Well maybe that's a bit strong. The veteran cornerback-turned-safety has not intention of stepping aside so some youngster will find himself ‘quarterbacking' the Mississippi State secondary. When the Bulldogs line up August 30 against Louisiana State it will be Pegues starting at free safety--though the label means little as in MSU's system the safeties are somewhat interchangeable. Whatever the position title, moving from one corner to centerfield is meant to put Pegues literally in the middle of everything.
To that end, after each of the four days Bulldogs lift or run on July afternoons Pegues and his cohorts on campus assemble on a practice field for, well, for practice. Unsupervised of course, but that's an aspect of the summer program that helps Pegues and other veteran DBs develop the intangible talents. "Coach wants me to be a leader out there, he told me he wanted me to have everybody on the same page," he says. "And I feel if the secondary has some busts I'll put it all on me.
"So I've got to come out and get the secondary right, the corners and safeties, and sometimes help the linebackers. It's good for me that I've been in this system for three years and I've got everything in the back of my head. I don't have to worry about the plays, I just have to worry about making the plays." Spoken like a coach, eh?
"We're trying to get the plays down pat so when the fall comes we won't miss a beat. And we're trying to get the new guys out there and help them learn the system so they can be like a vet." Naturally the secondary Dogs could do this themselves, whether individually or in groups of four, five, even seven the way they'll be instructed come August. Ah, but it's much more game-like—not to mention far more entertaining—to have an ‘opponent.' Thus…
"We've been working against the wide receivers, going out and competing every day," Pegues says. The competition is either man-on-man, or seven-against-seven, and certainly livens up a summer weekday afternoon for all involved. "It's serious out there but you have to have fun, that's the only way to get better," the safety reports. "We talk smack to each other when we make big plays. We just try to limit theirs!"
That's not as easy as it once was at Mississippi State. Pegues is a defender and proud of it, but he can also take a measure of pleasure in how Bulldog wideouts are performing these days…even if he won't admit it to their facemasks.
"They're looking real good and they're making us better, you know. The wide receivers are going to be a strong point of our team this year, we've got five or six guys who can play. They've all got their own qualities. Tony Burks is a good deep-ball receiver, Brandon McRae is a deep-ball receiver. Lance Long is quick and hard to guard on short routes. Jamayel Smith, he's the burner and has all the speed, he and Tyler Threadgill. So it's a little bit of everything, combined they're a pretty good group."
Alright then, Derek: in those informal drills if, say, there were a friendly wager of catchers vs. coverers and he was chosen to be the defender, who would he prefer matching with? "You're putting me on the spot!" he laughs. "I'd probably say Lance because he probably won't beat me with his speed, but he'll run a good route. The toughest I'd say is Tony Burks, he's done it on Saturdays and is a tough matchup." At the same time Pegues welcomes tough challenges at this point of the year because in not-too-many weeks he'll find himself racing over in support as State tries to match up with, say, Early Doucet or some other LSU speedster.
To that end Pegues and peers take their summer fun seriously because the stakes will be very high very soon. "I try to work on a little of everything," he says. "When I came in June my focus was to get in shape in general, then in July work on my technique and the plays and try to be a playmaker for this team in the fall. Try to make as many plays as possible, not worry about the plays but just go out and perform."
That means individually and collectively, which is also why Pegues does try to ‘coach' up those new or newer to the Mississippi State system. He makes it sound as something of a duty and a legacy, in fact.
"When I started out Kevin Dockery and David Heard helped me out a lot. Dock knew I was coming in and trying to take his spot but he didn't act like that. He acted like I was playing the other corner position and helped me and got me adjusted to the system. He was a good teacher." Now it's Pegues' turn to teach. And who knows, in a couple of years he might be the student again, trying to take away Dockery's job in the NFL. Yes, the next level is Pegues' long-term dream.
"But right now I'm concentrating on being a leader for this team, going out and getting better every day and helping the young guys."