Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page

Redshirt Freshman Is Practicing All Cornerback and Safety Positions

Talk about versatile. Lots of Bulldogs can play two positions. Several have to be prepared at three. But there’s only one who has practiced four jobs. And know what Maurice Smitherman thinks of the responsibility?

“I mean it’s kind of easy,” he said.

OK. Both aspects need explaining here. Officially, Smitherman is training as both a cornerback and a safety. That’s just two positions on the depth chart.

The Mississippi State reality is no Dog defender is ‘just’ a safety or a cornerback. The safety is expected to play both free and strong, or field and boundary as the scheme requires. Cornerbacks must be ready to rotate left or right, field or boundary, whatever.

Still this means Smitherman must be trained and be confident at any of four possible assignments. And he’s just a redshirted freshman at that. So, what about the ‘kind of easy’ comment?

“It’s been good for the most part,” Smitherman said. “It’s just getting a better understanding at safety. It’s really kind of the same as corner, it’s just getting a better understanding of the defense and learning everything.”

Whew. A second-fall freshman yet to take his first varsity snap is already this comfortable not just with the original 2015 job but now another one? Yes. He really is.

“Because in spring I played corner the whole time,” Smitherman said. “I’ve got the corner down. It’s just the safety I have to learn with more install to come.”

It speaks ever so much for Smitherman’s still-untested potential that, from a collection of excellent defensive backs of varying years, he was the one picked for this doubled-duty. Maybe having a larger cornerback corps and less-certain safety depth had something to do with the move.

Or maybe because Smitherman is a bit bigger than the usual cornerback. OK, looks bigger, because he’s not that much stouter than spring. “I’m still the same size, I added like five pounds.” Or…perhaps it is something else about this kid.

“I like to tackle!” he said.

Smitherman said coaches suggested adding, not changing, jobs post-spring conditioning. “(Coach Terrell Buckley) told me, would I like to play safety. I was like, yeah. And all summer I’ve been working at it.

“The first day of camp I was like, I’m going to see how it goes. And it’s been going good ever since then. Been in the plays, been in the film, talking to coach every day.”

Coach approval is one thing. What about a tougher jury, his new position group? Any meeting room with Brandon Bryant, Kivon Coman, Mark McLaurin, Jamal Peters, etc. and so on sets a pretty strong standard for athletic ability and football smarts. For a corner to join the club…?

Smitherman said his new peers liked what they saw, soon. “When we were doing it in the summer I was really good at it. Because when I was in high school all I did was back-pedal. So I was pretty good at that. First day of camp the drills were easy. I like back-pedaling and reading.”

Cornerbacks of course must have a fast reverse gear. Safeties? They blitz into backfields on one play and drop back to a goal line the next. But this is exactly what attracts Smitherman to safety.

“You can see everything. There can be a lot of plays to be made back there. When you’re seeing two going under you’ve got to look back at the one. It’s going to be a lot of plays to be made this season.” And in run support of course, that’s where safeties can pile up their tackle-total fast.

Smitherman is confident but he’s not crazy. He’s getting all the coaching he can here in camp, beginning with budding all-star Bryant. “I like to watch him and Kivon to get a better understanding of what I have to do. I can ask them questions every day on the simple stuff. It’s looking up to those guys.” Then there is the input from his new, or other, position coach, Maurice Linguist.

“I like him. He coaches hard, he coaches well, he teaches us what we need to know in the film room so when we get on the field we can execute.”

Wait a minute, the best bit is this. Smitherman has never played safety. At any level. What’s the big deal, he wonders.

“No, I haven’t played safety before. This is my first time. But like I said, it’s kind of easy from playing corner. It’s still covering a receiver. It’s just knowing the defense and where I have to be at at certain times, and executing.”

Now it should be clarified too that Smitherman will remain in the cornerbacks picture. He thinks after this first scrimmage he could go back for the rest of training camp, “But I’m not sure.” He is sure safety practice will make him a better cover-man.

The big deal is simply that Smitherman, one of the kids on the defensive roster, was specifically chosen for such swing-status. That matters, a lot.

“I mean, Coach Buckley thinks I was the guy to do that. So he put his trust in me. I’ve got to go out there and stay in the plays and make the coaches trust in me even more.”

Oh, and it probably doesn’t need explaining but…as the best-rounded of the defensive backs, guess who should be contending for nickel-back? Which would be a, yes, fifth position.


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