opportunity in Starvkille.

A lot has changed for Coach Peter Sirmon in 2016. The former USC assistant is now the defensive coordinator at Mississippi State where the Bulldogs have searched for some continuity in the chain of defensive command. The former NFL standout has worked hard to change both the culture and the scheme of Bulldog defenders.

With spring practice now in the books, Sirmon has a better handle on what to expect from his new personnel. By the same token, the returning players have a solid understanding of what is expected of them.

"I was pleased with the guys. We have been stressing attempts," Sirmon said. "We are trying to get the ball out and get turnovers and I feel like our guys did a good job of catching the opportunities when they had them. We have a lot of things to work on, but I am optimistic that the guys are improving. We are seeing consistent improvement and that's what I am excited about."

One of the stars of the spring practice sessions was fan favorite Brandon Bryant. The Tunica, Mississippi native is entering his second season on the active roster at Mississippi State. Sirmon reports that Bryant should some solid effort during the spring.

"Speed is great, but he is doing a great job of understanding what we're asking him to do," Sirmon said. "He is accepting and taking more of a leadership role on. To see him do that and see the production go along with that, it's going to be good for everybody involved."

Another pair of young Bulldogs who have taken some solid strides forward are redshirt freshmen linebackers Leo Lewis and Tim Washington. As their position coach, Sirmon has been able to watch the in state duo in the best and worst of times.

"They are both inexperienced players and that's where they're at," Sirmon said. "I guess that's sort of Captain Obvious. They haven't played a lot of football, but again they both flash the things that you need to see in an SEC backer. We just have to keep manufacturing experience.

"The game reps that we had in the scrimmages were very, very valuable to them. No one is on the field lining them up and they're having to survive and make their own calls and sort of fend for themselves like they would in a game. The more reps they get at that, I believe they will continue to develop and continue to show the ability that I am excited to see."

The "Viper" position is a new one in the Bulldog vernacular. With Mississippi State making the move to the 3-4 defensive alignment, a stand up linebacker near the line of scrimmage should be expected on most plays. During the spring a trio of players, Will Coleman, Anfernee Mullins and Traver Jung all spent time getting to know that new role. Each player has a different set of strengths, so Sirmon is looking to round that group of players into Viper shape.

"In our first personnel meeting as a staff, we were talking about strengths of players and what we needed to develop to showcase what they do best," Sirmon said. "I think those things that they are more comfortable with, one or the other, that you have to continue to develop the part that they don't feel as good at.

"On defense right now, we might tailor some things for certain guys, but in the middle of a series it's going fast. As a coach, you need to have all of the calls at your disposal and not feel like you have to protect this guy or protect that guy. You have to be able to do what is best for that situation against the style of offense that they are playing.

"When we get to the games, those guys are going to be comfortable. From now until we have our first game, we will probably have 1,200 to 1,300 reps of team (drills) and an entire summer, so I am confident that they will be ready to go."

The Bulldogs return a solid blend on defensive of experienced veteran players and talented younger stars looking to make their presence felt. Sirmon and his staff are now evaluating what they learned their spring to determine where each player first in the Maroon scheme of things.

"You want kids that want to improve. You want kids who want to learn and you want kids who want to work," Sirmon explained. "There are a lot of talented teams out there that don't play well together. 

"I have been fortunate to be at some different spots and some people had some elite talent. That doesn't guarantee anything, so I am excited that these guys want to work. They're hungry and they're good teammates to each other and they come out and give good effort in practice everyday."

Sirmon is from the school of thought that hard work beats talent when talent does not work hard. The former Tennessee Titan is doing his best to instill in his players the intangibles necessary to win games when God given talent is simply not enough.

"I think being a good teammate is a big part of that, thinking about others," Sirmon shared. "Doing what's best for the team and not just what's best for yourself. You're out there with ten other guys and you're thinking about the collective group an the achievement of the group and not the achievement of the individual."

The first half of 2016 has been a year of transition for Sirmon who has taken on the responsibilities of leading a defensive unit in America's toughest football division, the SEC West. While there are still some things that need to handled both personally and professionally before anyone gets comfortable, Sirmon has been focused on the task at hand.

"I love football," Sirmon said. "I love being around guys that love football. This has been great for me. I have an enjoyable group of linebackers. I like the guys that are in the room. There are some unique characters that always liven it up, but most of all, the kids want to play. 

"I am really, really excited about the other three guys on the staff. I think we hit home runs with those personalities. I am really excited about John Haneline at quality control, Mike Bruno the GA (graduate assistant) and Ryan Osbourne, the GA. We got three guys that are extremely sharp, which is very rare to get in those positions. 

"When the seven of us are in there, I am really excited about the six (other) guys and the things they bring to the table."

The Bulldog brain trust is doing their part to establish some foundational standards for what is expected from a Mississippi State defensive player. In concert with the Bulldog creed established by Coach Dan Mullen, those standards are rooted in relentless effort.

"I want to see consistent effort and consistent performance from their first snap to the last snap," Sirmon said. "There were some ups and downs throughout the course of the scrimmage. I want consistent performers."

Gene's Page Top Stories