August 14, 2013 12:20:04 AM
Matthew Stevens - email@example.com
STARKVILLE -- Who's next?
It would be easy for the Mississippi State University defensive backs to try to be asking that question and trying to be the next Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay. It's what the fans will ask and eventually expect.
MSU fans have already come up and pointed to junior Jamerson Love and seen him lined up in fall camp open practices where Banks was on the first-team defense for the last three years. Love, a former three-star recruit from Aberdeen High School, isn't even the same body type of Banks, who was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, as he weighed about 10 pounds more (185 to 175) but is also four inches taller.
"I am trying to take on that leadership role with the secondary like the older guys did with me years ago so in that sense it's the same," Love said. "When I'm on the field though, it's about getting better at my technique. My style is different than John Banks and that's okay because it can work too."
MSU coach Dan Mullen has seen 12 players on his rosters drafted by the National Football League in his four full seasons in Starkville including two second round cornerbacks in Slay (drafted by the Detroit Lions) and Banks. What Mullen doesn't want to have happen is the new, inexperienced talent in the secondary to try to worry about living up to the accolades of that pair.
The Bulldogs fifth-year coach recognizes it's not fair to ask his current cornerbacks to win another Jim Thorpe Award as Banks did in 2012 or his 16 career interceptions. What they can do is still be disruptive in a new aggressive system by defensive coordinator Geoff Collins.
"Yeah, they have to be their own individual but the standard of play at this position is for you to go be a NFL player," Mullen said during the school's media day Tuesday. "We can't replace Banks or Slay, because the guys have are different body types, different skill sets, different experience levels. We can't say 'OK you get to be the next guy at that position' but you have to become the best you can be but this is where the standard of play and what our expectations for you are at that position group."
The MSU secondary group that includes just one player, Love, with starting experience on the depth chart but three highly recruited talents in the junior from Aberdeen along with East Mississippi Community College transfer Justin Cox and Cedric Jiles.
"The (NFL) guy (leaving) was special because he had his own set of tools but the next guy to come along can have a little different set of tools and it's not going to make him any less special," Mullen said.
"That is where it gets brought up more than hey we need you to step into those shoes and replace that player. We need you to be the best player you can be and this is the standard we have at that position."
The standard Mullen is referring to is now being set by a new position coach as the MSU program hired former NFL player and coach Deshea Townsend to replace the departed Melvin Smith as cornerbacks coach.
Ideally the lack of previous experience on the secondary depth chart and Townsend's first year in Starkville could be a perfect marriage as the former University of Alabama standout had no preconceived notions about the players when spring practices began in late March.
"The good things is the veterans before I got to MSU set great examples to the point that I didn't have to re-coach anybody or correct bad habits on or off the field," Townsend said. "I talk to them all the time about plays ending up with our position group on the highlight. So you can't have 59 great plays and one bad one that ends up on SportsCenter. That's a bad game."
Love was selected to play safety four years ago at the Mississippi-Alabama all-star game and showed his athletic ability at Aberdeen by being named as a first-team All-State selection at running back by the Mississippi Association of Coaches. Love led Aberdeen to back-to-back Class 3A championship game appearances and had 134 yards rushing in Jackson against Tylertown in his final prep game.
Love's speed, which includes him being timed this summer by the MSU strength staff at 4.3 seconds in the 40-yard dash, allows him to be the gunner or runner that is in charge of running down the returner in the punt coverage.
"We had the number one punt return coverage team in the country (0.46 yards per return) and I take pride in doing that job as one of the fastest players on the team," Love said. "Nothing should change there just because I'm playing cornerback."
Love is expected to have a host of teammates vying for to start on the opposite side of him at cornerback but that idea might be irrelevant in the season opener in just 17 days as No. 14 Oklahoma State University likes to utilize four or five wide receiver sets.
"I think it's a great challenge and our players have embraced it," Collins said. "Every day we know their can't be a drop off because we're going to be challenged more than any other opponent in week one."