Back in January, then-junior cornerback Johnthan Banks made the decision to stay at Mississippi State, rather than enter the NFL Draft and begin his professional career. Several factors played in to the resolution, but one of the driving forces was Banks’ desire to better himself as a player.
His credentials were already stellar, but Banks didn’t think he was quite as good as he could be, and he wants to be as NFL-ready as possible when he makes it to the league.
Banks has told me that he talked to his head coach Dan Mullen, defensive coordinator Chris Wilson and even former Bulldog and NFL cornerback Fred Smoot as he made the decision and continues to talk to all three about how he can better himself.
On Monday, Banks revealed he’s traveled off the beaten path for advice and ventured to the other side of the ball.
“I even talked to the quarterbacks coach, Coach Koenning,” Banks said. “I asked him for pointers about what quarterbacks do, what they look for.”
Yes, Banks went to MSU’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Les Koenning, one of the smarter men and better teachers of the game around, to figure out how to be a better cornerback. It certainly seems like a wise move by Banks, and a savvy one that earns points for creativity.
“I will say this about Johnthan,” Koenning said afterwards, “to watch him play is really exciting, and him wanting to know those types of answers is really important. A good quarterback has certain things he looks for and tries to make happen, and he was trying to ask those questions. I thought it was very interesting the way he phrased it. I thought it was very impressive.”
Koenning declined to reveal the secrets he shared with the All-American corner – he’s got a few quarterbacks of his own to worry about, of course.
But I got some very interesting thoughts from Koenning on the defensive star nonetheless. Typically, for a story on a defensive player, a reporter asks defensive coaches and defensive teammates about that player. Wilson, for example, has been asked 100 times about Banks, as well as his other players, but how often is he asked about quarterback Tyler Russell or wide receiver Joe Morrow?
The same goes for Koenning and defensive players. After getting some more information on Banks’ desire to get into the mind of the quarterback, I asked the offensive coordinator to pretend Banks was on an opposing team (Auburn, LSU, Ole Miss, whoever) and imagine what he would be telling his team as they prepare to face him.
“He can run and he’s very long,” Koenning said. “He’s deceptive when you go against him, because he’s so long. He can run, he’s really fast. You know that. The problem is, those balls you think you can get over him…most of those DBs are 5’9”, 5’10”, short and fast guys who can really run. You don’t see many guys with his length at corner and that length really starts to present a problem.”
Standing 6’2”, with a wingspan that may be even longer, Banks certainly outstretches the typical corners. That length gives him an advantage in several places, not just jump balls or at the line of scrimmage, Koenning said.
“You start throwing balls back-shoulder throws or laying things over their shoulder, you’ve gotta be pin-perfect, because he’ll be running with them and you think you’ve got a great back-shoulder throw and all of the sudden, here comes this long arm,” Koenning said. “Usually, it’s a couple of inches short, and those are things that present problems, because he really makes you think a ball that you usually throw to an open receiver is not open all the time. He’s got another half of a foot or couple inches that will get him there.”
Banks has been scary enough to opposing offenses the last three years, but if he knows how to get into quarterback’s heads now, he ought to be in a line for an even bigger season than last.