Q&A with Defensive Backs Coach Melvin Smith

Mississippi State defensive backs coach Melvin Smith talks with Gene's Page/Dawgs' Bite staff writer Paul Jones about being back at Mississippi State, recruiting Mississippi kids and his expectations for the Mississippi State secondary.

Q; First and foremost, talk about being back at Mississippi State.
Melvin Smith - "You know, I told my sister and a good friend, John Hendricks, that I'm about as happy as I've been in a long time. I really like what Coach Croom has done here and I really feel like we are on the verge of winning and our people want to win so bad.

"It's been five years now since we won. But it's very positive now and it's encouraging and recruiting is so good now, too. So it's a good feeling. I've been here before and have fond memories of winning here and I know we can do it again. People tell me they are so proud for me to be back but to tell you the truth, it's me that is so proud. It's a great opportunity for me to mirror Coach Croom's coaching and an educational situation for me."

Q: Talk about the importance of recruiting Mississippi kids.
"The thing about recruiting is proximity and anybody that pays attention can tell you that has a lot to do with it. Take (the University of) Texas for instance, they had 21 starters on their national title team from Texas. Maybe that's not a good example because not many states have the number of athletes they do in that state.

"But LSU is as talented as anybody and look at their roster. And Georgia is just like that and you see how those teams are built. By and large we have to get the top players from this state and that's how you become successful.

"People talk about the grade issues but it's like that in every state. I just left the state of Texas and do you think all those top kids are eligible? You have to mow all the grass in this state cause you never know what you might find."

Q: With Derek Pegues and Mario Bobo missing some spring practice time, did you see enough to get a read on your secondary this spring?
"Well, I had them long enough. I know that David Heard is a guy who has SEC experience and has done a good job there. We feel good about Heard and good about Jeramie Johnson who is a solid player in this league.

"Fitzhugh and Pegues will be good players but are still inexperienced but they've had good teacher in Coach Johnson and Coach Beamer. One of the things Coach Croom brought me here was for my expertise in the secondary. So we are experienced in two spots and inexperienced in two spots. I know we won't be the 12th best secondary in the SEC like the Sporting News predicts."

Q: Talk more about Fitzhugh and Pegues as sophomores in the fall.
"Well, their maturation process is very normal in this league. You don't see SEC guys dominate as freshmen. As babies they are going to go through growing pains. I mean, last year, who did a good job as a freshmen in this league? It's hard for freshmen to do that so it's a normal deal with those two and they will be just fine. Now they won't be perfect this year but they will get better each game. They have a tough job because you are out there sometimes one-on-one with the best athletes in the country. People tell you how to do their job but it's a tough job that many can't do."

Q: What was your impression with Anthony Johnson in his first spring practice?
"I wasn't sure early on but he really made a lot of progress at the end. You could see it start clicking with him and that was very encouraging. He will help us a lot this fall."

Q: What are your own expectations of the secondary in the fall?
"Well for one, not to be the 12th best secondary in the SEC. But seriously, we want to get twice as many interceptions as touchdown passes. If we allow 20 TD passes, then we better have 40 interceptions. We don't want to give up TD passes and want to give up less this year than last. We also have to do a better job of tackling."

Q: What are some differences you see now compared to your first tenure at MSU?
"I don't see a lot of people just here as individuals and see more of a team now. Last time I was here, we had some guys in here that were strictly about going to the NFL and about their own accolades. Now I see a team. I think Coach Croom has done a solid job with that aspect and if his kids don't want to go to school and do all the team things, then he tells them to go somewhere else.

"In my first team at State, he had some very talented players that were borderline-character guys and it was a roll of the dice. Now we are recruiting good solid citizens but you still can make mistakes.

"Coach Jackie Sherrill did a heck of a job here although it got away from him at the end. But those years were also about the guys under him coaching him and when you change staffs, it changes the chemistry. Now we have coaches with chemistry and it rolls down to the players."

Q: What do you think this defense can be like in the fall?
"I thought the defense was solid last year. Number one, we have to run the scheme that Coach Johnson calls and it's a good scheme. I can see our secondary being aggressive when we need to be and patient when we need to be. But the main thing is being in the right position. That's more of a concern with me. Last time here I had guys like Ashley Cooper and that bunch and they were rarely out of position."

Q: How is recruiting going right now and what's your area of recruiting?
"Well, I have south Mississippi but like always, I look at the whole state of Mississippi. As far as how is recruiting going, well, I think having 14 commitments says a lot at this time of the year. I mean, when was the last time that happened?

"The thing about recruiting is you have to be proactive and not reactive. The best player at one of your main schools may not be a senior but a junior or a sophomore. You are recruiting all the time and you've got to train to be recruiting as an ongoing thing. It's usually the same folks at the same schools so you maintain those relationships and keep building new ones. I have known coaches in this area for a long time so I can recruit all over the state because I know all of them."

Paul Jones is a writer for the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website. Paul, also a sports writer for the Columbus Commercial Dispatch, can be reached by email at pjones@cdispatch.com.

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