August 18, 2010 10:09:00 AM
David Miller -
STARKVILLE -- How does a defense maintain its big-play ability while limiting big plays?
Mississippi State football coaches are banking on experience and constant attention to creating turnovers to help even out a unit that had its high and low moments a season ago.
Bright spots last season included five scores from interceptions and freshmen Johnthan Banks and Corey Broomfield combining for 10 picks and four scores.
But the youth of last year''s unit showed in losses to Auburn and Arkansas.
There''s plenty of optimism for this season with a new defensive coordinator in Manny Diaz and all but one player returning in MSU''s secondary.
Diaz is blunt when assessing the ability of the team''s secondary and what it accomplished last season.
"You look at what they did last year, and let''s be honest, they gave up as much as they created," Diaz said. "But with young players, everyone understands the process. A good program is always going to be built around your seniors and I think everyone understands there''s still a lot of young guys in our program."
Fortunately for Diaz, the young players in the secondary are the experienced playmakers.
The hope for this year''s defense is the new system of simplified reads and a attacking mentality, an idea the secondary players believe will help add to turnover total despite the risks of playing such a style.
"It puts a little bit more pressure on us, but as a corner that''s what we live for," senior cornerback Maurice Langston said. "This attack defense really helps us, because a lot of the time the quarterback is going to be rushing to get the ball out. So it''s going to lead to a lot of interception opportunities."
Though the method operation of Diaz''s system is to pressure the backfield, there''s a misconception that the system is based mainly on blitzing, safeties coach Tony Hughes said. The defense will utilize blitzes from all of its second and third-level players, but everyone is responsible for coverage.
"Yeah, on the back end we''re always going to catch more than anybody else because that''s our job and responsibility, but it''s not sell the farm every single play," Hughes said. "If you''re in the right position, it''s a pretty simple system to follow. You don''t have to go out there feeling like you''ve got to be Superman on every play."
To make the defense work, positioning and sure tackling are at a premium for safeties and cornerbacks. Hughes and defensive coaches are keen to improve the secondary''s field awareness and positioning, which with a year of experience has progressed, he said.
Mississippi State''s emphasis on eliminating long gains from opponents'' offenses is powered by consistent practices, because in Hughes'' mind, the unit has the potential to be the best in the Southeastern Conference. The same mindset goes into sustaining big-play ability.
"If a guy catches a ball, make a tackle. If a guy makes a long run, make a tackle," Hughes said. "A 15-yard play or a long-yardage play is not going to kill us, but a big, big play for tons of yards will devastate us. It makes it hard to come back from those types of things. That''s what we''ve really been focusing on, is playing the ball well, keeping the ball in front and being a good tackling secondary.
"They all have potential, talent and experience now, but you''ve got to have a lunch pail, hardhat mentality. If you''re up and down, you''ll be an average player."
Langston believes the difference of improved technique and positioning, an area in which he struggled in his first season last year. Staying low through his backpedal and reading receivers'' body language are areas in which Langston feels he and fellow corners Broomfield, Damein Anderson and Banks have excelled this fall.
The latter''s move from safety to corner was made possible by redshirt freshman Nickoe Whitley''s emergence at safety, which in turn strengthened the cornerback rotation and turned up the experience.
And with Mississippi State scheduled to again face the nation''s leading passing attack in Case Keenum and Houston, and All-Southeastern Conference receivers Julio Jones and A.J. Green, Banks'' switch comes at a good time.
"Me moving to corner, I think I push a lot of people," Banks said. "They know I''m going to work hard because I want to be a starter, and by me wanting to be a starter, that''s going to make Broomfield, Langston and D.A. work even harder. If they''re working hard, I''m working hard. That''s a pretty good rotation and with me moving there we''ll always have fresh guys in the game."
n Carr cleared by NCAA: Freshman wideout Michael Carr''s wait to gain NCAA certification came to an end Tuesday as the West Point product learned he''d gained full qualifier status from the NCAA Eligibility Center.
Carr had been practicing under the allowable temporary certification bylaw pending his final certification.