Senior Safety Expects New-Look Defense to Produce in 2016

It is the absolute cliché question being asked of every team, every league, every where this week. Thank goodness Kivon Coman put a slightly different twist answering ‘are you ready to hit somebody else?’

“I think we were ready for that before camp!” the senior safety quipped. “It’s about that time.”

That time is indeed just about that. Or here. Mississippi State kicks off its 2016 season hosting South Alabama Saturday (11:00am, SECN). And a Bulldog defense that has been limited to and not-really-contented with battling its offensive teammates can go kick somebody else around.

Or that’s their plan. Despite draft and graduation losses from last season; and some injury losses in recent weeks; State’s stop-squad is ready to show its stuff on Scott Field. Yes, Coman said, there is more improvement to be made in coming weeks.

“But as far as game-plan wise I think the defense is going to surprise a lot of people. I think we’re better than we think we are.” For the record, they already believe themselves to be pretty good.

Never mind that less than half the regular starting defense from the regular 2015 season returns. Or how on top of that the veterans as well as backups, redshirts, and rookies have been under entirely-new management. And, operating in different base scheme.

Coman and company have welcomed coordinator Peter Sirmon’s revised system and found their fits fast. Though of course Coman’s free safety role hasn’t changed much, certainly compared to what the front-seven have been learning. The 3-4 base has also played to the strengths of the 2016 roster as well, it turns out.

So based on a pair of scrimmages and much practicing, this ’16 unit is satisfied with schemes and assignments already. “And I think if we’re all on the same page we can go very far with this defense,” said Coman.

There does remain a couple of obvious question spots though. Both, are to either side of Coman. Preseason injuries have taken out both first-team cornerbacks uncomfortably close to kickoff. Conceivably this could place a little extra burden on the safeties, the free guy in particular, to help the new starters out?

Coman won’t go down that track.

“They’re very talented. They’ve come along very well. They’re young but they’ve both seen a lot of football in their life. So I trust both those guys so I think it will be pretty good for them to get a lot of experience.”

And who exactly are ‘they’? Without consulting any official depth chart, Coman declares Jamoral Graham and Lashard Durr as the first pair of cornerbacks. Which won’t surprise anyone who saw spring ball and the practice rotations. Durr was re-recruited out of junior college to take a corner job anyway.

Graham, now…he is in his second year learning college defense. Coman gives a thumbs-up on the potential.

“He’s a freakish athlete to me, probably one of the best athletes on the team. He’s grown from being a punt returner his freshman year to a receiver to a corner.”

“And I think Coach Buck (Terrell Buckley) does a great job with those guys, getting them to buy into the technique he brought here and getting the scheme of the defense. I think he’s doing pretty well.”

Just in case though, Buckley and safeties coach Maurice Linguist are working another deal. Safety Jamal Peters will get a look as a corner candidate too. Coman enjoys the idea, however it works out.

“We all know Jamal. He’s offense one time, defense another time. So you never know! Your guess is probably better than mine!”

Speaking of guessing…would you care to name Saturday’s starting quarterback, Kivon? Nope, even a senior team leader won’t go that far outside policy.

“Going against those guys every day, I see all three of them are talented. Especially Damian Williams and Nick Fitzgerald. I believe if any of them were at different colleges they’d be starting. All of them come out and work every day, you can see them push each other. I think Mississippi State has three great quarterbacks to decide from.”

Of course come Saturday the only quarterback(s) Coman will have eyes for are in Jaguar colors. He’s had all spring and August to watch the Bulldog passers after all, and they were hands-off anyway. Now, Coman and his defense can go hit somebody for real.

“We’ve still got preparation and a process to get ready. But Saturday we will be ready.”

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