Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page

Senior Starter Expects Challenges From Trio of Talented Sophomore Safeties

Now one might think a seasoned senior with 38 varsity games and full season starting to his credit would be annoyed, even offended, at having to always re-win his position. Not Kivon Coman. “I love it!”

“It’s a challenge. Every day is a challenge in life. You wake up every morning and it’s going to be a challenge.”

In two weeks the on-field challenge resumes for Coman. When Mississippi State opens preseason practices on August 2, even this veteran safety has to resume competing for a job. In Coman’s case, the free safety job he opened all 13 games last fall.

This is not a criticism of how Coman or any other Bulldog safety performed in 2015 or in spring ball, by the way. It more accurately is a comment on the type of talents Mississippi State has to work with at the top of the depth chart.

Oh, and that there’s a new coach, too. Not just one in fact, as the entire Bulldog defensive staff arrived on campus back in spring one at a time. For State safeties it is Maurice Linguist, who took over from player- and fan-favorite Tony Hughes.

Fortunately Linguist and the rest of the staff which have a hand in safety scheming and spotting have the thumbs-up from Coman. Hey, the senior even welcomed this change of pace.

“It’s pretty good because he came from somewhere totally different. So hearing him, Coach (Terrell) Buckley and Coach (Peter) Sirmon talk about how defense is run, it’s good.”

“We’ve playing sort of the same coverages as last year, it’s just a little tweak. So we can adjust to it. We’ve got young guys trying to learn it but it’s still pretty good.”

Yeah, those young guys…more on them in a moment. For now, give Coman credit for 2015 production that went with modest notice. The numbers weren’t modest; Coman was third in team tackling at 76 after all. He broke up eight passes and intercepted another.

Maybe it’s the lack of ‘big’ plays that kept Coman’s profile low. Or more likely it was keeping the free safety in support, as per the 2015 philosophy. Might this change under coordinator Peter Sirmon?

Probably so, and not just for the free safety. Spring ball hinted, just hinted mind but it was interesting all the same, that Linguist likes letting his guys go make plays and not wait for plays to come their way(s).

Besides, why keep Coman or the young guys--Brandon Bryant, Mark McLaurin, and Jamal Peters--on leashes?

Here are the young hounds Coman refers to. Bryant of course has already shown he can handle starting status as strong safety having begun the last nine games of ’15 and still finishing fifth in team tackling. Peters and McLaurin were in more rotation roles, but what rotators they were.

So just how strong is this group of safeties, per the elder Dog? “Freakish” is the word Coman has used before. “I’ll say it’s the best ever. We’ve got a lot of talent. A lot of talent.” So much so that senior Deontay Evans saw the future and transferred.

Now it always needs reminding that ‘free’ and ‘strong’ have been interchangeable safety assignments under Hughes. Linguist hasn’t shown intent to change this, at least not with Coman. In Sirmon’s 3-4-2-2 spring system the safeties played almost entirely side-by-side, not up-and-back.

But it was Coman who did the alternating, not the sophs. “He’s got me playing both,” Coman said. “He’s got everybody else playing one side, because he knows I can play both sides.”

This doesn’t make Coman a finished product. He said spring was about refining technique on either side, especially the footwork. And doing more ‘attack’ tackling on contact days. See, 2015 wasn’t a bad year for him.

“I was satisfied with certain stats. But overall I could have done way better.”

Coman may need to do way better to hold on to the starting job, too. Bryant is the undisputed rising star of the State secondary and perhaps the entire defensive team. McLaurin and Peters have added summer pounds for their second preseason and look even like linebackers than some of the full-time linebackers.

Peters of course played a little wide receiver in spring ball before a broken finger. Having him on offense is tantalizing with lack of a proven ‘big’ receiver on that side for now. But Evans’ departure might mean State will stick with Peters on defense, at least initially.

Certainly there would not be a more athletic quartet of safeties anywhere than Linguist can mix-and-match. What is impressing Coman as much or more is how this developing defense is meshing ahead of camp. He even saw it in spring, how many Dogs were speaking up and setting tones and such.

“We just wanted to become more vocal, more leaders. We’ve got young guys speak, seniors speak. It’s a little bit of everybody.”

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