For the first time in years, Mississippi State football is entering a year with almost an entirely new defensive staff. With defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon, safeties coach Mo Linguist and corners coach Terrell Buckley all new to the team, only defensive line coach David Turner returns on that side of the ball.
With so many new faces, one would expect a new look for MSU’s defense. The question, then, is what will that look be? The three new coaches met with the media Monday afternoon, and while no specifics were revealed, insight into the process of developing the Bulldog defense was offered.
As Sirmon sees it, the staff room full of new faces offers a unique opportunity not just for the team, but for the coaches too.
“When you come in with other people it really forces you to do a great job with the terminology, with the install, with the language,” he said. “You get a chance to be whoever you want to be.”
That’s exactly the chance MSU has now. They can be whoever they want to be. Whoever Sirmon and the staff think they should be. They haven’t yet arrived at that conclusion, but they’re well on their way. For one thing, Sirmon has watched every snap of the 2015 season and has even studied practice film of every single player on his roster who was on the team in 2015, redshirted or not.
Additionally, he and the staff have been studying the rest of the SEC, not just to see what other teams do well, but to see how they can be beat. Studying himself and studying others is Sirmon’s two-pronged approach to creating a strong defense at MSU.
“When you get in these situations, you need to identify what you need to do to win a championship,” Sirmon said. “I think there are two ways to look at it. You can start from the back end and say, ‘OK, I need to get to here and then work backwards.’ Or you think, ‘Well I’ve always done A, B and C, therefore I’m going to continue to do them,’ which I think, for this situation, isn’t the right way to do it. We need to identify what we need to do in this conference to win a championship and what we have at our disposal on our roster. From there, once you make those decisions, you can start pushing forward.”
While Sirmon’s past certainly won’t dictate his future, it does offer something of a window into what he may do. The staff has actually watched some tape of things Sirmon did with the Southern Cal defense while he was on the Trojans’ staff before joining MSU. But as Linguist shared, that’s far from the only tape they’ve watched, as Sirmon’s football experience has ranged from northwest to southeast and high school to NFL.
MSU may run with four down linemen, they may go with three. At times they’ll blitz and at others they’ll drop into coverage. At the very least, Sirmon and his staff seem intent on not boxing themselves into anything. Not yet, at least.
There are still spring practices, summer workouts and fall camp to go between now and the start of the 2016 season, and it’s in those hours and days that MSU will figure out what it’s capable of and what it wants to do. As it stands now, Sirmon is using what’s available to him – game and practice film – to get an idea of what he has to work with. While he’s creating a base to work from, he’s also adamant that he is not holding anything he sees on tape against his players, good or bad.
The spring won’t be a clean slate, per se, but each person on the field will have the opportunity to show their new coaches what they’re capable of.
“I have some ideas about them,” Sirmon said of his players. “I’m trying to be very, very patient with my overall impression of what they’re going to be as a football player. Every year in college football, you see such dramatic change from one year to the next … All those guys, I’m looking at the skill sets of what they can do and trying to identify spots in which they can help us.”
When practice starts in March, Sirmon will begin to have those questions answered.