Four by Four: Assessing MSU’s battle for starting safeties

To bridge the gap from the end of sports for the 2014-15 year to the unofficial beginning of sports for the 2015-16 year (SEC Media Days), we’ll be running four series of four items each over the next month in a feature appropriately, if not creatively, titled four-by-four. With Mississippi State football being the focus, we’ll look at four breakout candidates, four position battles, four potential All-SEC players and four possible statistical leaders.

This week, we’re breaking down four position battles, starting with safety.

So, who are MSU’s starting safeties going to be next year with both of the 2014 starters out the door? Anyone? Bueller?

There are a great number of candidates to fill the spots vacated by Jay Hughes and Justin Cox, but trying to pick from among them is difficult with their varying degrees of experience, potential, size and skill. The battle might as well be a Royal Rumble for safeties coach Tony Hughes. Throw ‘em all in there and see who comes out.

XEGZGMPIAVUMRTS.20141004182959Assessing the competition, we’ve at least got one good starting point with the lone senior of the group – Kendrick Market. Dan Mullen recently called him one of the smartest defenders in the country, and he’s by far the most experienced player at the position for MSU. Intelligence, leadership, experience and considerable talent make him a likely candidate, though certainly no one is going to hand him the job.

Continuing with those who have experience, juniors Deontay Evans and Kivon Coman have seen fairly significant reps the last couple years, particularly as numbers at the position dropped toward the end of 2014. Evans has been drawing good reviews from coaches since he first walked onto campus, a seemingly-instinctive player with a knack for finding the ball, though it’s Coman who has been relied on a little more heavily.

By at least one stat, Coman and Evans had better seasons last year than every safety other than Market, as they accrued 39 and 34 tackles, respectively, both numbers higher than those of Hughes and Cox. Coman had six pass break-ups while Evans had three himself.

Then come three players who, while they have literally seen the field with their eyes, they haven’t played a game on it with their arms and legs. Funnily enough, they might be the three most talented ones of the bunch, depending who you ask, though coaches will tell us they always prefer production over potential.

MCZZPQPHIIYRJFD.20140831024343First is Brandon Bryant, a hard-hitting freshman with a nose for the ball who redshirted in 2014. Nearly every practice, Bryant found a way to stand out. Not to use that P-word again so soon, but those who have watched him are enamored with his potential. When we talk breakout candidates next week, he’s a strong consideration. But, like any freshman, he’s behind a bit because he’s never played while so many others have. However, a year learning the defense and spent in the weight room certainly helps.

The last two have neither of those things, but they’ve got plenty going for them. Incoming freshmen Jamal Peters and Mark McLaurin are likely going to make the competition even more heated. Peters was the No. 1 safety in the country in the 2015 signing class, and there are some who say he could have played for MSU last fall. He’s generally considered to be the full package. Alongside him, McLaurin enters with less fanfare, but those who watched him regularly in high school say he’s as talented as anyone in the heralded signing class, and while he may not get the headlines, he’s got all the ability to get the playing time.

Could both of them of play in 2015, or even one of them? Hard to imagine at least one doesn’t, but then if both do, MSU would have at least six safeties in the rotation for two spots.

Replacing both starters seems like a struggle, but the good news for new defensive coordinator Manny Diaz is that, at the very least, there seem to be plenty of able candidates, and at least a few with experience.

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