Turning the corner

n Bulldogs’ secondary confident that improvement will be easy to see this fall.
By Brad Locke
Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – In a 2008 season that had few bright spots for Mississippi State, one of them was its pass defense. But even that fell apart at the end.
The Bulldogs finished the season ranked fourth in the SEC in pass defense and gave up the fewest number of first downs via the pass. Overall, it was a solid year.
A bitter taste remains in assistant coach Melvin Smith’s mouth, though.
Smith, a holdover from the Sylvester Croom era, watched the MSU secondary give up 574 yards and seven touchdown passes over the final two games, a close win over Arkansas and a 45-0 loss at Ole Miss.
Smith, who coaches cornerbacks and nickelbacks, is eager to put that behind him.
“I really feel like we learned from some of those things,” he said. “This is a new year. It’s a new day, and I’m really excited about where we are right now. We’re getting better.”
A lot of offseason talk has centered around the defensive line and linebackers, positions that added some big pieces from the junior college ranks. Pernell McPhee is expected to be a beast up front, and linebacker Chris White will fit right in alongside returnees Jamar Chaney and K.J. Wright.
The secondary, however, must be even better than last year, and that starts at the cornerback position – more specifically, it starts with senior Marcus Washington. He’s the lone returning starter to the defensive backfield, and it’s around him that this unit is being assembled.
Sophomore Damein Anderson, who played in 11 games last year but started none, will likely take over the other corner slot.
Sophomore Charles Mitchell and junior Zach Smith are manning the safety positions vacated by Keith Fitzhugh and all-SEC performer Derek Pegues.
“I think he kind of sets a standard for that whole group,” coach Dan Mullen said of Washington. “There’s some young, talented guys. We still need some more depth, but those guys are really following Marcus’ lead, and hopefully he’s really going to set the example to develop those young guys.”
Washington (5-foot-10, 190 pounds), who made 44 tackles and forced three fumbles last season, fully understands the burden on his shoulders.
“In the SEC, everybody’s going to go through the learning curve,” he said. “I’ve already gone through it, and I’m just trying to give my knowledge to them and what I know.”
Developing the others quickly is critical. Melvin Smith said Anderson is plenty talented but has a lot of fine-tuning left to do; Mitchell has all-SEC ability; Zach Smith is more than capable; and Wade Bonner, a former running back, is thriving at nickelback in spring drills.
Melvin Smith said he likes what he sees in the backup corners, especially redshirt freshmen Corey Broomfield and Louis Watson.
“We’re kind of strong at corner this time, because we’re real confident about each other,” Anderson said.
Washington is the most confident of the bunch, which should bode well for the group as a whole.
“We want to be the No. 1 pass defense in the country, and the end of the year didn’t end so well,” Washington said. “So we’re coming out this year trying to pick it up, trying to pick up where we left off last year and getting better.”

Brad Locke