September 2, 2009 9:53:00 AM
The unit ranked fourth in the Southeastern Conference and 17th in the country in pass defense, only allowing 176.6 yards per game.
The Bulldogs had a veteran presence in the secondary with the safety trio of Derek Pegues, Keith Fitzhugh and De''mon Glanton, and cornerback Jasper O''Quinn.
The problem for MSU is they were all seniors last season.
Senior cornerback Marcus Washington is MSU''s most experienced returning player in the secondary with 19 career starts. The rest of the unit has a grand total of two starts. Both of those belong to junior safety Zach Smith.
With so much inexperience, it will be a challenge for the Bulldogs to keep up last year''s pace.
MSU coach Dan Mullen has tried to get the offense in a position in practice to challenge the secondary every day.
"We have to make sure we''re executing at a high level passing the football on offense so we get a good look at the secondary," Mullen said. "I don''t know if we are at the high enough level throwing the football on offense to know the secondary is where they need to be."
Cornerback coach Melvin Smith said the verdict is still out on his group, but likes what he has to work with.
"I picked them and I feel good about where we are right now," Smith said. "I feel if we are OK early, we''ll be OK late because we''re just young. I like our attitude, but they are inexperienced so we''ll just have to see."
Opposite of Washington, there seems to be a battle for the starter at the other cornerback position between sophomore Damien Anderson and redshirt freshman Louis Watson.
Washington was glad to see that Smith was one of the coaches kept from the former staff of Sylvester Croom.
"I''ve learned so much from coach Smith and he''s a great guy," Washington said. "With me being so far away from home, I look at him for any kind of advice. His coaching technique is so up tempo. He wants the best out of you and he''s going to get it every day."
Smith coached at Texas A&M with defensive coordinator Carl Torbush, who has brought his version of the 4-3 defense to the Bulldogs. Since they have worked together before, Smith said, "You can''t help but see some continuity for the corners."
MSU also ran the 4-3 (four defensive linemen, three linebackers) under coordinators Ellis Johnson and Charlie Harbison. Smith said many of the concepts are the same, but Torbush may call use different terminology.
"All (the players) had to do is understand the concept," Smith said. "It''s just different how Carl deploys the troops."
Washington said the philosophy of a defensive coordinator may be different, but going about their business is basically the same.
"Defense is defense," Washington said. "A couple of techniques may change, but we''re a read and react fast defense."
Washington wants to see the Bulldogs play with the "relentless effort" that Mullen speaks about, always run to the ball and have toughness. It''s always game-tackling and no solo tackles.
As far as the safeties, coach Tony Hughes likes having Zach Smith and Charles Mitchell, who have been around the program.
"They kind of know what''s going on," Hughes said. "They are not rookies."
Hughes doesn''t see any change in schemes from Harbison, who coached the safeties last season, but some of the terminology may be different.
Whatever the philosophy, Hughes said safeties are like being the quarterbacks of the defense.
"They have to be great tacklers and in pass coverage," Hughes said. "It''s a dual position and real tough. You''ve got to cover like a corner and tackle like a linebacker. You can never be out of position and you can never miss a tackle."
1. New Hope boys' basketball falls in Class 5A playoffs HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
2. Starkville boys denied return trip to Jackson HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
5. West Lowndes boys earn third straight trip to Jackson HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS