A Q&A With Safeties Coach Tony Hughes

Mississippi State safeties coach Tony Hughes talks about his safeties, how they did this past spring and who is projected to be on the 1st team and who are their backups.

At the end of the spring who wound up number 1 at the two safety positions and who were their primary backups?
"We'll start off with Charles Mitchell, who is one of the leaders of our football. He's a quiet leader who is not a rah-rah, in-your-face type guy. Every time you do a drill or do something involving the team he's the first in line. He just has a great passion for football. He's just a good, solid football player. He improved greatly during the spring. Charles has a tremendous, tremendous work ethic. He is a good tackler. He had some key interceptions during the season. Of course, he had two interceptions against Ole Miss. We expect him to be one of the most improved players on the entire team. And not only that but our new defensive scheme fits him because he is a 5-11, 205-pound kid who can really run. He'll be in man coverage, he'll play in space, he'll be blitzing."

Who is Charles backup?
"His backups are Wade Bonner and probably Zach Smith.

"This is Wade's second year to play in the secondary. He played a lot for us last year and played in a lot of games. He was a productive player who also plays on special teams. He has improved a lot, lost some weight that helped him to be more functionally. And I thought he had a really solid spring for us.

"Zach is coming back from his injury. He works really hard and is a team player who is very unselfish. We are looking for a role for him to play this fall."

Who is the starter at the other safety position?
"Nickoe Whitley is the other starting safety. He is a redshirt freshman who came into the spring and kept making play after play after play. He's a very physical kid who is very thick. He's over 6-0 tall and 200 pounds. He's got speed and is very athletic ability. He has good ball skills. He was a high school quarterback at Provine. And he was a high school basketball player, also. He can really hit. He's not afraid to throw his body around. He's a true SEC safety. He just has to learn what to do from an experience standpoint. But as far as physical talent, he's a very, very talented young man."

Considering he is a redshirt freshman, are there some things he needs to work on that maybe a Charles Mitchell doesn't have to?
"All of them need to do some of the same things. Things like flexibility, continue to work on speed, continue to work on fundamentals and footwork. We want all of them to do that. But for him maybe he'll need to work a little more on flexibility and quickness that will make him a better football player."

Who is his backup?
"Dennis Thames is a kid that we redshirted last year. He redshirted at wide receiver and we moved him over in the spring. He had a really good spring game, make a lot of tackles. He's a very good tackler. As far as his development, he just hasn't spent the time at safety that the other kids have. But as far as physical talent, he can do some things that will Wow you. He is a very aggressive tackler, a very good football player. We just lost some time with him and we are trying to help him catch up. Right now, going into the season, he will be a backup for us and a special teams guy.

"We move Johnthan Banks to corner, although there is a possibility that he may come back to safety. But we really haven't talked about that. The thing about him at corner is he can take half the field. He's 6-2 and has long arms. He has some things that a lot of football players don't have. He's special."

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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