Editor's Note: The following is Part VIII of our series with Ole Miss assistant football coaches about the results of spring training with their respective groups. Today, Assistant Secondary Coach Tony Hughes discusses the safeties.
All coaches say it.
All coaches mean it and believe it.
"There's no substitute for experience."
With that in mind Assistant Defensive Backs Coach Tony Hughes, who works primarily with the Rebel safeties, must be a happy coach.
"We've got an experienced group – one of the most experienced on the team," said Hughes. "They played pretty well last year and I believe they will play much better in 2006."
"I know it's an old coaching adage, but it's true – they are reacting now whereas last year they were thinking and then reacting," Tony continued. "They can see things unfolding quicker and just go make a play. Last year, they had an instant of wondering if they were doing the right things in the scheme. Now that they understand the scheme fully, the thinking part is minimal – just go play and do what you know how to do."
Hughes has used this spring to sharpen the skills of the safeties versus having to teach them the scheme.
"We've been able to concentrate more on individual skills and techniques versus last year of having to teach the scheme so much," he added. "That will make them all better football players, more productive football players."
The end result of the experience factor should be more "big" plays from the safeties.
"We played a little conservatively at times last year, not wanting to make a mistake. This year, I expect to see more aggressive play from the safeties due to their knowledge and quicker reaction time. Aggressive play, as long as it is calculated, will produce more big plays," Tony explained.
The following is a breakdown of the spring safety depth chart and Hughes' comments on each player:
Strong Safety – B. Brown – Senior, 5-9, 200 – "B. is an extremely important player on our team due to his versatility, experience and athletic ability. There's not much he can't do," said Hughes. "B. can play either safety slot, cornerback, nickel back and will figure in heavily on special teams. He's had a great spring and continues to raise his value on this team. I consider him a starter even though when Jamarca Sanford gets back he will be the number one SS." Note: B. had scope surgery on an injured knee the week of the Red-Blue Game. He also injured his hand and was in a cast at the game, but he is expected to be healthy in a few weeks.
Gary Riggs – Redshirt freshman, 6-2, 203 – "Gary is a very good athlete – long and rangy, who is on track with his development," Hughes commented. "He's still trying to indoctrinate himself in the total understanding of our scheme and needs to gain more familiarity in it, but he's doing well. He's also a possible for special teams work in 2006."
Kirt Finnell – Junior, 6-1, 190 – "Kirt gives us everything he's got every day and has done good things in spring," Tony stated. "He's just got to keep working. We are glad to have him out there. He needs a good offseason, but I know he'll have one. We'll see from there."
Note: Sophomore Jamarca Sanford, last year's SS starter, missed spring due to an offseason surgical procedure. He will be 100% when August rolls around.
Free Safety – Charles Clark – Senior, 6-0, 195 – "Charles is our quarterback in the secondary," said Hughes. "He's smart and productive and gets us in and out of the sets we call. Charles is a prime example of what I was talking about earlier – he will be more aggressive this year due to his knowledge of the system. He was productive last year, but we expect big things from him his senior year."
Gary Albury – Redshirt freshman, 6-0, 180 – "Gary is very similar to Gary Riggs. We moved him from corner to free safety this spring. He's a young guy who is developing and maturing at a good pace," Tony closed. "He's had a good spring and has worked very hard. He just needs to keep learning and to use the offseason to get bigger and faster."
Our Take: The safety slots are in good hands. Two returning starters, a guy considered a starter, some developing youth with promise. We wish all our positions were this stable. We found this group to have a different, more aggressive mindset this spring and it was all based on knowing what to do within the system. Now that their assignments are second-nature to them, look for more big plays and consistency in 2006.
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