Smith Ready For Some Full Fall Contact

It's been a satisfactory first few days at pre-season camp. Still along with all positive evaluations, Zach Smith can and does add the cautionary ‘so far'. Because this veteran Bulldog knows just how utterly everything changes when full padding goes on. "We'll see who likes to play flag football and real football after that!," Smith says.

The starting free safety for Mississippi State was speaking directly about the newest kids in camp after fall-freshmen made their practice debuts this week. Then again Smith's comment applies just as well to the complete roster. Even Coach Dan Mullen expects the intensity to jump another notch or two Wednesday just because the Bulldogs will pull on shoulder pads and get at least a little popping done.

Smith understands better than most. In his two college campaigns the true junior has shown quite a knack for contact, and now upon promotion to full-starting status (he has already opened two of the 24 games played to-date) Smith is ready to set a physical and emotional tone in the State secondary. Of course that's a tall task; not because Smith doesn't fit the bill, but because he is part of a defensive lineup with lots of potential leaders.

And, a group that has come into August appearing to pick right up where they left off last April. Smith says this oughtn't be a surprise. "We've been working in the summer, just going over stuff. We did a good job of keeping everything fresh on our mind coming over here and just going through the coverages and stuff. All the basics are still the same, so it's going to be alright."

Better than alright, actually. While a revamped defensive coaching staff has brought in their own specific schemes, coordinator Carl Torbush' overall system is not radically different—again, so far—from what these Dogs have done before. The same four-front base with three linebackers and a pair of safeties that, while designated as free and strong, can practically interchange. Yet there are always the finer points to be learned.

And as Smith notes, since the defense has proved itself comfortable and confident in this system, now Torbush and staff feel free to put some more pages in their playbooks. In fact that's already underway in camp. "I mean, it's all new to the freshmen," Smith says.

"But we're going to keep adding a couple of coverages every day, just installing a couple more things every day. And probably when gameplan comes around we'll play with some stuff and might put some new stuff in."

Outside analysts will probably look at the fact State has two new—to them anyway—starters at safeties in Smith and SS Charles Mitchell. They might want to dig a bit deeper because both have been baptized in SEC fire. Smith had 43 tackles as a soph with a pass break-up and a fumble recovery, playing in relief of the graduated Derek Pegues as well as on special units. Mitchell made his own mark with 31 tackles and pass deflection playing in all dozen games as a true freshman. So while this is a new starting pair and still a young tandem, there seems no limit to their potential both combined and individually.

Especially the former. "Me and Charles work good with each other and we do a great job communicating together. I can know what he's doing without him having to yell across the field to me, we just click and we spend a lot of time together."

And that isn't all the Bulldog secondary has to show this year. As Smith says, "We've got a lot of guys that can play. Wade Bonner can come in the nickel situation and make plays; (starting cornerback) Marcus Washington has been making plays (also at nickel). And I think our linebacking corps is great, I mean we've got all kind of depth at linebacker so we should be good there."

Now throw in a few touted newcomers, such as safety Nikoe Whitley and corner Jonathan Banks, and the still-hoped-for clearance of juco transfer Maurice Langston, and one of the SEC's younger secondaries could also prove to be one of the most talented. This will require substantial teaching-time in camp of course, and for that matter even the veterans aren't completely finished products. But that's a very, very good situation for Mississippi State's defense here in the initial days of preseason practicing.

"I think it's gone good so far," says Smith. "We've still got a lot of things to put in but I like how the freshmen have come in and worked hard. And everybody is working hard."


Gene's Page Top Stories