A Q&A With Safeties Coach Tony Hughes

Mississippi State safeties coach Tony Hughes talks about his safeties, what they are working on this spring, how freshman Johnthan Banks has improved since the start of last season, and how his players have adjusted to the new Many Diaz defense.

What are you trying to accomplish with your guys during spring practice?
"Mainly we have to get better in our technique and fundamentals and understand the new defense. We have to be fundamentally sound. That means taking on blocks, being in the right position, using your hands correctly. That will make them better football players which will make us a better defense."

Speaking of the new defense, how has the aggressive style of play of the Manny Diaz defense affected your players specifically?
"It's hard to put it into words because it is different. We are very multiple in what we do. Right now, the assignments are relatively simply. It's just a matter of figuring out what technique they want to play and other things like that."

A Manny Diaz defense puts emphasis on the defensive line attacking the ball. Does that put more pressure on your guys?
"No, it makes it easier. When you play an attacking style defense the quarterback and running backs don't have as much time to make decisions in the running game and passing game. They have to get the ball out as quickly as possible because people are coming at them a lot faster than a read defense or a defense that is just going to sit back and react to what an offense does."

But doesn't that also give your guys less time to think about what is going on as well?
"As long as they are in good position they should be able to make more plays. When the front (defensive line) attacks and the second line people (linebackers, secondary) are in the right position, everything on offense has been forced to them. That actually gives them more time to react since it is coming to them."

How have your starting safeties, Charles Mitchell and Johnthan Banks, improved since the start of last season, especially the freshmen Banks?
"For Johnthan it's like he's starting all over again because he has a brand new defense that he has to learn. He started about halfway through the season and got used to that defense. Now, it's an entirely new defense. Due to that, it has kind of been slow for him. But he's such a great athlete and as he gains more confidence, he'll get even better."

Banks is a really slender kid, especially for the SEC. What are you trying to do with him weight-wise?
"He gained some weight during the season and he'll gain some more weight. Don't forget that he's still a true freshmen. He hasn't been in college a full year yet."

While he's gained some weight, has his strength level increased much?
"He's gotten much stronger. I can't give you the exact numbers, but you can see the strength difference on the field."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing swindoll@genespage.com.

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