MSU defensive coordinator Manny Diaz fielded questions from fans for about 30 minutes this afternoon in a live chat. It’s the first in a series of chats with football coaches leading up to the April 17 Maroon-White spring game. Next Thursday, offensive coordinator Les Koenning will chat, then head coach Dan Mullen the following week.
If you missed it or just want a recap, here you go. Lengthy, but some good stuff, and Diaz showed his sense of humor on the final question. (Being a stickler for grammar, I cleaned up a few things.)
Q: How is your defensive team speed?
A: “Not where it needs to be at this point. We’ll continue to improve during the offseason and through recruiting.”
Q: How are defensive ends performing? How is Shane McCardell performing?
A: “They’re all learning. Coach (Chris) Wilson is doing an outstanding job getting those guys to play the way we want to. Today we’re going to work on third-down situations and I’m looking forward to see how Shane rushes the passer.”
Q: When you saw MSU’s defense last season at MTSU, what was your impression of it, good and bad?
A: “I was paying more attention to their offense and our defense. But I do remember they had some stout play up front and that we threw four interceptions in the fourth quarter!”
Q: When you play an aggressive defense, how do you account for the open offensive player?
A: “There ISN’T an open offensive player. Our scheme is aggressive, but it’s always sound. We’ll mix different zones and man-to-man behind our pressure.”
Q: How are the linebackers coming along, especially Deontae Skinner? He ready to go?
A: “Obviously, Chris and K.J. (Wright) are ahead of everybody else, given their experience. Skinner shows flashes, like they all do, but he’s still learning the ins-and-outs of our system.”
Q: I understand that we have some depth on the defensive line and in the secondary. Two questions: What is your philosophy regarding substitutions, and how do you feel about our depth at linebacker?
A: “First, I’d love to play 22 players on defense. An attacking style of defense is like playing full-court in basketball. You have to have a deep bench. However, I’m not sure if we have any proven depth at any position, but that’s a major emphasis this spring.”
Q: How are the defensive backs looking?
A: “Charles Mitchell has had a great offseason. Corey Broomfield is coming off a shoulder injury and hasn’t participated in full contact stuff. Maurice Langston is another guy that has really dedicated himself this offseason. As a group, we’re trying to get them to improve tackling and ball-hawking skills.”
Q: What has impressed you the most with your defensive squad so far?
A: “I would say we have a great work ethic. Coach (Matt) Balis really trains them hard, and they’re receptive of everything we ask of them. This team has a strong will to take the next step.”
Q: Would you say your style of defense adheres to any certain formation, or do you like to confuse offenses by disguising how you may line up?
Q: Is Chris White fast enough to fill Jamar Chaney‘s position at middle linebacker?
A: “Yes, we think Chris has all the skills we’re looking for in a mike linebacker.”
Q: How will our secondary look compared to last year’s?
A: “Well, again, I wasn’t here last season. But we’re going to play the best four DBs we have based on how they’re playing this spring. Whether they played great or not so great last season is irrelevant now.”
Q: Can you talk about Ferlando Bohanna (a linebacker signee) and what you expect from him?
A: “Ferlando is a true, instinctive middle linebacker and we look forward to him and all of our incoming freshmen coming into the program. We’re going to play the best players, regardless of their class, and everybody will have a chance to compete for playing time.”
Q: How is defensive end Trevor Stigers coming along?
A: “He’s learning. Getting limited reps right now and trying to make an impact on our defense.”
Q: Regarding your comment on team speed, will the defensive line lose weight in the offseason?
A: “Not necessarily. Weight as a number isn’t a big issue. It’s all about what the guy can handle. Coach Balis has a great plan for each of our guys and what weight they’ll be the most effective at.”
Q: Do you think our current DBs have the skills necessary to play consistent man coverage?
A: “We’ll always mix up man and zone. But playing on man coverage depends as much on the skills of the people rushing the passer as it does the guys covering the wideouts. That’s one thing we’re analyzing this spring.”
Q: Are you in the press box or on the field during games?
A: “Field. I just feel like I can do more coaching and quick adjustments from down there.”
Q: Is there a cornerback you consider a lockdown type of guy?
A: “Nobody has that status yet, and that’s what these 15 days (of spring practice) are for. We’re trying to develop a couple of guys that can earn that type of name for themselves.”
Q: It’s third and 15. The ball is at the 50. You are up by two and there is one minute left. Do you blitz or play it safe?
A: “We’re going to pressure the quarterback with as few people necessary. If that means we send 3 or send all 11, we’re going to make the quarterback feel uncomfortable.”
Q: Who on the offensive side of the ball is giving your players the most trouble?
A: “We’ve only really practiced twice in pads. We’ll know more after we scrimmage Saturday.”
Q: I understand Cameron Lawrence is competing for a starting linebacker position. What does he do well and what does he have to improve upon to earn that position?
A: “Cameron is a runner and hitter, which we want our linebackers to be. He has to work on improving his instincts at that position, because it’s all new to him there.”
Q: Now that State has a huge defensive tackle (James Carmon), will we run a lot of 4-3 next year?
A: “Size is vastly overrated compared to explosion and quickness. Otherwise everyone would just use big offensive linemen to play defensive line. 4-3 vs. 3-4 is overrated as well. The real difference comes from an attack front vs. a read front. We’re going to play defensive linemen that are going to attack the line of scrimmage.”
Q: What is your philosophy to help players play aggressively, with emotion, and be smart so we don’t rack up needless penalties?
A: “A lot of that comes with how you practice. We want to be an aggressive, attacking and intimidating defense, but we want to be smart about it. Offenses these days are too good to help them out with free yards.”
Q: Can you talk about James Carmon?
A: “James is making an adjustment to SEC football. He’s having more demanded from him than at any time in his football career. He’s having to learn to play with low pads and leverage, which is critical at this level. And finally, like many of our guys, he’s still thinking on the field instead of really turning it loose.”
Q: Do you foresee Dennis Thames staying on defense or switching over to offense, and does this have a lot to do with how well free safety Zach Smith comes back from injury?
A: “I think he’ll stay on defense, and it really has nothing to do with Zach.”
Q: Talk a little about Fletcher Cox. He was the best looking freshman DT I’ve seen in a while. (He’s actually a sophomore now.)
A: “He’s off to a good start this spring. If he continues to listen to coach Wilson, he’ll really continue to grow as a player.”
Q: On a scale of 1 to 10, where would you rank our defensive talent at this point?
A: “We’ll know more by April 17th. Like I said, we’ve only been in pads for two days.”
Q: Heard good things about defensive end Jonathan McKenzie. What can you tell us about him?
A: “Strong, hardworker. High motor. But for the first time, he’s learing the game, learning to play with instincts and understanding his assignment.”
Q: Are you a believer in crowd noise helping the defense?
A: “The louder the better, and hopefully we’ll give people a lot to be loud about.”
Q: With the proliferation of spread offenses, will you recruit speed over size?
A: “We want to be as fast as we can be and as big as we can be.”
Q: Will you ever double cover a great receiver when the other team has established they want to throw him the ball?
A: “We always want to try to defend the other team’s strengths.”
Q: If there is a weakness for your style of defense, what is it and does any team on our schedule do it?
A: “Yes. There’s one play that we absolutely can’t defend. And it’s …”